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Efforts by computer companies such as Microsoft to fight software piracy have always been too little, too late.  In a constant cat-and-mouse game, Microsoft will release an “anti-piracy” measure designed to disable illegitimate copies of its products, only to be smacked down by blackhat hackers who figure out how to defeat those measures, often on the same day.

Collateral victims of this anti-piracy battle are legitimate users, who have been victimized by Microsoft’s “Windows Genuine Advantage” (WGA) program.  In order to update their computers, users of Windows XP have been forced over the past year to jump through a series of increasingly difficult WGA hoops that are supposed to “validate” their copy of XP as being genuine.  Due to sloppy coding by Microsoft engineers, legitimate copies of XP are often tagged by WGA as not being genuine, leaving bona fide users out in the cold, unable to update and secure their computers.

Although I’ve known about these problems for quite some time, I received my first local “cry for help” last week from a lady senior citizen, whose computer, purchased from Dell in 2003 with Windows XP pre-installed, was suddenly being denounced by Microsoft as illegitimate.  This lady, unable to update her computer, and righteously distressed at being accused of software piracy, sent me an email, asking some very pointed questions.  She wrote:

“I only have three years experience using a computer and am self-taught.  This debacle that I find myself in poses some important questions.  How did this happen and why?  What do I do now?  Is my operating system totally destroyed, or can it be repaired, and at what cost to me?  Will Microsoft validate my (copy of) Windows as genuine ever again?  In addition, how many other naive souls have had this happen to them and how many will this happen to in the future?”

In addition, many XP users have reported numerous instances in which, after installing and running WGA, other programs, such as Adobe Acrobat, became prone to crashing and failing to run.  These situations are on top of previously-known hassles related to Windows XP authentication, such as when users update to a better video card or add new computer hardware, Windows no longer recognizes their computer as being the same one that it was initially associated with, and “thinks” that they are trying to illegally install the same copy of XP onto a second machine.

While there are ways to repair the damage done by WGA, they are often difficult, convoluted and beyond the ability of normal users to implement.  As far as I can tell, there is no “advantage” to enduring WGA, other than being able to patch and repair Microsoft products that were flawed from the beginning.

By the way, Microsoft issued patches and updates last Tuesday to fix eight “critical” security flaws in its Windows operating system and Office software that could allow attackers to take control of a computer.  The incompetence continues.