A Genuine Microsoft mistake

Mistakes happen. But when software publishers make mistakes with their anti-piracy programs, it always seems to be the users who pay the price. That's certainly been the case with Microsoft's Windows Genuine Advantage (WGA) program throughout its less-than-illustrious history, and now a new pilot program for Office Genuine Advantage (OGA) Notifications nagware has started off on the wrong foot.

On April 15th, a day when many of us are busy enough as it is, a reader saw a "critical update" for Microsoft Office in Windows Software Update Services (WSUS). As he always tries to keep the Windows and Office users at his company up-to-date, he started to download it until he saw it was something called Office Genuine Advantage Notifications (KB949810). The reader is familiar with OGA and was certain all of his Office installations were good, but he also knew he wanted no part of OGA Notifications.

"This is not just the Genuine check that happens when you try to download some of Microsoft's Office content from.....


By Ed Foster



Mistakes happen. But when software publishers make mistakes with their anti-piracy programs, it always seems to be the users who pay the price. That's certainly been the case with Microsoft's Windows Genuine Advantage (WGA) program throughout its less-than-illustrious history, and now a new pilot program for Office Genuine Advantage (OGA) Notifications nagware has started off on the wrong foot.


On April 15th, a day when many of us are busy enough as it is, a reader saw a "critical update" for Microsoft Office in Windows Software Update Services (WSUS). As he always tries to keep the Windows and Office users at his company up-to-date, he started to download it until he saw it was something called Office Genuine Advantage Notifications (KB949810). The reader is familiar with OGA and was certain all of his Office installations were good, but he also knew he wanted no part of OGA Notifications.


"This is not just the Genuine check that happens when you try to download some of Microsoft's Office content from their web page," the reader wrote. "This is the 'always-on, installed permanently into your PC thing' like XP WGA Notifications. This is the first time I've seen it come out via Windows Update, and as a 'critical update.' The reason I'm upset is this is exactly how Microsoft pushed WGA Notifications on people, sneaking it in with security updates. And we all remember how unstable the first releases of WGA were."


Microsoft's description of the update -- particularly the fact that it was not removable - was also cause for concern. And, as is always the case, Microsoft tried to make it sound like its various anti-piracy locks are somehow for the user's benefit: "If the copy of Office installed on the computer is genuine, the software will provide periodic reminders to help you take appropriate action and protect yourself from security threats posed by counterfeit software," the update description read.


"Right, it's to help me," the reader wrote. "And what do I do when their OGA servers fail to recognize my properly licensed software? Will it only let me use the Courier font, or will I be locked out of my documents completely? I've downloaded the latest OpenOffice.Org installer and will keep it handy for the day when my users yell that Office has locked them out."


Fortunately, the OGA Notifications update came with a EULA, so the reader simply declined to accept it to keep the update from being installed. "For the time being I've declined it, so it won't go to any of my corporate machines automatically," the reader wrote. "I'm sure a few weeks or months from now it will be mandatory, so I'm waiting to see how the user community deals with this before I decide what to do. And even though I'm disabling it in WSUS, I'm concerned that my users might still be duped into downloading it elsewhere."


After the reader first wrote me about this, I looked around and discovered that Microsoft had indeed announced the OGA Notifications pilot program last week. The odd thing though was that the pilot program was only supposed to be run in Italy, Spain, Turkey, and Chile to begin with, while the reader and all his users are in the U.S. The reader had gotten a cryptic phone call from someone at Microsoft a few days earlier - had his company somehow gotten on one of Microsoft's anti-piracy hit lists?


No -- I called Microsoft and found out that by mistake the OGA Notification software was available to all briefly on tax day. "The Office Genuine Advantage notifications update (KB949810) is intended only for Microsoft Office users in Italy, Spain, Turkey and Chile," said Cori Hartje, director of Microsoft's Genuine Software Initiative. "For a short time on the 15th of April, it was made available to users in other countries. A number of users who proactively sought product updates in this time frame were able to download Office Genuine Advantage notifications. We commend those users who actively seek product updates and apologize for any inconvenience or confusion this update may have created. We have taken steps to limit access to this update only to those users in Italy, Spain, Turkey and Chile."


Hartje also confirmed that, once the license terms for the OGA Notifications are accepted, the notifications can be suppressed for a period of time but not removed. So I guess those in the U.S. who downloaded it while it was available on Tuesday -- and didn't have the reader's presence of mind to reject the EULA -- are now guinea pigs in the pilot program for what could be typically buggy Microsoft software, like it or not. It's certainly the first time I can remember any of my readers having reason to be grateful for the existence of a Microsoft EULA.


As the reader says though, no doubt at some point the OGA Notifications nagware is going to be mandatory for all Office users. Some will say that it won't cause any real problems for those with genuine Microsoft software, but that's assuming that Microsoft doesn't make any more genuine mistakes after this inauspicious start. And who wants to bet on that? After all, as always with these anti-piracy mechanisms, it's heads the vendor wins and tails the user loses.

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