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Microsoft Aims for Clarity with Latest Antipiracy Tool

Microsoft plans to roll out a new version of its antipiracy Windows Genuine Advantage (WGA) Notifications tool for Windows XP over the coming weeks and months, following a barrage of criticism from users.

The software giant has incorporated user feedback into the new version to make installation of the tool and validation of the operating system less opaque, according to a Microsoft statement issued Tuesday.

The upcoming release of WGA Notifications features a new installation wizard and will display validation results as soon as the tool has been installed. The software doesn't need to be rebooted after its installation, Microsoft said. Instead of the tool simply flagging a copy of the OS as genuine or not, Microsoft has added an additional "indeterminate" result category and access to resources to troubleshoot issues if users are unable to validate their operating systems.

Microsoft plans to update the tool every 90 to 120 days, as a way to react to re-evaluation of the software and any changes in software piracy.

Microsoft began piloting an initial version of WGA Notifications in April to ascertain whether users' copies of Windows XP were genuine, as part of the vendor's Genuine Software Initiative to crack down on pirated and counterfeit versions of Windows. Users who can't validate their copy of Windows as genuine forfeit the right to install many of the updates Microsoft provides for Windows and add-on software.

So far, WGA Notifications has proved highly unpopular with users, with criticism reaching a crescendo in June.

First, the tool came under attack for exhibiting spyware-like behavior since WGA Notifications was checking in with Microsoft's servers each time users rebooted their PCs even though the software had already certified the copy of Windows XP as genuine. Microsoft disputed the spyware allegation, saying that although the tool regularly called home, it wasn't providing any information to Microsoft, just checking to see if it should run.

Later that same month, users complained that Microsoft was delivering WGA Notifications as a high priority automatic update for Windows XP despite the tool still being in a test version. The software vendor has typically provided test versions of its software separately from updates. Microsoft said the tool's license explained the software was a pre-release version, but customers countered that fact wasn't made sufficiently obvious.

Microsoft finally responded by issuing a second version of WGA Notifications in late June that only periodically checked if the copy of Windows was genuine every time users logged on to the system. At the same time, the software vendor moved the tool out of the testing stage.

Microsoft remains committed to having WGA Notifications fully deployed worldwide by year-end.
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