The Windows Genuine Advantage (WGA)
Big Brother is watching
Sony's rootkit is a controversial little gem. It reports back to Sony when a user passes the rather arbitrary limit of three copies of a music disc owned by the company's label. It's nasty, sketchy, and genuinely annoying. But, it isn't WGA.
A New Threat
The Windows Genuine Advantage is a rather recent phenomenon. The controversy began back in the summer of 2006, when Microsoft began including the program in many of its Windows updates (usually classified as "critical", making them even more in-demand by the user). Although the updates were voluntary downloads by the user, the "secret sauce" included was hardly desirable. It tasted quite bitter, and without notice to the man or woman seeking the file, buried itself within the registry. Here WGA reported on a user's information, most notably the legitimacy of any Microsoft software.
Now, everyone is innocent until proven guilty; therefore, WGA won't mess up your computer. We don't need Redmond-based law firms calling here. But, there are some frightening similarities between the Windows Genuine Advantage and those nasty spyware programs that fuse your registry with all types of junk.
So, what has happened to those who install WGA and own pirated software?
As of late 2006, those with unofficial copies of Windows were given alerts notifying them of the pirated software they possess. Now, Microsoft hasn't been too tough, not yet at least. Although some massive distributors of pirated Windows materials have been prosecuted, little Johnny won't soon be hauled away in a black van by the federalies (even if you'd find that to be a learning experience for him).
With the release of Windows Vista, it's unclear how the looming threat of WGA will affect future sales of the operating system. The possibilities for ensuring legitimacy in 2007 include the simple shutdown of OS' that are found to be pirated. Microsoft has released some details of future programs to root out the real problem-users, which will include a "snitch" service. Those who can prove they are not behind the pirating of the software they possess – and can redirect Microsoft's goons – will be provided with a free (legit) version of the program. Those who can't prove anything will be minus one operating system, and essentially forced to pay Microsoft to install something to get their computer up and running again.
Of course, the future of WGA and any legitimacy program like it depends on the lawsuits that are yet to be determined. One thing is for certain: WGA could determine the future of digital media.