Should I install Windows Genuine Advantage?

Question

Should I install the Microsoft Genuine Advantage tool?

- Ted

Answer

This question was answered on June 22, 2006. Much of the information contained herein may have changed since posting.

Microsoft has made decisions over the years that have caused various levels of controversy, but it’s been a long time since we have seen anything as wide reaching as their "Genuine Advantage" program.

What should have been called the “Is your Windows legit” program was given the kinder, gentler name of “Windows Genuine Advantage”.

They spun it as a tool that would allow you to gain access to many free downloads that are not available to users that are not running legitimate versions of Windows (thus the “Advantage”).

Since updating Windows has become a critical part of protecting yourself online, Microsoft decided to use the Windows Update process to deploy it’s strategy, which is where the controversy began.

Installing this program is not required in order to download critical security updates (although this is likely to change in the future), but the way that it is presented (as a “high-priority” update) is viewed as a sneaky tactic by some as it isn’t an actual security update.

Those that pay attention during the update process can stop the installation of the programs, but they knew most users would not pay attention and install anything that says it is “high-priority”.

There are two components, the Windows Genuine Advantage Validation Tool and Windows Genuine Advantage Notification The first does the validation and the second is designed to “nag” you if you don’t have (in the eyes of the validation tool) a legitimate copy of Windows and give you ways to make it legitimate (pay!).

This second component is adding fuel to the controversy for several reasons The first is that (as of this writing) it was a “beta” version, meaning it was still under development as a test version but released to the non-EULA reading (End User License Agreement) public as a high-priority update (at least high-priority to Microsoft).

The second problem was that the Notification “phones home” every time you start your system to check with Microsoft’s servers, (a fact that was not originally disclosed) which has privacy advocates up in arms

The whole purpose of the program was to help Microsoft start to reel in the roughly one-third of illegitimate Windows installations in the world, but it looks like it's turning into more of a public relations nightmare.

I don’t think anyone takes exception to Microsoft cracking down on software piracy (other than software pirates!) but if the methods used impact legitimate users, that is going to cause problems and it has.

System problems after installation, false positives and various other complaints are filling blogs around the Internet and a large number of detractors have posted ways to disable the notification system.

The notification portion of the package can easily be avoided before it is installed if you click on the “Decline” button when the EULA for it comes up, but once you install it, you cannot uninstall it (which is adding the controversy).

At this point, since it’s not a requirement for downloading security updates, there is no pressing reason to install either of the tools You will however have to install the Validation tool if you want to be able download updates to things like Media Player and other "freebie" add-ons from Microsoft.

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Author

Posted by Ken of Data Doctors on June 22, 2006