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Where's The Advantage In Windows Genuine Advantage?

Reporter's Notebook: I was terribly reluctant to make Windows Genuine Advantage the whipping boy of a second column in a row, but in this case, it threw the first punch, and I'm not much for turning the other cheek.

Some obnoxious spyware called TrustIn Bar managed to get on my computer, although my antivirus program, NOD32 nailed it immediately.

I went through the removal process, but just to be careful, I poked around the registry to make sure all traces of the spyware were gone.

Huge mistake. On reboot, my computer informed me that my copy of Windows was "not Genuine." This was news to me since I have the shiny reflective disc from Microsoft, and XP had been running on my computer for several months.

Apparently, WGA has no sense of historical context, like the fact this machine has been running Windows XP for several months. How does a Windows installation run fine for months before suddenly becoming "not Genuine"? When it's beta software, it seems.

I posted on a Microsoft support board, but given the fact that this all went down during the recent July 4 holiday weekend, a response wasn't likely any time soon. The board is notable for being full of people with similar WGA problems; false positives are everywhere.

Microsoft confirmed this in a blog posting that one in five of the 300 million computers with Windows XP and WGA fail validation.

Obviously I'm not alone with this problem. And just as we were prepared to run this story, Paul Thurrott of Supersite for Windows got bit as well. He's not even sure what set it off on his computer, but it was a similar situation. Out of nowhere, WGA said a computer that had been working just fine was not "Genuine."

Here we go again.

Because it was the July 4 weekend, Microsoft engineers weren't around for help. Someone not affiliated with Microsoft suggested a fix by using the Repair option in Windows XP, and I took his advice. Another huge mistake.

That made the situation worse thanks to version conflicts between libraries on the Windows XP CD and Service Pack 2 DLLs.

My day was turning into one of those Macintosh ads where actors play a Windows PC and a Mac. And for the second time in three months, I was forced to do a reinstall.

When I relocated to San Francisco from Los Angeles in April to take this position, my computer was damaged and needed a new hard drive. That new drive was already near capacity, and I couldn't resist a Fourth of July special at a local retailer (500GB drive for $189, regular price $309).

So, after the journey to Fry's, it was time for the reinstall ritual. In the process, I had to make, not one, but two calls to the Microsoft activation. As you know, Windows and Office XP both come with annoying activation keys.

Well, due to so many reinstalls on my computers, both Office and Windows say the programs have been activated too many times and refuse to activate automatically via the Internet.

This requires a call to an 800 number where you first have to speak 36 numbers generated by Windows and Office (separately), then someone comes on the phone and, after a rudimentary question or two, gives you a new 36-digit key, and then you are good to go.

And I wonder... is Microsoft stopping enough piracy to make up for these phone calls? How much is this costing when it scales up to the number of users Microsoft has and potential reinstalls? How many of those 20 percent false positives were doing reinstalls?

Plus, it's so easy to snow these activation people.

They ask how many computers you've installed Windows/Office on, then ask what happened. What's to stop anyone from lying and saying it's on one computer and they have been forced to do a reinstall? These folks on the other end take your word for it and have never once challenged me.

Microsoft has far too many problems at the moment. Legal issues continue to impact its bottom line, shearing off a measurable portion of profits. It misses shipping deadlines more often than it makes them.

Gates' retirement is having the predictable result of high-level people jumping ship, with Google the destination of choice.

Even some of its rank and file are near revolt.

Does it need more woes? No. So it should not inflict them upon itself. Nothing good will come of WGA, but a lot of bad can come of it. Microsoft should stop treating its customers with so much distrust that it has to watch them every single day.