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Microsoft Ratchets Up XP Piracy Nagging

Microsoft has updated its Windows Genuine Advantage antipiracy mechanism in an attempt to flag bogus Windows XP product keys that have surfaced since the last WGA update.

WGA consists of software installed on users' PCs that periodically checks to see if their version of Windows is authentic, and alerts those whose copies don't pass muster. As with Microsoft's last WGA update in August 2008, users whose copies of XP fail validation will see a black background the next time they log in, along with a message informing them that they might be a victim of software counterfeiting. WGA works the same way in Windows Vista.

Microsoft is changing the installation process so that users who download WGA through Automatic Updates will be able to choose whether or not to install it the next time they log in, said Alex Kochis, senior product manager in the Windows Genuine Advantage group, said in a Tuesday blog post.

Users who downloaded the previous WGA update will have the new validation information updated automatically without having to re-install, Kochis said.

WGA has been widely loathed by Windows users since it was launched in 2005, due to several incidents in which genuine users have been mistakenly identified as pirates.

In January 2007, Microsoft acknowledged that WGA had mistakenly identified more than half a million Windows users as software pirates. In August of the same year, the validation scheme for Windows XP and Vista angered thousands of users by flagging legitimate versions of the OS as pirated, and causing some Vista users' copies to enter reduced functionality mode.

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