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Got a pirated copy of Windows XP? Expect to be nagged


When Windows Vista was first introduced, it came with a powerful defense against pirating. In fact, it was so powerful that paying customers complained when it malfunctioned, and Microsoft wound up making some big changes.

Unless Vista was properly activated, it would drop into “reduced functionality mode”, in which the only thing you could do with it was access the Internet in order to complete online activation — or buy a valid product key.

In Service Pack 1, the behaviour was changed so that the operating system would still operate, but the background turned black and nagging boxes warned you that you “might be a victim of software piracy”.

Now, Microsoft is going to bring this “feature” to Windows XP Professional with a new version of the Windows Genuine Advantage. From the WGA blog:

With this update to WGA Notifications in Windows XP, we’ve implemented a couple of related features that draw on the notifications experience we designed for Windows Vista SP1. After installing this version of WGA Notifications on a copy of Windows XP that fails the validation, most users will discover on their next logon that their desktop has changed to a plain black background from whatever was there previously (see below).

pirate xp

The desktop background can be reset to anything else in the usual ways, but every 60 minutes it will change back to the plain black background. This will continue to happen until that copy of Windows is genuine.

Also, the user will see the addition of what we call the “persistent desktop notification.” This notification is similar to a watermark but works a bit differently. The image (see below) appears over the system tray and is non-interactive in the sense that you can’t click on it or do anything to it.

pirate xp
This update will come only to XP Pro users, since Microsoft says that’s the most-pirated version of XP. If you use XP Home or Media Center Edition, you won’t get this new release of WGA. It will take several months before all XP Pro users have the new WGA.

Blog author Alex Kochis claims this is something XP users actually want:

. . . Our research has clearly shown that customers value the ability of Windows to alert them when they may have software that is not genuine, but they also want the ability to stay up to date with the least effort required on their part. . . .

OK, Alex, if you say so . . .

While I don’t think users of activated, valid copies of XP Pro will care much about this, it could become an issue if WGA malfunctions, as it has in the past. If Microsoft’s WGA servers mistakenly report a valid copy as being not genuine, XP Pro users aren’t likely to “value” this feature all that much.

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