By J. Nicholas Hoover
August 27, 2007
Microsoft (MSFT)'s Windows Genuine Advantage servers, which validate
copies of Windows XP and Vista as authentic, encountered problems late
Friday or early Saturday, sending Windows users into a frenzy.
Users suddenly lit up Microsoft support forums with complaints that
their once-validated copies of Microsoft Windows were suddenly suspected
to be counterfeit.
Microsoft initially responded to complaints by posting a note in its
online WGA forum informing readers that WGA "might be down for a few
days" and that users should try back again on Tuesday, four days after
complaints began filtering in. Validation was working fine again by
later Saturday, and Microsoft's Windows Vista Team Blog noted that "very
few customers were affected," but there was no shortage of complaints on
the company's WGA support forum site.
Without a fix, users would have had to turn off anything that would ping
those servers for validation, including updates and patches, until the
issue got resolved or risk having their software wrongly labeled as not
genuine. In Windows XP, a failed validation doesn't have much effect.
However, in Windows Vista, it will disable features like Vista's Aero
user interface, its ReadyBoost performance tool, and DirectX support a
few days after a failed validation.
As of Monday, there is still no explanation for what went wrong over the
weekend, though Microsoft promised in a support forum post to get to the
bottom of the problem. "We're still investigating the root cause of
this," WGA product manager Phil Liu wrote in the WGA forum. "Will get
updates out as soon as we can." A Microsoft spokesperson also said more
information will be posted at the WGA blog as it becomes available.
In a slew of comments on Microsoft forums, users have alternatively used
the incident as an opportunity to attack Microsoft or applaud the
company's quick response, with the scale heavily in the favor of the
negative. Some sniped at online validation or even Microsoft in general.
"Why don't we go back to old ways of buying the software, installing it
and voila get the work done quickly," commenter John Hacker wrote in one
of the Microsoft forum posts on the outage. "Why do we need to go online
to validate and activate products?"
Others were thankful that the problem didn't continue until Tuesday, as
Microsoft had originally warned. "Thank you so much for resolving this
issue so quickly," user Woody79_00, who identifies himself as Ron, wrote
in the forum. "Thank you for your such swift work to get this issue
resolved, especially on a weekend."
A few complained, even with Microsoft's help, of difficulty returning
their copies of Windows to the state they were in before they failed
validation. One user, pianomangs wrote that despite a fix posted by
Microsoft, Windows error codes were still showing up declaring that
Windows could no longer search for new updates. "I certainly do not want
Microsoft to believe that they have fixed this problem already,"
pianomangs wrote. "I don't want them to believe that until I am fully
This isn't the first time the Windows Genuine Advantage server has gone
down. Two times in October and November of last year, the WGA service
was hit by a temporary outage, drawing similar complaints from Windows
users and forcing Microsoft to create a knowledge base article showing
volume license holders how to revert the error.
Microsoft has been running WGA checks since 2005 for updates and
patches, and there's never been a lack of complaints about the program.
The biggest complaint, that WGA is akin to spyware in that it reports
back to Microsoft on a regular basis, forced Microsoft to decrease the
number of times the software phones home to Microsoft. Others have
complained of false positives that have incorrectly labeled genuine
Windows copies as not genuine.
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