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Hey Mr Policeman - this car is stolen!

Windows Genuine Advantage is broken - again

Security for virtualized datacentres

I’m sure you’ve heard that old joke which contrasts the development of the car with the astonishing rate of progress in digital electronics. The story goes that if automobile technology had advanced at the same pace as desktop computers in the last couple of decades, we’d all be driving cars that can circle the globe on a teaspoon of petrol, get us to Sydney and back in five minutes flat, and so on and so forth…

Well, that’s the theory; the humour element comes in when you realise that if we really did build cars like … uhh … a certain well-known Redmond-based corporation builds operating systems, they’d break down every ten or twenty yards, repeatedly warn that you have unused cigarette butts in the ashtray and force you to upgrade to a new, compatible type of petrol half a dozen times on each trip.

Microsoft added a new twist to the joke at the end of last week when its Windows Genuine Advantage (WGA) server network awent belly-up for 19 hours (see El Reg here), incorrectly identifying legitimate versions of Windows XP and Vista as being pirated copies. Not only that, but WGA then proceeded to instruct a number of these suspect “pirate” operating systems to disable certain features such as the much vaunted Aero interface. Some advantage!

Now imagine if your trusty motor worked that way. You’re minding your own business bombing along the M40 in your shiny new BMW when you see a patrol car parked overlooking the motorway. You slam on the anchors as discreetly as possible, whereupon a large pennant swings up from the roof of your car, with the words “This Car Is Stolen!” emblazoned on it in Day-Glo Orange.

With the local constabulary now in enthusiastic pursuit, you discover that the built-in car-thief detection system (WGA – We Get Arrests™) has cunningly disabled fourth gear and is pumping engine oil out onto the road. After the inevitable arrest, you spend 19 hours in a police cell before you can convince anyone that you’re the victim of a software fault and it really is your BMW. Personally, I’m rather glad that Microsoft isn’t in the car business – I suspect it would be the end of civilisation as we know it…

But joking aside, there is a serious side to all this. Anyone with half a brain cell understands perfectly well that WGA is all to Microsoft's “advantage - and confers no benefit whatsoever on the customer; just tons of unnecessary hassle. For years, I've felt that Microsoft has lost the plot as far as Windows is concerned - now I'm convinced of it [and other customers seem equally unhappy here].

I thought a computer was supposed to be a time-saving, productivity-boosting tool. Somebody please remind Microsoft...

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