This morning Microsoft announced another noteworthy change to its flagship Windows Genuine Advantage (WGA) program - an update to be rolled out later this month to all Vista users that will display a WGA warning dialog box when it detects either of two common Vista activation cracks. In the same announcement, they also for the first time showed screen shots of how WGA changes debuting in SP1 will take some of the bite out of a longstanding Windows product activation rule as well.
Now-departed Microsoft marketing chief Michael Sievert announced last December that Service Pack 1 would drop Vista's "reduced functionality mode" (the notorious "kill switch") in favor of a series of notifications and nag screens. WGA senior product manager Alex Kochis posted the details of today's changes, with screen shots, on Microsoft's Windows Genuine Advantage blog today.
The new WGA code in SP1 is designed to detect two of the most common activation cracks: one tries to fool Vista into thinking that it's an OEM; the other fools the activation timer into waiting until some far-off date in the future. Later this month, before SP1 begins rolling out, Microsoft plans to deliver a Vista update that checks for the presence of those two specific cracks. Unlike XP's WGA add-in, which was designed to confirm that the system's activation was valid and wound up failing too often, this one looks only for the details of those two hacks.
It's worth noting that this first release of the crack-detecting update won't try to remove the crack or shut down the computer; Kochis says the detection and removal functions will be combined in the next release, with no date announced for that. In the upcoming version of this update, links on the informational dialog box will lead to webpages with repair details, but you can dismiss the dialog box immediately - and permanently, if you choose. Anyone who sought out and used one of these two hacks to avoid paying for a legitimate copy of Windows will probably not be surprised.
(They can also use a different activation hack that Microsoft hasn't yet written detection code for.) In addition to those unrepentant pirates, however, Microsoft believes there are a significant number of technically unsophisticated customers who had their system upgraded by a friend or a shady repair shop and have no idea that it's been hacked. For them, the new update is designed to serve as an early warning that they'll have to deal with product activation sooner or later.
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