Microsoft Windows. It’s the cornerstone of one of the most profitable companies in the world, and controls a marketshare of ~90% of the Operating System market for the roughly 1 billion personal computers in the world. Naturally Microsoft takes its product very seriously, and in 2006 launched “Windows Genuine Advantage” a methodology for limiting the spread of illegitimate copies of Windows.
To understand this, we must first understand how Windows is legitimately used in the first place. After installing Windows, you have 30 days to register the product using your activation key. This key has a limit of activations that varies based on the version, and once reached, you must call Microsoft in order get Windows to continue working after 30 days and to stop it from nagging you to activate.
Cracks to stop the nagging and requirement for online or phone registration have been created, and Windows Genuine Advantage runs as a check to see if the system was properly registered or not. Microsoft requires this check for Windows Updates, and installation of Windows products.
Due to a resentment I have for the limitation on using a product I own, I usually just crack Windows, despite having several valid Windows activation keys. I had set up my parents computer from scratch and did this. However, a couple weeks ago someone tried to install Windows Live, which ran Windows Genuine Advantage, which failed due to the crack being rather old.
Now, it’s fine if Windows Live simply would not install, but Microsoft has an interesting way of coercion *cough*blackmail*cough* to get you to pay up.
Windows essentially becomes nagware forcing you to wait to log in, adding a perminent watermark to the system as well as a persistent system tray icon to harrass you. This is without consent (other than trying to install the Windows software in the first place) and does not come with an uninstall. It doesn’t help that detection is far from perfect.
Additionally, the system does not provide you the option to simply register using a valid license key, it merely directs you to where you can pay off Microsoft to STFU.
Aside from simply the malware-esque DRM methodology, by not allowing illegitimate copies access to Windows Update, Microsoft is doing genuine harm to the world. The prolific Conficker worm spread using exploit MS08-67, a buffer overflow in the remote procedure call service. This exploit was patched in October 2008, a month before Conficker was first found spreading at all.
Infected machines by Conficker or other worms or malware don’t simply inconvenience the owners of the infected PCs, but do harm in many other areas. Infected machines often become part of botnets, networks of remotely controlled systems often used for DDoS attacks and are integral in distributing spam. By also generating revenue for the creators of these infected machines by methods such as fake antivirus, grows criminal organizations.
Microsoft is not only being obnoxious and anti-consumer, they’re being completely irresponsible and in general if indirectly, is damaging their own reputation by these unpatched machines furthering Microsoft’s reputation being bankrupt in terms of security.
And for all these reasons, finally spurred by first-hand experience of Windows Genuine Advantage malware, my plans of eventually getting a copy of Windows 7 are dead. I also plan for any future computers that I should buy to get a refund for the Windows tax on it, if necessary, or buy one either with Linux or no OS preinstalled.