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June 12, 2006

Microsoft Genuine (Dis)Advantage

The controversy over the use of the Microsoft Validation and Notification tools is erupting a pace as details get into the press.  We know, for example, that the validation tool contacts Microsoft each time the machine on which it is installed boots up.  Certainly mine does with a relentless joie de vivre if the notices I see in Zone Alarm are accurate.  This begs the question, of course, of how many times do I need to verify that my installation is real and not a pirated copy.  I assume my copy is genuine as it came out of a Microsoft box and I have never received a notice to the contrary.

Other questions flow such as what information does this/these tool(s) collect and what does Microsoft have up its sleeve.  The validation tool does pick up this information:

* Windows product key
* PC manufacturer
* Operating System version
* BIOS information (make, version, date)
* BIOS MD5 Checksum
* User locale (language setting for displaying Windows)
* System locale (language version of the operating system)
* Office product key (if validating Office)
* Hard drive serial number

Microsoft does say in its FAQ that no personally identifiable information is collected although people "quibble" if a hard drive serial number (combined with an IP address, by the way) is personally identifiable.  Again, what does Microsoft have up its sleeve.

The Notification tool is just as murky as to purpose.  Microsoft claims that the tool is to tell you that the copy of Windows may not be genuine and if so, how to make it genuine.  There are some questions about the real purpose of the tool, especially because it is a beta.  Microsoft says that the constant connect with Microsoft servers is in case the tool malfunctions and needs to be shut down or updated, or something like that.  Microsoft continues that they will change the frequency of contact to once every 14 days, and ultimately turn the tool off, or not. 

Groklaw has a lengthy analysis of the tools, the misleading EULAs associated with these tools, and speculation about Microsoft's intentions.  It's a good analysis from a legal perspective and worth reading.  Check it out here.

June 12, 2006 | Permalink


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