As the debate over Windows Genuine Advantage rages on, Microsoft is attempting to rein in speculation that the antipiracy tool could be used put an abrupt end to the use of pirated versions of Windows. A spokesperson for the company firmly denied that the tool would be used in such a manner, saying that "No, Microsoft antipiracy technologies cannot and will not turn off your computer." Confusion remains over just what WGA is designed to do.
Dislike for WGA and what it represents has been brewing for years, stemming back to the release days of Windows XP. At that time, Microsoft required new copies of the Windows XP operating system to "activate" over the Internet using Windows Product Activation (WPA), a process that required a user’s consent to send identifying information about their computer and OS to the company. While that information was essentially nothing more than an authenticity code coupled with select system specifications, many users were uncomfortable with the tactic. Still, it was much like a tetanus shot: one quick
prick click, and it was over.
Piracy, of course, lived on, and WPA has largely been assessed as a victory only to the extent that it stopped many forms of casual piracy. With Windows Genuine Advantage, Microsoft is looking to improve on the anti-piracy tools of 2001, and WGA is best understood as the heir to WPA. Whereas the original tools only required activation once in the first 30 days of use, WGA is designed to constantly monitor a system’s licensed state. In very general terms, the idea is to make life as a so-called pirate difficult.
"The game is changing for counterfeiters. In Windows Vista, we are making it notably harder and less appealing to use counterfeit software, and we will work to make that a consistent experience with older versions of Windows as well," said a spokesman in a statement.
Still, the company has not fully disclosed their vision for WGA, leaving many questions unanswered. After talking with several trusted sources about Microsoft’s plans for Windows Vista, I believe I can shed some light on the reasons why WGA behaves as it does, and why Microsoft will indeed be using antipiracy strategies that continue to monitor one’s licensing state long after the initial setup.
The itch that WGA scratches
WGA is designed to identify a computer’s licensed state and to report that state to Microsoft. Generally speaking, Microsoft wants this information for two reasons. First, they want to fight casual piracy, and this is one way to discourage it. The company believes that tools such as WGA will make it less likely for people to share OS copies or install the same OS throughout, say, their home.
Second, they want you to be wary of pirated software, and this is one way to encourage that. Microsoft believes that commercial forms of piracy are especially egregious because they typically involve a third party selling counterfeited software—software that Microsoft ends up supporting for free. WGA is designed to kill two birds with one stone by tying OS updates to WGA monitoring. The end result is that Joe Consumer has a good reason to make sure his software is legitimate (to get updates), but there’s also a new side effect: the company believes that if Joe Consumer learns that he was sold counterfeit software, he’ll help nab the crooks, as it were. You can see this aim in Microsoft’s policy regarding known cases of OS piracy:
"Qualifying customers who fill out a counterfeit report, provide proof of purchase, and send in their counterfeit CDs may receive a genuine copy at no cost. Customers may also purchase an electronic license of Windows XP Home for $99 or Windows XP Pro for $149, or from their favorite local resellers," the spokesperson told Ars Technica.
From Microsoft’s point of view, if you have pirated/counterfeit software on your computer, you’re either a victim or a pirate. If you’re a pirate and caught, or if you’re a victim but have no proof, you can buy legitimate keys. If you’re a victim and you can prove it, you get a free replacement. The program is clearly designed to smoke out counterfeiters while collecting licensing fees.
The move to constant monitoring
This still does not address the change from a one-time authenticity check to what is essentially constant monitoring. To explain this, I offer the following hypothesis: constant monitoring is going to become very important with Windows Vista. Here’s why: the new OS will be the first from Microsoft that supports upgrades on the fly, allowing users who purchased one version of Vista to "upgrade" to other versions by simply obtaining a new license key and inserting their old installation disk. Dubbed Anytime Upgrade, the program takes advantage of Windows’ modular design. When consumers head to the store to pick up Windows Vista next year, they will actually be picking up media that has all flavors of the desktop OS on it, regardless of what the box says. Joe’s Windows Vista Home Basic disc will also have all of the features found in Vista Ultimate, and Joe can activate those features for an upgrade price to be announced later.
The end result is that the OS can be upgraded "in place" using existing media. The benefits are obvious: Microsoft hopes that users will learn about features in the Premium and Ultimate versions of Vista and want to upgrade, and the chances of them doing so are much higher if they already have the media and a simple way to obtain a new licensing key. It could even become an impulse buy. (And I must point out that this can also be used to sell future updates to Vista as well.)
The potential rewards also come with risk. What is to stop users from buying the cheapest version of Vista (or even pirating it, for that matter) and then using hacks to easily upgrade to the best version? This is where WGA’s persistent monitoring comes in. Through updates delivered to the application, known exploits will eventually be identified, or so the company hopes. Post installation hacks, whether to gain new features or change product keys, can now be identified in the field and targeted dynamically instead of waiting for the next major service pack (which could be years away). Furthermore, valid keys that are leaked can also be quickly disabled, although the company hopes to have another solution for leaked corporate keys in place soon. The fight against key leaks explains why the persistent monitoring will also be applied to OSes such as Windows XP, which cannot take advantage of Anytime Upgrade.
As we move closer and closer to a world where portable physical storage formats will be replaced by high-performance networked storage, software developers are drooling for a safe way to sell software and software upgrades online, cutting out the middle man. Some are doing it already, others want in. For big-time targets of piracy such a Microsoft, the rush to sell software online must first be subjugated to antipiracy strategies. Microsoft and others know that post-installation exploits can be attractive for pirates, even sophisticated exploits that involve more than just replacing a specific DLL or editing a registry key. For Anytime Upgrade and its forthcoming brethren to be a success, persistent monitoring is going to be part of the equation.
Many may have heard by now about a very vocal group of white MacBook owners who had begun to complain about the palm rest areas of the white plastic on the MacBooks were beginning to stain. Apple's original response to this was that the MacBooks were subjected to "improper handling" by owners that ultimately caused the odd discoloration on the otherwise pristine-looking casing of the computer. Truth be told, even Infinite Loop's Clint Ecker says that he was convinced that his MacBook palm rest stains were, he thought, a result of merely using the computer with "dirty hands."
Well, Clint, you can pick up the pr0n again, as Apple appears to have changed their stance on MacBook stains. While cosmetic issues on Mac laptops and desktops have never been covered under AppleCare, Apple seems to have decided that the issues with discoloration on the casing of white MacBooks is, in fact, not necessarily due to improper handling by users but due to a manufacturing defect.
What kind of manufacturing "defect," you ask? Well, nobody knows. However, Apple is offering to replace the top case of your stained MacBook if you are being affected with the discoloration affliction.
Those with discolored MacBooks should contact AppleCare and inform them of the stain problem. The replacement top case should no longer have this issues, nor will the newest Macbooks as Apple seems to have changed the plastic, the newest MacBooks having a much smoother feel to them in those areas, while the ones with the problem feel rough.
Of course, the mere existence of such a cosmetic issue on machines that are often considered to be amongst the sleekest and sexiest laptops can't look good for Apple, however it seems that they're hoping that public acknowledgement and fixing of the problem will save their (somewhat struggling, these days) PR image.
What would you do if your web site was “sandboxed” by Google? If you’re children’s search engine KinderStart.com, you’d spend a few weeks wondering why site traffic had fallen by more than 70 percent and why AdSense revenue was in the toilet. Then you’d sue Google.
The company filed a complaint (PDF) against Google earlier this year in which KinderStart alleged that Google’s behavior was monopolistic and violated the smaller company’s “constitutionally guaranteed freedom of speech.” The blockage of KinderStart’s site from the Google index allegedly occurred without warning or notification of any kind, and the company’s attempts to get answers from Google have fallen on deaf ears. Now KinderStart wants its day in court, and its complaint seeks class action status for all companies similarly affected.
Google is no stranger to these sorts of lawsuits. Courts have so far been unwilling to rule against the search engine because it is a private business that is allowed to make its own editorial decisions about what will and will not be included in the Google index. Google agrees, and in its motion to dismiss points out that chaos would result if courts got involved in the search engine business.
Plaintiff KinderStart contends that the judiciary should have the final say over that editorial process. It has brought this litigation in the hopes that the Court will second-guess Google?s search rankings and order Google to view KinderStart?s site more favorably. If KinderStart were right, and websites could use the courts to dictate what the results of a search on the Google search engine should be, neither Google nor any other search engine could operate as it would constantly face lawsuits from businesses seeking more favorable positioning. Fortunately, KinderStart?s position finds no support in the law.
Though the judge in the case has shown skepticism toward most of KinderStart’s claims, he did show interest in the charge that Google may be abusing a monopoly position in order to silence competitors. He may now give KinderStart time to amend its complaint with more specific information ahead of a September 29 hearing. His concern is apparently that Google has taken some sort of action against a rival search engine, a move which could be seen as an abuse of market power. KinderStart agrees.
“What Google is trying to do is take out the competition,” said Gregory Yu, KinderStart’s attorney.
This claim seems difficult to reconcile with the fact that Google provides ready access to far larger search engines like Yahoo, MSN, and Ask, just as it is difficult to make the case the the Big G is actually a monopolist (it currently serves up less than half of all Internet searches in the US).
It must be frustrating for a site like KinderStart to have its traffic dry up without explanation, but the business model has a problem if 70 percent of all traffic comes from Google searchers. Such a number suggests that the site has been unable to attract repeat visitors or to build its brand as a one-stop destination for children’s information. It also highlights the need for a diverse revenue base, one that is not built solely on AdSense.
I'm not going to say that games are making as much money as movies, because then the comments would be nothing but numbers and people arguing about the box office vs. DVD sales, so let's all agree that games are a huge business. The issue of course, is that no one really seems to know how to market them. Commercials are nearly worthless, no one in the target demographic watches them, and what can you say about a game in thirty seconds that will make people want to play it? You have games like Halo, where teasers and trailers will be drooled over and argued about for months, but not every game is a Halo. So how do you get the excitement level for games up to movie levels?
This article has a few ideas, but each of them has a drawback. Hardcore events… but what about the casual gamer? Viral marketing… but that only works with people who tend to spend a lot of time on the Internet anyway. The game version of King Kong simply used the momentum of the movie to great success.
It's clear that there aren't a lot of strategies out there that work for games, and most of them will simply appeal to a core audience and then rely on word of mouth from there. The example offered by Blitz: The League is a great one, however. When they didn't have an NFL license they played that aspect of the game up, saying they were showing you and letting you do things that the NFL would never have agreed to. That lead to a lot of buzz as people wanted to see what the NFL was so scared of. The NFL wasn't scared of anything, they were just bought out by EA. The trick worked though, and the game sold well.
You have to admit, that's pretty brilliant. Maybe it's just a matter of ad execs thinking on their feet and coming up with something just as good for every game. Of course that takes time, and creativity. Two things both the ad and gaming business are often lacking in.
There's a time in every gamer's life where you have to make the decision: do you enjoy playing videogames, or do you collect? You can do both of course, but there's certain behavior in each group that usually makes people fall into one specific camp. People who just like playing games have no trouble selling their titles when they finish them. Collectors, on the opposite extreme, will often buy rare games they find even if they won't get to play them for a long time, if ever. In fact, the game may just sit in the shrinkwrap, never loved, just so someone can say they have a mint copy of Suikoden 2 on their shelf. These are the sort of people who will look at you sadly if they see Greatest Hits versions of games on your shelf.
Having my game collection in storage has broken the collecting bug; the only games on my shelves are the ones I'm playing or reviewing. Once I get those racks and racks of games back in the house? It's over for me. A game goes into the collection, and it completes a series or simply makes one system's row look bigger, and it's never leaving. From my copy of X-men Legends signed by Stan Lee to my Dreamcast shooter collection, there's a lot of stuff I could never part with.
Gamespot has a feature that shines a light on the seedier side of game collecting, with the editors talking about the five games they have on their shelves that they think make them look cool. Sometimes it's an underappreciated gem, sometimes an import, sometimes it's something as mundane as Guitar Hero that's there to prove they can still rock. Admit it, if you collect you have one or two things on your shelf that you always hope someone notices when they come over. The best reward for collecting is someone pulling a game out of your stacks and exlaiming, "Oh man, you have a copy of this?!?" There simply isn't a better feeling in the world.
If nothing else, this feature should remind you just how cool Otogi is.