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This is why people pirate Windows

May 15, 20128 mins
Data and Information SecurityMicrosoftSecurity

After reformatting with a Digital River Windows 7 backup disc, my Windows experience turned into a nightmare of returning errors: This copy of Windows is not genuine -- You may be a victim of counterfeiting. After this I can see why people get burned from the Windows Genuine Advantage experience and take other options like pirating Windows.

Once upon a time during college and working IT, running a computer repair shop on the side, and then later corporate world days, Microsoft Windows pretty much guaranteed plenty of work what with the constant world of updating Windows patches, testing then pushing out updates, and installing or reinstalling Microsoft software after poor user input to name but a few reasons. I could not even begin to recall how many hundreds of PCs and laptops that I have reformatted, validated as “genuine” and activated (reactivated). For individual home users, it was common for me to call Microsoft and enter the 25-character product key.

Digital River Inc and Microsoft have extended their e-commerce deal to March 2014 so Digital River may continue “to build, host and manage the Microsoft Store.” Digital River is legit and frequently recommended to students since it offers discounts for Microsoft products; Digital River made about 28% of its revenue from Microsoft software in 2011. Users download a digital version of Windows and, when prompted after installation, enter the product key provided. Later a backup disc is sent via snail mail. After a recent reformat using the Windows 7 Professional backup disc and product key provided by Digital River, and then installing all critical, important and optional Microsoft updates, including Windows Genuine Advantage validation check, my Microsoft consumer experience has been unpleasant.

After “successfully” using Windows Genuine Advantage (WGA) validation (which Microsoft renamed Windows Activation Technology after WGA falsely accused millions of consumers of running pirated software), I had no clue there was any issue until the error “This copy of Windows in not genuine” appeared on the lower right of the LCD screen. I looked over my Windows update history for any fails, saw none, and knowing the software was indeed paid for, not pirated, and definitely genuine, I reviewed Microsoft Windows 7, Windows genuine FAQs, activate Windows 7 FAQs, and then how-to removethis copy is not genuine” searches.

According to Microsoft, “When Windows 7 fails validation, a message reminding you that Windows might not be genuine begins appearing on your desktop. You’ll also receive reminders when you log in and at intervals while you’re using Windows, and your desktop wallpaper will change to a plain black background. You can reset your desktop background to a favorite wallpaper or different color, but it will reset to this plain black background every 60 minutes. In addition, you won’t be able to receive optional (non-security) updates from WindowsUpdate. This experience will continue until Windows is genuine.”

It had been a 15 hour workday, so I shut down and planned to resolve the “This copy is not genuine” issue the next day, a weekend when I did not have to work. The error did not show up. The next few days it showed up randomly and then:

At this point I was annoyed and of course it was a busy workday. I know plenty of people who have pirated Windows but I’m not one of them and I don’t want to see that error. I’ve paid for every Windows OS. What came to mind was a Coding Horror post from 2006 when one in five computers failed validation and were accused of “you may be a victim of software counterfeiting.” Next, due to the broken Windows validation system, I recalled “I’m pirating the next version of Windows” where the author wrote, “I will not buy another copy of Windows until the activation system is removed. Not another moment of my time will be wasted entering excessively long 100-digit activation keys into my telephone, only to have the key automatically rejected, then manually accepted after a few more minutes of inconvenience by someone on the phone. I have had enough.”

I’m a big believer in screenshots as they speak louder than words, especially if you may later talk with someone who disputes what you say and acts as if you are a dumb chick who doesn’t know anything about computers (grrr) – instead a total geek who knows this and that about a few things. (Another side note that is also disturbing is dealing with a dude about setting up master and slave on hard drives and being told he thinks it is so sexy that you know that. WTF?) Let me also qualify this right now to say any hardware changes like a new sweet video card for gaming, 800 watt power supply, and additional RAM were all installed around Christmas, so there were no hardware changes anytime close to reformatting to trigger a validation recheck. I don’t have screenshots of prior attempts, having no idea this would turn into a Microsoft Windows “This copy is not genuine” nightmare.

Indeed, even Microsoft agreed, “Because Windows installed on your PC is genuine, enjoy the security, reliability and protection it provides.” Whew, ok this was like the third time but all is well that ends well, right? Eeenk! Two days later guess what showed up again on the bottom right of the monitor? “This copy of Windows is not genuine.”

Repeat steps and then check:

Well I hope it doesn’t come back, but this had me thinking about the coming Windows 8. Granted I’m out of practice of mass fixing Windows, but you can surely see from the screenshot proof that it was indeed validated and genuine at least once. (I’m telling you I’ve been through these steps four times.) On a Little Bit of Code, Justin Cunningham wrote, “Why does Microsoft insist on making it harder for paying customers to use the product, than for pirates? Why alienate the people that actually pay for the software? Until this consumer hostile tomfoolery comes to an end, I am pirating Windows. Take the advice of Gabe Newell, and address the service problem that is causing piracy.”

I explained the situation to Microsoft PR people, sending a couple screenshots and 15 links, eight of them back to Microsoft to show what I had read. Then I added, “There is mounting frustration about the Windows activation issue and I’ve also read a host of pages describing how to remove the offending ‘This copy is not genuine.’ I would like Microsoft to give the definitive how-to remove answer to customers who are not pirating, not a victim of counterfeiting, but continue to get error messages as if they are.”

I also added, “On a final note, last year Pirate Pay received a $100,000 investment from the Microsoft Seed Financing Fund. Does Microsoft have any more plans to help Pirate Pay?”

I said I would publish in 23 hours since Waggener Edstrom Microsoft PR requires a deadline time. The answers can’t be that difficult since Microsoft surely has a definitive guide . . . it’s their OS and their activation tool to make sure Windows is genuine.The initial response pointed me back to a link I had sent them while describing the problem. Hmm, maybe all those links and description of issue after reformatting was not clear? The PR person did state: “I am working to see if we have a firm resolution to your problem, but in the meantime, I want to confirm (and it looks like you have done this already from the string below) that you’ve been through these steps:” (see image on right or see large to understand why asking the big M for anything makes writing on Microsoft subnet so frustrating sometimes.)

Tick tock goes the clock and I’m about to publish with no other response. Google, Bing or DuckDuckGo it; this is an ongoing problem for thousands of people. Justin Cunningham was right; it is easier and faster to pirate Windows. After this I can see why people get burned from the Windows Genuine Advantage experience and take other options like pirating, or switching to Linux or Apple.

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ms smith

Ms. Smith (not her real name) is a freelance writer and programmer with a special and somewhat personal interest in IT privacy and security issues. She focuses on the unique challenges of maintaining privacy and security, both for individuals and enterprises. She has worked as a journalist and has also penned many technical papers and guides covering various technologies. Smith is herself a self-described privacy and security freak.