Microsoft renames anti-piracy tech in Windows 7

Dubs the anti-counterfeit tools WAT, makes minor tweaks in new OS

Microsoft has renamed its anti-piracy technology and, starting with Windows 7, will downplay the components that enraged users in the past, a company manager said Thursday.

Windows Genuine Advantage, or WGA for short, has been dumped as the moniker for the company's anti-counterfeit software. It will be replaced by the new Windows Activation Technologies (WAT), said Alex Kochis, director of the company's Genuine Windows group.

The name change came from a realization that users had a better grasp of product activation, the key-based process that Microsoft requires for its operating systems. "When we went out and talked to customers, we found that activation was the concept that resonated most strongly with them," said Kochis.

Activation has always been a part of Microsoft's anti-piracy technology, which looks for a valid product key and uses repeated verification efforts to determine if a copy of Windows is legitimate. Since a legal activation is the end goal, Kochis said, it made sense to stress that in the technology's name.

WAT will also be the name for the technology in Vista -- which is the foundation for the similar-but-not-identical software in Windows 7 -- but WGA will remain the label for the anti-counterfeit technology still supported in the eight-year-old Windows XP.

Saying that WAT is a "more specific and technically accurate" name for the technology than WGA, Kochis declined to directly answer a question about whether Microsoft thought the latter had received a bad rap, and was abandoning the label because of its negative connotations to some.

WGA has been slammed in the past for falsely fingering legitimate copies as counterfeit, for "phoning home" to Microsoft servers on an overly aggressive schedule, and for its "reduced functionality mode" that crippled machines determined to be running pirated Windows.

Microsoft made dramatic changes to the latter in both Windows XP and Vista, forsaking the reduced functionality mode to instead increase the number of on-screen nagging messages and paint the desktop black.

The feel of WAT in Windows 7 -- when a copy is flagged as phony -- will be very similar to the process in Vista, said Kochis. "If you run an anti-piracy program and keep customer experience the center of the focus, you can strike a real healthy balance," he argued.

Of the changes, the one most evident to users will be the discarding of a delay during log-in on a machine with an inactivated copy of Windows. Under the current, scheme, users have to wait 15 seconds before clicking the "Activate Later" button to proceed to the desktop. In Windows 7, users will be able to click that button immediately.

Microsoft will continue to support the old-school WGA on Windows XP, said Kochis, with updates to the technology as necessary. He wouldn't commit to WGA through the rest of the operating system's lifespan; according to Microsoft's standard policy, XP will be supported with security updates until April 2014. (Microsoft shifted XP from "mainstream" to "extended" support four weeks ago.)

"We'll be out there and active until we see that product fade away [from piracy]," Kochis said.

Along with the name change and a few tweaks to the technology in Windows 7, Kochis said that Microsoft also made changes to the back end infrastructure, boosting its capacity, adding additional redundancy -- to prevent outages like the one in 2007 that raised reliability questions -- and put more service monitoring in place.

Microsoft will also unveil new tools -- and changes to existing management tools -- to ease enterprise activation chores, including volume activations and activation for operating systems running in virtual machines.

What users see in Windows 7 Release Candidate (RC), the preview launched last Tuesday, will be what they experience in the final version, Kochis said. "I don't anticipate any changes that customers would see," he said.

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Gregg Keizer

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