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Microsoft's private folders become a public headache

Company removes Private Folders 1.0 from site following outcry. But the add-on remains available through the weekend, into Monday.

Microsoft's effort to provide a little privacy for Windows users has instead turned into a very public black eye.

Earlier this month, Microsoft began offering Private Folders 1.0, a free add-on to the operating system that let users create password-protected Windows folders. However, there was a near-immediate outcry saying that, without proper safeguards, what was intended as a benefit could turn into a big headache for businesses. The software could make it harder for companies to meet compliance regulations as well as to handle users who forget their password, critics said.

In the wake of the concern, Microsoft said Friday it was removing the tool from its Web site. However, the add-on remained available through the weekend and into Monday.

A Microsoft representative could not say why it took the software maker until Monday to remove the download from its Web site, but did confirm that by late Monday it was no longer available.

However, customers who go to the Web site that once hosted the add-on are in for more confusion. Instead of a message saying the software is no longer available, customers get an error message that suggests there has been a problem validating the customer's copy of Windows.

"A problem has been encountered during the Windows Genuine Advantage validation process," the message reads. "Due to technical difficulties, we are unable to determine whether your operating system is genuine at this time. Please return later to complete the validation process."

Microsoft had required those who wanted the tool, before its removal, to go through the software maker's controversial Windows Genuine Advantage process. The software is downloaded onto a user's computer to attempt to verify whether the PC's copy of Windows is legitimate.