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Microsoft set to push out updated antipiracy tool

New version of WGA Notifications tool includes added changes in response to continued criticism of Microsoft over the software.

Microsoft will soon start pushing out a new version of its controversial Windows Genuine Advantage Notifications antipiracy tool to Windows XP users.

The updated WGA Notifications package includes additional changes in response to continued criticism Microsoft has faced over the software, the company said Tuesday. Microsoft in June also updated the tool after critics likened it to spyware because it checked in with Microsoft after each Windows restart.

In the latest update, Microsoft has changed the installation procedure of the tool so it's clearer to people what it does, said David Lazar, director of the Windows Genuine program at Microsoft. In the original version, WGA Notifications displayed only a wordy user license, which people don't typically read.

"We received a lot of feedback that people wanted more information when the package came down through Automatic Updates and was offered to them," Lazar said. The first screen of the new version gives an introduction to WGA Notifications in plain English, explains the benefit and the possible consequences if the XP copy is pirated, he said.

WGA Notifications, part of Microsoft's effort to combat software piracy, displays alerts on systems running illegitimately acquired copies of Windows. Users get the tool the same way they receive security updates, via Automatic Updates or Windows Update. Microsoft plans to push out a new version about every three to four months, Lazar said.

"It is necessary because we continue to discover new, compromised product keys," Lazar said. "We want to update our notifications and validation tool from time to time to also check for those compromised keys."

Microsoft has faced a lot of heat over WGA Notifications--in particular, because it delivered a prerelease version of the tool alongside security fixes, perhaps turning Windows users into unsuspecting guinea pigs. Also, WGA Notifications was found to ping a Microsoft server after each reboot, a behavior the company did not disclose.

In the new version, Microsoft has also changed the wording of the warning displayed on PCs that are found to be running a pirated copy of Windows. The old "This copy of Windows is not genuine" was too accusatory and people didn't understand it, Lazar said. The new version states: "Your system did not pass genuine validation."

Finally, Microsoft has improved the process to help users get a legitimate Windows license if needed. The old system had several glitches, Lazar said.

WGA Notifications is still an optional installation, meaning users can decline the installation when it pops up on their desktop. However, Windows users must have their PC electronically approved before they can download add-on Microsoft software such as Windows Media Player and Windows.

The updated WGA Notifications tool will be gradually pushed out via Automatic Updates during the next weeks and months, according to Microsoft.