Mini-Microsoft Cutting Room Floor

Saturday, November 04, 2006

But I am Genuine - New comment on Microsoft Academy

Windows User has left a new comment on your post "Microsoft Academy":

This is off-topic, but I hope mini lets it through anyway, since this blog is the only avenue available for communicating directly with the Microsoft culture.

I re-installed XP Pro SP2 on my machine and did the updates and apparently there's a licencing problem. While I work to solve it, I'm greeted with this message:

"Your system may be at risk. This copy of WIndows is not genuine. You may be a victim of software counterfeiting."

Setting aside the registration ambiguities that cause this problem (and a quick Google search reveals that many people have gotten this message in error), I have two points to make about this.

(Let's stipulate that the error causing Windows to believe itself to be an illegal copy is not the point: the point is the way the OS communicates with me.)

First, I object to the thrust of the argument, because the text seems to be suggesting that using an unlicenced copy of Windows is bad because it will harm me -- i.e. "real" Windows is "safer" because of the security updates etc. But why can't the OS stop beating around the bush and say, "You have not paid for this copy of Windows, which means you are stealing it, which we, Microsoft, object to." (Kind of like the Microsoft install discs which say, with refreshing candor and clarity, "Do not make illegal copies of this disc," or iPod packaging which simply says "Don't steal music.")

Beyond the obvious scare tactics being employed, I object to the language being used, on a basic conceptual level, because it first equates "illegal copy" with "not genuine." If I had stolen or illegally downloaded Windows and installed it on my box, my copy of Windows would be "genuine." This is the operating system itself speculating that it's not genuine (shouldn't it know that it's genuine?) and, furthermore, offering to let me "resolve" the situation by buying Windows. Presumably, once I buy a license, my "not genuine" copy of Windows magically becomes "genuine" and my system is no longer "at risk."

My point is, why the dishonesty and fearmongering? If Microsoft detects me stealing something, rightly or wrongly, can't they just say so? It seems like this tortuous, indirect and unclear language is endemic to so much corporate culture. Programmers and computer systems are traditionally direct and clear, leaving the advertising copywriting to less pure areas of endeavor.

I don't like a real copy of Windows telling me it's a "fake" because it can't find the machine license or whatever. It knows as well as I do that it's real, and that "security" or "risk" have nothing to do with it at all. Can't my own computer talk in straight lines rather than attempting to scare me and fake me out?

I hope this post makes it onto mini-msft, in which case, if I've got this whole thing wrong somehow, I hope one of you Microsoft employees can show me how that's the case. Thanks for listening.

(No doubt the wording could be reworked to invoke the real issue with non-genuine Microsoft software: that it comes preloaded with Trojans and worms. Joe Wilcox has a good writeup on this here: Piracy and Security.)

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