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WGA Meltdown Blamed On Human Error 250

Posted by Zonk
from the kinda-of-big-for-an-oopsie dept.
Erris writes "As commentators like Ars Technica slam WGA as deeply flawed, Microsoft is blaming human error and swears it won't happen again. 'Alex Kochis, Microsofts senior WGA product manager, wrote in a blog posting that the troubles began after preproduction code was installed on live servers. ... rollback fixed the problem on the product-activation servers within 30 minutes ... but it didnt reset the validation servers. ... "we didnt have the right monitoring in place to be sure the fixes had the intended effect"' Critics were not impressed. 'A system thats not totally reliable really should not be so punitive, said Gartner Inc. analyst Michael Silver. Michael Cherry, an analyst at Directions on Microsoft in Kirkland, Wash., said he was surprised that it was even possible to accidentally load the wrong code onto live servers ... [and asks], "what other things have they not done?' This is not the first time this has happened, either."
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WGA Meltdown Blamed On Human Error

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  • by Ckwop (707653) * <Simon.Johnson@gmail.com> on Monday September 03, 2007 @08:56AM (#20450915) Homepage

    This sort of ties in with what I was saying on IRC with my friends yesterday. My central point was that all operating system have got worse over the past ten years.

    I'm currently reading the Mythical Man Month (which I imagine most of you of heard of and already read) and in it he talks about the OS/360 operating system in great detail. I'm recalling this from memory so I'm sure someone will correct my mistakes but anyway, the machine had 2MB of memory and the operating system cost 400Kb of the memory. They charged something like $9.50 a month for 1Kb of system memory. That meant that every Kilobyte of memory saved was worth hundered or even thousands of dollars over the life time of the machine.

    It made me realise what is in retrospect a fairly obvious statement. The cost of the operating system on your hardware is an effect that should be minizimed. The operating system exists as a framework for runs tasks and applications, not for being a self-serving execuse to munch resources.

    While Moore's Law technically means something different; the adage has held true that computing power has doubled every eighteen months. This means that my machine which I bought in January should be roughly 100 times more powerful than the machine I had in 1997. Yet do I have hundred times more power to run my applications on a modern Operating System? Absolutely not.

    Strictly speaking, there are no tasks I do today that I couldn't do in 1997. I can be honest that computing hasn't really got easier since then either. There's the odd innovation here and there that's nice from a usability point of view, but fundamentally nothing has really changed. For an example, Office 97 and Windows 98 are no harder to use than XP and Office 2003. The addition of an extra monitor to my compute has impacted my productivity more than the choice of software in this period.

    In short, where did all these cycles go?

    Now Microsoft Vista is a sort of a post-modern operating system. In every sense it is a regression. It does not allow tasks to be managed easier yet requires an enormous amount of extra resources just to operate. WGA in a sense breaks the very stability of the system. The point of the OS is to perform tasks and applications yet Microsoft can take this away from you either by malice or stupidity.

    When are we going to demand more from OS vendors? When are we going to demand that future versions do the same as the previous version with less memory and less CPU overhead? Why do we pay to upgrade only to find our upgrades are wiped out by OS bloat? All of these are interesting questions, and while off-topic slightly, I'd like to see what you think!

    Simon

    • by squoozer (730327)
      Interesting. I have also thought about what is really different now and I also come to the conclusion that for a lot of people not much has changed. There are things you can do now that you couldn't before. In the area that I work the calculations we do would have been impossible just a few years ago.
    • by PeeAitchPee (712652) on Monday September 03, 2007 @09:21AM (#20451107)

      Strictly speaking, there are no tasks I do today that I couldn't do in 1997.

      Speak for yourself. Just because *you personally* don't use the extra processing power, memory, and storage that are available doesn't mean that lots of others don't. For example, I'm in the middle of digitizing and OCRing 110 years of local newspapers from microfilm into archival-quality PDFs for an historical society. Quite simply, you *cannot* have too much processing power when doing OCR -- I'm running multiple instances of ABBYY FineReader Corporate on a 2x Quad Core Xeon that has been pegged for two weeks now. It's quick, multithreads across all 8 cores and does a great job, but there's simply too much data. Note that this project would have been completely impossible in 1997 -- there simply wasn't enough processing power, memory or storage available to do it on anything less than a supercomputer. And that's not even considering truly bandwidth- and processor-intensive tasks related to video, weather meodeling, etc.

      • by Ckwop (707653) * <Simon.Johnson@gmail.com> on Monday September 03, 2007 @09:49AM (#20451325) Homepage

        Quite simply, you *cannot* have too much processing power when doing OCR -- I'm running multiple instances of ABBYY FineReader Corporate on a 2x Quad Core Xeon that has been pegged for two weeks now.

        This is an application task and I'm inclined to agree with you. You can never have enough resources, whether you're encoding HD-DVDs all day or just using Notepad.

        However, I was talking about the operating system. The role of an operating system should be to provide a framework for performing tasks and running application as cheaply as possible; that is, using the least amount of resources as possible.

        It's a fair bet your program would work on Windows 2000 and Windows Vista. Yet Windows Vista will "tax" your system more to achieve exactly the same result. This is my point - the operating system is gobbling more and more resources that should be used by your applications without giving the user anything in return. In this sense, we are moving backwards.

        Simon

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by jbreckman (917963)

          Then perhaps you could have used an example that SHOULD be more efficient on today's computers.

          Simply put, Word has never required the full power of a PC (once multi-threading came into play anyway). So who cares if Vista isn't doing anything to help? Or if it is eating more resources? If Word is all you are using, then you shouldn't really notice a difference.

          However, if you used a different example - like graphic design, development, 3d modeling, etc., we are doing things today that would have been

          • by ScrewMaster (602015) on Monday September 03, 2007 @10:34AM (#20451691)
            If I have 2 cores at my disposal, I'm going to be even more inclined to let the OS do some extra stuff on one of them.

            Yes, but you paid for those cores, the OS vendor did not. The problem is this: what is that extra stuff, and why should your operating system be doing anything that isn't of benefit to you?

            Take Vista for example. It is a resource hog. Some of that piggishness is the user interface, but there's a lot of other "extra stuff" in Vista that has no right to be there. Hopefully, someone will figure a way to strip most of it out at some point: maybe then it will be actually usable. Until then, I'm personally going to stick with XP and Linux. There's less extra stuff.
            • "Yes, but you paid for those cores, the OS vendor did not. The problem is this: what is that extra stuff, and why should your operating system be doing anything that isn't of benefit to you? Take Vista for example. It is a resource hog. Some of that piggishness is the user interface, but there's a lot of other "extra stuff" in Vista that has no right to be there. Hopefully, someone will figure a way to strip most of it out at some point: maybe then it will be actually usable. Until then, I'm personally goi
              • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

                by Belial6 (794905)
                "The problem is that for all the applications you like to run to run Windows needs to backwards compatable with older versions of itself,"

                This keeps getting repeated over and over. It is absolutely untrue. Microsoft bought VirtualPC. They can run a complete version of every previous version of Windows in a virtual machine. This would give darn near perfect backward compatibility, and 0 extra overhead for any new applications moving forward. Add to this the fact that Vista just doesn't have that good
              • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

                by Archimonde (668883)

                Stuff like indexing your drive so you can find things easier? Things you can also easily disable. You can turn the fancy UI stuff off. You can turn the indexing off. Sidebar? Yup, you can turn it off too.

                Even if you disable all that stuff in vista, it doesn't make much of a difference unfortunately. It just feels slower compared to XP. You can even add windows desktop search (http://www.microsoft.com/windows/desktopsearch/de fault.mspx) to XP, and many other things that Vista has by default, XP will be fast

          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by dhasenan (758719)
            We're doing things in a reasonable amount of time these days that previously were possible only in an unreasonable amount of time, as far as 3D modeling and such.

            I've heard that, in the early days of UNIX, computer time was expensive, so you could be wrong as long as you were fast. But these days, processor time is cheap, so you no longer have to be fast. Some people transfer this into automated verifications -- array bounds checking, for instance, or design-by-contract [digitalmars.com]. Bounds checking is expensive for C/C
        • by Sancho (17056) on Monday September 03, 2007 @11:39AM (#20452217) Homepage
          From Win95 to Win98 to Win2000 to WinXP, I've seen nothing but stability and security improvements. Vista has some security improvements, too, but in my experience, it isn't any more stable than XP. What's also come with every single new release of Windows is a changed UI, more eye-candy, and features that many geeks find useless.

          That doesn't mean that they're useless to everyone.

          Part of the issue is that you're focusing on the operating system. Windows is really quite a bit more than that--it's an operating environment (or a desktop environment, as GNOME/KDE are described.) This means that they aren't just there to provide a framework for performing tasks--the operating environment performs tasks on your behalf, provides feedback, allows the user access to information in a subtle, yet useful way (many OS X widgets, for example, and whatever Microsoft is calling their clone of it in Vista.)

          In the Unix world, we separate the operating system (kernel) from the shell (bash/ksh/whatever) from the window maanger (metacity/fluxbox/xwm) from the desktop environment (GNOME/KDE). This separation allows for immense flexibility. I can mix-and-match flavors, and even eliminate some of these layers entirely, depending upon my needs.

          Windows, however, caters to the mass market. It needs consistency in order to maintain its marketshare, while simultaneously requiring each version to have a distinct look in order to differentiate itself from the earlier versions. It has to be everything to everyone in order to keep existing users and attract new ones. It makes sense to throw in as much stuff as you can, so that people will want to use their product.

          Most people buying a computer will use it for the Internet (browsing, email) and maybe for creating documents and managing finances. Yes, they could do this on a 10 year old machine. The only reason to upgrade, then, is for the new UI or because their old computer broke. In either case, they aren't really losing anything. They're gaining more cycles in their new computer, and they're getting an OS that uses those cycles. If their tasks don't change, their CPU power needs (over what the OS requires) probably haven't changed, either.

          In more specialized circumstances, yes, it matters. And that's part of the reason that new OS are adopted fairly slowly in the business world. Not only do we want to ensure that the change is as easy as possible, but we want to make sure that we aren't losing anything.

          I think I've rambled a bit much, but the gist is, you aren't the target of Windows Vista, and Microsoft isn't just making an operating system. And that you're bringing Unix-like preconceptions into the Microsoft world.
    • Re: (Score:2, Flamebait)

      by 3seas (184403)
      On the flip side but consistent with what you are saying.

      The Amiga was taken down, not because there was not enough demand for it, but because it was too efficient.

      Mac as a server is not popular because its easier to use.

      I believe the answer is, the more people you can require to change the light bulb, the more you employ and the more money you cause to change hands and collect taxes on.

      Progress? In what? Lower unemployment rate, shorter vacations, more taxes collected, etc...

      Bush would say have faith, forg
      • by pandrijeczko (588093) on Monday September 03, 2007 @09:34AM (#20451209)
        The Amiga was taken down, not because there was not enough demand for it, but because it was too efficient.

        Rubbish! The Amiga was a far superior machine to the IBM PC but Commodore/Escom/Gateway/Amiga Inc. did not have a single clue as to how to market it and expand it correctly. It was their total lack of incompetence that caused its death.

        Amiga users (and I know because I was one of them once) were the most loyal bunch of users there could possibly be, a bunch of people who remained loyal for years despite being continually f*cked in the arse by unfulfilled promises by David Pleasance and whomever else controlled the Amiga name over the years.

        • by 3seas (184403)
          I'm fully aware of all the excuses... the undeniable endless line of excsues.
          What ever patents are still active ACER is now getting in the Gateway deal
          As for the rest of it, Amiga Inc, or is that KMOS is busy burying it as deep as they can.

          If you think this is a long line of coincidences or bad luck, you are a fool.
          You are to close to the Amiga tree to see the forest. Step away from it and open your eyes.

          The fact that efficient and user empowering system have been suppressed and the Amiga is only one of the
        • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

          by emlyncorrin (818871)

          Rubbish! The Amiga was a far superior machine to the IBM PC but Commodore/Escom/Gateway/Amiga Inc. did not have a single clue as to how to market it and expand it correctly. It was their total lack of incompetence that caused its death.

          Hmmm I guess that explains how Microsoft did so well then.
    • by Dunbal (464142) on Monday September 03, 2007 @09:24AM (#20451129)
      When are we going to demand more from OS vendors?

            I would extend this to "software" as a whole. Software seems to be in a special protected class, since companies are able to KNOWINGLY deliver a defective product and be immune from prosecution. Computer games I am looking at you. There seems to be a mentality in the industry of "ship now, patch later".

            I can't let this go without a car analogy (this is slashdot after all):

            It's like buying a new car from a dealership, only to find out it comes with 5 flat tires. But the salesman puts his arm on your shoulder and says "hey, no worries, look - there's a gas station just over there and you can get those tires fixed in no time".

            It's high time the software industry as a whole was held accountable for this sloth. And don't give me the crap about "oh but there are so many different computers and hardware and configurations". After all, ISN'T THAT WHAT WINDOWS WAS SUPPOSED TO FIX? We certainly were sold on that idea in 1995. Windows was supposed to be a common application interface that smoothed over all the hardware differences. But because it's the poorly documented, bloated, kludge that it is, programmers yet again have to rely on little tricks and cheats to get top performance out of it. Resulting in crashes/bugs on non-standard systems.
      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward
        There is another big difference with software. The license.

        If you buy a car, its yours. If you buy software, you get a license to use it. The software still belongs to the company that wrote it, you just get temporary permission to use it. The software company often gets to decide when, where and how you can use it. You are often told you cant even sell the software. The software company can decide to change the license *after* you bought it, usually tied in with a software update that fixes a bug or
      • by smallfeet (609452)
        Developing software is a complex task. There is a point of diminishing returns on fixing bugs. If you are writing code for a satellite or human lives may be at stake, then yes, you should be held to a higher standard and prosecution should be possible. But if your game stops working I don't see how you could prove reckless endangerment or pain and suffering or even fraud.

        Developers sort of know how to create applications correctly these days, but it is not as cut and dry as say architecture or surgery. A

        • by cmacb (547347)

          Has anyone every read the disclaimers on Windows or Linux? They make NO guarantees that the OS will even run.


          I think that was the GP's point. His use of games as an example was a poor choice. But in general non-entertainment software should have some level of accountability for failure to perform.
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by mdwh2 (535323)
      Yet do I have hundred times more power to run my applications on a modern Operating System?

      Yes you do. At least, all the while "power" means "CPU speed". I suspect you are conflating it with a more general meaning of power, but Moore's Law says nothing about this.

      Strictly speaking, there are no tasks I do today that I couldn't do in 1997.

      Because strictly speaking, a turing machine can do anything that any other turing maching can do. However, you can do them an awful lot quicker (things like video/mp3 encod
    • by Anonymous Coward
      What I find interesting is the switch from version numbers to years for a lot of apps, which started with the switch from Windows 3.1 to Windows 95. When you're dealing with a "year" number, there's added pressure to put out updates more regularly--someone with Windows 95 in 1997 is painfully aware that they have software that's 2 years "out of date". Even if a number of Service Packs have come out since then, there's the "emotional" feeling that the product is out of date.

      While for OS'es, they mercifully
    • by suv4x4 (956391)
      It made me realise what is in retrospect a fairly obvious statement. The cost of the operating system on your hardware is an effect that should be minizimed. The operating system exists as a framework for runs tasks and applications, not for being a self-serving execuse to munch resources.

      Here's the thing: at Microsoft they know that. But a mix of poor vision, planning, poor communications and management, what they ended up is a frankenstein of technologies picking code and features randomly from a range of
    • When are we going to demand more from OS vendors?

      In 1997 Ubuntu and Mac were not really on the radar. Seen the year to year growth of Ubuntu and Apple lately? In short, the answer is NOW! Did you miss the slow uptake in Vista? Most Vista sales is for new hardware, not the need for a new OS. Dual core and Quad core machines are the selling points, not Vista. Due to demand, many vendors are switching back from Vista only to some XP options. In the last 12 months I have personaly upgraded 5 machines to
    • by Generic Guy (678542) on Monday September 03, 2007 @09:42AM (#20451275)

      I think you're more on-topic then you think. I feel compelled to respond to your observations with my own:

      the OS/360 operating system...the machine had 2MB of memory and the operating system cost 400Kb of the memory.

      Keep in mind that 400K is about 20% of the machine's available resources, which doesn't seem to different from today. Although today we have a lot more choice in how many 'resources' to put into a workstation or server type system.

      There is also the difference between hosting old world text terminal interfaces and the modern high color depth, fancy windowing systems we have today.

      They charged something like $9.50 a month for 1Kb of system memory. That meant that every Kilobyte of memory saved was worth hundered or even thousands of dollars over the life time of the machine.

      Now this is the interesting point, IMO. In the past, you would often lease your 'mainframe' software, and need to renew it every year. Often you would have to contact your sales rep, get a new key, and 'activate' the software for another year. With a computer on every desktop, people were sold on the idea that you 'buy' your OS and software from the store and its yours -- forever. While 'Activation' and WGA are ostensibly an anti-pirating measure, in my eyes Microsoft is trying to steer the desktop PC market back to the old mainframe model of paying a yearly (or perhaps monthly) tithe to keep your computer working. Get the market used to phone-home features, and slowly close the net. They've been interested in subscription models for quite awhile, now.

      The problem for Microsoft is that, unlike mainframe vendors, they suck at reliability. So while Microsoft is eager for a lease-type model, they don't have the corporate culture or experience to make a robust system, they still have a lot of design issues with the tracking and activation back end which is of course necessary for a 'rental' paradigm.

      • by azrider (918631)

        In the past, you would often lease your 'mainframe' software, and need to renew it every year. Often you would have to contact your sales rep, get a new key, and 'activate' the software for another year.

        bzzzt...wrong

        You needed to continue to pay to receive updates, not to continue using the software. There was no "authorization" key required. In fact, I used to provide hardware support to customers using DOS/360 on a 360/30 in 1987 (it did everything they needed).

        The consent decree that IBM signed was

    • by phooka.de (302970)
      Good question. I'll try to come up with an answer that I type here in a browser while listening to a song (one of tenths of thousands my computer holds) and until my attention is required by that multiuser online-game again, that I have running in window mode alongside the browser... ...oh, I guess here's the answer for you!
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by teh kurisu (701097)

      The cost of the operating system on your hardware is an effect that should be minizimed.

      I disagree, because you have to take the feature set into account, and subject it to a cost/benefit analysis. You might think that XP is a better OS than Vista, because it's not bloated by the Aero interface. Fair enough. But someone using DOS might say that DOS is a better OS than XP, because it isn't bloated by a graphical interface at all. Most people these days would disagree, and say that the benefit of havi

    • I've been pissed off at Microsoft bloat ever since (well actually, before) I started using PCs. I was used to my Macs and Amigas, and especially on the Amiga scene since there wasn't much in the way of new hardware being made (apart from getting PPC boards etc), then I think a lot more was made of optimization. Since we have so many raw Mhz and so much RAM in our machines today, most new coders never need to think about making sure that their code runs efficiently.. it's sad. In Vista's case, it is just INS
    • by dfj225 (587560)

      It made me realise what is in retrospect a fairly obvious statement. The cost of the operating system on your hardware is an effect that should be minizimed. The operating system exists as a framework for runs tasks and applications, not for being a self-serving execuse to munch resources.

      This is still a great concern in modern operating system design. Almost every choice in operating system design involves some sort of trade off. The simplest operating system would be nothing more than something that lo

    • Strictly speaking, there are no tasks I do today that I couldn't do in 1997.

      Yes, that's true, if you look at 'tasks' from afar. But a lot of little stuff within each task has changed. For example, even simple text editors (e.g., gedit) today offer syntax highlighting, spellchecking, etc. Yes, you could surf the web in 1997, but could you watch compressed Flash videos from YouTube on it? (Yes, I know YouTube didn't exist back then, but that isn't the issue.)

      Now, some of these features might not need 3GH

    • "Strictly speaking, there are no tasks I do today that I couldn't do in 1997."

      There's nothing my $2500 computer can do today that my $4.25 calculator from 1992 can't do. I mean, they both simply add numbers!

      It's a computer. It computes. The advances made in the past 10 years aren't giving you the ability to do new things because there's almost no limit to what you can do with a computer. The last 10 years of advancement have simply allowed you to do them faster with a shiny UI.



      "When are we going to
    • by c6gunner (950153)
      That's a bit of a silly argument. You may as well say that there are no tasks you do today with your 52' Plasma screen High-Def TV that you couldn't do back in 1956 with your 14" black and white CRT screen.

      Or you may as well argue that there's no tasks we do today with a Boeing 767 that couldn't have been done with a WW1-era bi-plane, or with a really large blimp.

      While such statements are more-or-less technically correct, they're rather missing the point, eh?
  • by G4from128k (686170) on Monday September 03, 2007 @08:59AM (#20450949)
    One of the articles I read (http://www.betanews.com/article/Microsoft_WGA_Out age_Not_an_Outage/1188405961) suggested that if the server had actually gone down, then this would not have been a problem. The article, based on comments from Microsoft, suggested that WGA defaults to "genuine" if it can't reach the WGA server. So why didn't MSFT just kill the server to let people's software default to "genuine" instead of leaving the server connected with faulty software?
    • by Technician (215283) on Monday September 03, 2007 @09:44AM (#20451289)
      So why didn't MSFT just kill the server to let people's software default to "genuine" instead of leaving the server connected with faulty software?

      It's an anti-piracy feature. It prevents a business from firewalling the WGA server to get "genuine" status. Remember there was an un-authorised software update site? If it works without the real MS saying it's OK, the anti-piracy feature does not work.

      Unfortunately for MS is this feature does not prevent users from migrating to the alternatives. It's hard to run a monopoly when Ubuntu is legal and free for the taking. If they had a choice, the first would be that I run Windows fully paid for. Second choice is that I run a pirated copy, but they are using WGA to prevent that to encourage me into the first choice, but the result is I have gone to their worst option.. I've gone legal to the competition. MS is helping themselves break their monopoly by reducing piracy.
    • by MrNemesis (587188)
      Because if they put in a routine to the effect of;

      if [ ping_wga_servers != 0 ]; then
          is_genuine=TRUE
      fi

      it'd be incredibly easy for people to get around it. As it is you have to NO-OP the routines out with a hex editor before you can get around WGA.
  • by haeger (85819) on Monday September 03, 2007 @09:00AM (#20450955)
    So, if it's human error that caused the problem, how can the swear that it won't happen again? Will there be no more humans working at microsoft anymore?
    I don't get it?
    People make mistakes and as long as people are involved in any process they will cock up from time to time.

    The point about systems not being so punitive is a valid one and should be brought up more often and louder. People who've paid money for their product should not be punished for an error on microsofts end.

    .haeger

    • > People who've paid money for their product should not be punished for an error on microsofts end.

      Err... people have been punished for errors on msft's end for years. Isn't using any of their OS's punishment enough?
    • The point about systems not being so punitive is a valid one and should be brought up more often and louder. People who've paid money for their product should not be punished for an error on microsofts end.

      That's the beauty of a monopoly isn't it? Even if you paid good money for your Microsoft products you have no choice but to take what Microsoft decides to let you have. No matter how much their products suck you have no choice but to buy them. Unless of course you feel like switching OS'es which was an option for me and a lot of other nerds I know but for a variety of (IMHO understandable) reasons it's not an option for a lot of both corporate and private customers.

      • In spite of this, I wonder how many people will continue to miss how important software freedom is. Understanding the importance of Free Software is something that typically only happens to people who have been bitten by proprietary software. Will a lot of people now realise how much depending on a single source for software is going to cost in the long term, or will they simply accept this as normal?
    • So, if it's human error that caused the problem, how can the swear that it won't happen again? Will there be no more humans working at microsoft anymore?

      Ah, you must have stumbled on M$'s new "mind control" input. This is a secret project which will replace keyboards and other awkward input devices. It senses the will of the user and implements it. The first tool to use it, of course, is M$'s software build system and the harness has been placed on Bill Gate's head. The resulting software has not got

    • People who've paid money for their product should not be punished for an error on microsofts end.
      Just so you know, this is Windows we're talking about.
    • by cmacb (547347)

      Will there be no more humans working at microsoft anymore?


      One can only hope that those who work there now (especially the ones who actually understand software) will re-examine the ethics of what they are doing and make another choice.
  • It's a fair point (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Joe Jay Bee (1151309) * <jbsouthsea@PERIODgmail.com minus punct> on Monday September 03, 2007 @09:01AM (#20450961)
    Critics were not impressed. 'A system thats not totally reliable really should not be so punitive, said Gartner Inc. analyst Michael Silver. Michael Cherry, an analyst at Directions on Microsoft in Kirkland, Wash.,

    WGA is a natural, if not perfect (or even good) business response to the problem of piracy (leaving out all the debate over whether it's a good or bad thing for Microsoft as a whole). But the technical implementation leaves a lot to be desired; if anything, the response to a WGA server failure should be automatic pass (fail safe) instead of an automatic fail (fail deadly).

    Sure, for a 24 hour window pirates would have a free-for-all in getting perfectly valid WGA results, but at the same time legitimate customers would not be inconvenienced. As far as I can see, that's the only way to keep WGA while minimising the backlash against it.
    • by Anonymous Coward on Monday September 03, 2007 @09:06AM (#20451003)
      Sure, for a 24 hour window pirates would have a free-for-all in getting perfectly valid WGA results.

      Actually, pirates would probably very quickly figure out how to set the WGA server failure condition in Windows to get the automatic pass without ever actually contacting the real WGA servers, which would render WGA completely worthless. Well... more so.

      I don't use Windows, can't stand Microsoft, and had a hearty laugh at the news of the WGA meltdown, but the problem is not as easy to solve from a technical standpoint as you believe.
      • .... but the problem is not as easy to solve from a technical standpoint as you believe.

        It was easy to solve for me. Although I've been on Linux for many years, my kids had talked me into getting them XP for games. Because of this I've bought a Transgaming membership and am migrating them to GNU/Linux (Ubuntu) with Cedega. I don't mind paying for software -- I spend a good deal on it and that's not a problem. Refreshing their installations from an image twice a year to clear the festering crud Windows

    • by Dunbal (464142)
      Umm, actually people pirate Windows anyway. They just don't use auto-update, therefore no WGA. Oh yeah you miss out on the latest security holes/fixes for explorer/outlook. But who uses those anyway?

            I'm sure a lot less people would pirate windows if it was available for $19 a copy. How many people pirated MS-DOS when it was under $50? Few enough to allow Microsoft to grow into the leviathan it is today.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Geekbot (641878)
      A system designed to spy on customers which, out of disregard for those customers, can cost those users their computer, files, and productivity? Microsoft doesn't have customers. It has victims.

      It all goes to trust and loyalty. How could a company that has such a widespread use take all of that potential customer loyalty and fanbase and turn it into a seething hatred? I really don't see how Microsoft can not make small gestures to gather users on to it's side. Even the people that use their product seem to
    • Sure, for a 24 hour window pirates would have a free-for-all in getting perfectly valid WGA results, but at the same time legitimate customers would not be inconvenienced.

      Pirates would not be inconvenienced either. It's a simple taksk to null route the WGA server at the router. A fail genuine is a failure of the anti-piracy feature. Validate or fail deadly is a feature. It is well known. With the server failure, it is even better understood.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday September 03, 2007 @09:03AM (#20450981)
    So if you were stupid enough to use Windows in a safety critical application you risk WGA putting people's lives at risk?

    Imagine if you used Windows in a doctors surgery to hold patient records, or store drug allergy data on it. WGA flags the PC as counterfeit, after that only Window Explorer works, and you can't get their records or allergy info.

    As long as Microsoft can deliberately or accidentally remove your right to use your PC, then you can't use it in any cases where you may find yourself in future dispute with MS, or where you need to rely on the PC. Having backups is no fix for the Windows Genuine Advantage bugs, because all Windows PCs go down in one go. It represents the ultimate single point of failure.
    • by Technician (215283) on Monday September 03, 2007 @10:03AM (#20451441)
      So if you were stupid enough to use Windows in a safety critical application you risk WGA putting people's lives at risk?

      Imagine if you used Windows in a doctors surgery to hold patient records, or store drug allergy data on it. WGA flags the PC as counterfeit, after that only Window Explorer works, and you can't get their records or allergy info.


      Read the EULA. Pay attention to the section regarding life critical application. It clearly states it is not to be used in life support applications. It simply isn't reliable for that. MS is avoiding lawsuits from people depending on Windows for life support by explicitly stating it is not designed, manufactured, or intended for that.

      "Note on Java Support. The SOFTWARE may contain support for programs written in Java. Java technology is not fault tolerant and is not designed, manufactured, or intended for use or resale as online control equipment in hazardous environments requiring fail-safe performance, such as in the operation of nuclear facilities, aircraft navigation or communication systems, air traffic control, direct life support machines, or weapon systems, in which the failure of Java technology could lead directly to death, personal injury, or severe physical or environmental damage. Sun Microsystems, Inc. has contractually obligated MS to make this disclaimer."

      snipped from here;
      http://www.microsoft.com/msdownload/ieplatform/ie/ license.txt [microsoft.com]

  • by suv4x4 (956391) on Monday September 03, 2007 @09:07AM (#20451007)
    Microsoft is blaming human error and swears it won't happen again.

    Self-contradictory: of all things that could happen out there, one thing will keep happening, and that's human errors.

    Realistically, it's just another fail point on your OS that will blow up from time to time.
    • Actually the system worked as intended. WGA has 2 points why it exists.

      1. Limit functionality of systems.
      2. Strike fear with the intention to seell genuine windows licenses.

      It successfully limited the functionality of at least 12.000 systems, and those who got the message know someone is watching them. Maybe even a small percentage will buy a new license of vista.

      Human error for soem software problem like declaring someone death because his heart stopped ticking. All software is written/released by humans,
  • Monitoring (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Dunbal (464142) on Monday September 03, 2007 @09:08AM (#20451025)
    "we didnt have the right monitoring in place to be sure the fixes had the intended effect"'

          This sounds a lot like the Bush administration's excuse... oops!

          Seriously, Microsoft is great at monitoring YOUR computer, but they can't monitor their own?
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward
      Seriously, Microsoft is great at monitoring YOUR computer, but they can't monitor their own?

      Better than most people think.

      Once a week, the Internet Time feature of Windows notifies MS that you run Windows.
      Every time you search your hard drive, Windows notifies MS and tells them what you just searched for.

      As an experiment, I tried setting ZoneAlarm & Comodo firewalls to deny all network traffic on a fresh Windows installs. Packets were still getting past the firewall. MS knows that you run their softwa
  • by FoolsGold (1139759) on Monday September 03, 2007 @09:13AM (#20451063)
    If the pirates are having no problems and it's the legit users who are getting fucked in the ass, why the hell does Microsoft continue to bother with WGA?

    What do they gain? Was WGA suppose to convince people using illegitimate versions of Windows to turn to the light? Fuck that, they'll just download the latest cracked WGA .DLL and get on with it, while the legit users will get boned because their serial key wasn't recognized or whatever.

    WGA does NOTHING to hinder piracy, at least not with any level of success that compensates for the negative affects to legit users. It's a complete joke - and yet Microsoft doesn't have the balls to admit this yet. It pisses me off to see such short-sightedness from a bunch of guys who are suppose to be experienced in business.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      Microsoft has its monopoly on the desktop market because DOS and Windows have been pirated like crazy in the past. I remember when the little local computershops would throw in a little box with freshly copied diskettes with the expensive beige 386 you just bought. It seems stupid to start cracking down on piracy just when free OS'es are starting to become an attractive alternative and the fruit-logo competitor is offering a relatively cheap shiny system with more bling.
    • by Technician (215283) on Monday September 03, 2007 @10:11AM (#20451497)
      What do they gain? Was WGA suppose to convince people using illegitimate versions of Windows to turn to the light? Fuck that, they'll just download the latest cracked WGA .DLL and get on with it, while the legit users will get boned because their serial key wasn't recognized or whatever.

      Avoid the rush of stormtroupers at the door (BSA) and go legit. Try Ubuntu. It works out of the box. It will connect to your existing LAN with the ablility to log into your existing NFS and SMB workgroup shares. It will use your IPP net attached printers without difficult Vista configuration problems.

      A new Vista machine on my LAN took over 4 hours to figure out how to log into my existing SMB shares and connect to my IPP net attached printers.

      The first Ubuntu machine only took 30 minutes to learn and complete both tasks. IPP and networking both worked out of the box without tweaks or tricks.

      They said Windows is easy to use... Until you need to learn a new version and it's set of bugs.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday September 03, 2007 @09:14AM (#20451073)
    Look, most of us here work (directly or indirectly) in software. Who hasn't had a launch fail, or a product go bad, in a way that's negatively impacted customers. Such things DO happen. Usually not out of malice, and even sometimes not from carelessness--there are things that sometimes you can't catch on a test system. So to that extent, I feel for the folks who caused this problem..

    So why do I call it unacceptable? Because of the difference in standards. On Microsoft's side, they are holding the user to a high level of scrutiny, and reserve the right to cripple some OS features if Microsoft believes the install is pirated. No discussions. Go directly to "aero jail".

    Which is possibly understandable if their stance is "look, we're losing billions here--we need to fight piracy." But if they're going to take such radical and punitive measures as locking down OS features based on their tool, then they have to have an absolutely rock solid fail resistant totally monitored system. Basically, they need to hold WGA to a higher standard than most business software. This needs to be the gold standard if they want people to trust the system (and TFA links to a number of other reasonably well-balanced Ars articles that suggest it is not).

    Oops, we forgot to monitor the validation boxes? You can't be organic about this--add monitoring for problems as they're discovered on a system this critical not just to Microsoft, but to their customers. You have to anticipate what MIGHT happen, even if "there's no way that should ever occur." You have to think of things that should never happen, but would be problematic if they did.

    The fact that they failed here, if it never happens again, might not be a huge deal. But their answer shreds confidence that this is an isolated issue. The fact that this specific failure might not happen again gives me no comfort. Because their answer indicated that they didn't get it when they designed the system, and the don't get it now.

    What they SHOULD have said is "boy, this was something we never thought could happen. We have fixed the issue, and are confident we have the monitoring to prevent this specific issue going forward. And we are undertaking a comprehensive review of our validation and monitoring systems to make sure nothing even remotely close to this could ever possibly happen again." Nothing less should be acceptable.
    • Very nice post. You could add that this in unacceptable because Microsoft is the largest software company in the world with the most resources and the "best" programmers. Also, their business model or corporate culture (or probably both) are broken for this to happen YET again. Other companies have minor set-backs. Microsoft has bombs. My guess to why is two-fold: Microsoft is incredibily overrated as a tech company, thus expectations are impossible to meet, and as a business, they don't care, and the
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      Additionally, IT organizations need to be able to rely on their operating system software for mission critical applications. This does not instill any sort of confidence in Microsoft operating systems. And Microsoft is scratching their heads wondering why IT organizations insist on running *nix on mission critical servers...
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by SpaceLifeForm (228190)
      I agree, their explanation sucks. Plain and simple, this problem
      did not occur as a result of the failure to monitor the situation.

      No, Microsoft just fucked up, and did not even know what their
      recovery procedure should have been.

      It was a procedural screwup, not due to lack of monitoring.

      If they had been monitoring the systems closer, yes they could
      have discovered the fuckup sooner, but they still fucked up.
  • if ( Wga_is_Available ) DoWgaValidationTests
    else
    default = TrustTheCustomer

    I wonder if they considered that?

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Roadstar (909257)

      if ( Wga_is_Available ) DoWgaValidationTests
      else
      default = TrustTheCustomer
      I wonder if they considered that?

      They did, and that's the way it works. However, in this case it was the DoWgaValidationTests part that blew up due to a bug in the server software. WGA servers were available, so the first check did return true.

      I just wonder how much bad press WGA needs to generate before MS reconsiders this stupid anti-consumer attitude they have. How about trying sane pricing and sane EULAs for a change?

  • But i doubt its 100% true.
  • by pandrijeczko (588093) on Monday September 03, 2007 @09:25AM (#20451137)
    You do not need to keep yourselves tied to Microsoft's apron strings, there are alternative operating systems you can use.

    If WGA or other Microsoft activities are p*ssing you off as a user, then have some strength of conviction and DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT!

    Just stop with the continual whining about it...

  • by gelfling (6534) on Monday September 03, 2007 @09:35AM (#20451225) Homepage Journal
    Some division head inside Redmond is crafting his internal proposal to convert the update realm from a cost center to a revenue center. The rationale will be to collect the funding to staff up that function appropriately so as not to harm MS from mistakes such as this.

    The ironic thing is that few people will pay - and while the level of installed patches will go down the overall level of security will not materially change given the overall poor security stance in the first place. What will happen is that interoperability will begin to fail badly.
    • by rrhal (88665)
      You're not far from the truth here. Large corporations already pay M$ to run their IT for them because M$ figured out how to run a large enterprise on the Microsoft platform and these other corporations couldn't get it working right. This allows Microsoft's own IT center to be a product rather than just a money sink. Once you've turned over your IT to Microsoft its not a big step to lease your OS from them.

      The consumer model would probably look like the anti virus model (Dr. Nortons, Symantec, Mac Affee,
  • Human error (Score:5, Funny)

    by Bromskloss (750445) <auxiliary,address,for,privacy&gmail,com> on Monday September 03, 2007 @09:37AM (#20451241)
    ...as opposed to an error in the actual WGA, which is not coded by humans, but by Microsoft's programmers.
  • "what other things have they not done?"

    For starters - they have lost their 'Alligence to the Old Ways' - The ways that come from the hearts of Knights tried and true, borne alongside the heated steel of the hand-forged broadsword. They have lost their honor, their self-respect and sight of their epic promises to protect the weak, avenge the wronged, defend their Lord's castle and bring to justice any and all who would put themselves above the good of the just souls 'er the land.

    But the most stunning l
  • Excuse me while I get a little cranky.

    IIRC, Microsoft's first operating system was written for IBM during many long and sleepless nights in a hotel room just down the road from them.

    Can you say "cowboy programmers"? Sure, I knew you could.

    IMHO, what we have now is a company with the size, resources and commercial power of an IBM, and the corporate culture of a garage band. There is no excuse for putting untested code into production, particularly if this has happened before. This carelessness, combined with
  • by KwKSilver (857599) on Monday September 03, 2007 @10:01AM (#20451417)
    Don't MS customers like being treated like criminals and being abused in other ways? They are getting what they bargained for. Sorry, no sympathy here.
  • It's indeed a consequence of a huge quantity of individual human errors: people still buying Windows.
  • Human Error (Score:3, Funny)

    by styryx (952942) on Monday September 03, 2007 @10:22AM (#20451579)
    "Microsoft today announced that the meltdown of their WGA servers was caused by human error. The problem started when a human erroneously threw a chair into the server causing it to malfunction. Microsoft has promised this will never happen again as they have taken action to chair-proof future servers."
  • by Vexorian (959249) on Monday September 03, 2007 @10:27AM (#20451617)
    Humans designed WGA, afterall.
  • by dpbsmith (263124) on Monday September 03, 2007 @10:39AM (#20451729) Homepage
    #2: "We bought the company because we like the way its run, now, and we have no plans to change anything..."

    #3: "I'll be really, really careful, trust me, it will never happen again."
  • So, now that more than one in a hundred thousand Vista systems has failed, will Microsoft acknowledge that during its first year it proved incapable of reaching "five nines" reliability?

    Or will they find a way to define away this form of failure as not counting?
  • by Riturno (671917) on Monday September 03, 2007 @11:36AM (#20452191)
    What I really wonder about is when will these servers go down permanently? While I hate to do it, I can still install NT3.51 on an old machine if there is a critical need to pull something off an old tape. What happens in the future when WGA goes dark? Will they issue a patch to unlock the OS? At some point MS may have to limit or eliminate backward compatibility. Will virtualization be good enough? This WGA debacle leads me to more questions and concerns than comfort. To me it is not about today. Like the fun with MS formats, it is about tomorrow.

A LISP programmer knows the value of everything, but the cost of nothing. -- Alan Perlis

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