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Windows Operating Systems Security Software

Black Screens For Unauthorized Copies of Windows 762

arcticstoat writes "In a bid to deter people from using pirate versions of Windows XP, Microsoft is now updating its Windows Genuine Advantage (WGA) tool to introduce a few uncomfortable niggles for users of pirated versions of Windows. These include replacing the desktop wallpaper with a black screen every 60 minutes, although you can still replace it with your wallpaper of choice in the intervening period. As well as this, copies of Windows deemed to not be genuine will also have a translucent watermark above the system tray, which Microsoft calls a 'persistent desktop notification.'"
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Black Screens For Unauthorized Copies of Windows

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday August 28, 2008 @06:11PM (#24786065)

    Too close for comfort.

  • by Brad1138 ( 590148 ) * <> on Thursday August 28, 2008 @06:11PM (#24786067)
    Some one I know just doesn't download the the WGA notification (tells it never to download when it shows up in system updates) I... I mean he wants to know if that will still work?
    • Re:Notifications (Score:5, Insightful)

      by nbert ( 785663 ) on Thursday August 28, 2008 @06:36PM (#24786513) Homepage Journal
      From the very beginning of WGA the aim was to discourage those who don't know how to avoid it to buy a proper copy. MS has conflicting interests, which both aim at profit: Market share* and a low number of illegal copies. If they make it too hard to install a pirate copy they might encourage people to switch to free alternatives. Plus they have to sell Vista now, which gives a perfect opportunity to make it a little more annoying to run a pirate copy of XP.
      I'd hate to give them just a cent for all the MS-related problems I had during the last years, but the good news is that many people switching to Vista can now sell their OEM licenses for XP (depending on what country they live in) and there is also a very huge chance to obtain a volume-license-key in my area. I'll legalize my copy in the near future, but not because I have to, but it has become so cheap. So the one time in a month I really want to play a decent computer game I don't have to worry about such things anymore.

      *Market share usually means turnover, but in this case I'd argue that % of people using it is a far better number. Major competitors offer their OS for free or sell it along their hardware for a price which is rather abritrary. Software is a very special industry. It's not like the car industry, where fixed and variable costs have a relation...
    • Re:Notifications (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Aetuneo ( 1130295 ) on Thursday August 28, 2008 @06:51PM (#24786727) Homepage
      As I recall, Microsoft has the ability to force updates (which are downloaded in the background without telling the user). So, not downloading the WGA notifications will only work until MS realizes that users are able to do so.
    • Re:Notifications (Score:5, Informative)

      by Shaper of Myths ( 148485 ) on Thursday August 28, 2008 @07:55PM (#24787417)

      This is actually pretty easy to defeat. Just boot into safe mode (XP Home) or regular mode (XP Pro or Media Center). Find the files in C:\WINDOWS\SYSTEM32 called 'wgalogon.dll' and 'wgatray.exe'. Bring up the file properties, go to the security tab and remove the inherited permissions from the files (don't copy them, strip them completely). Answer yes when it asks if you're sure about this. Reboot and WGA will never bother you again. I've done this on dozens of machines and it just skips the update because its too stupid to fix permissions. The only exception to this is the Service Packs or repair installs. YMMV

      Of course nobody should have to do it in the first place but this is an example of corporate-think at it's best from our fiends in Redmond. If XP is so dead why should they be developing new WGA tricks for it anyways? Sounds to me like its them getting a bit nervous about how many people are jumping ship from Vista and pointing at 'hackers' as the problem. Again. =)

  • That's not too bad (Score:5, Insightful)

    by faloi ( 738831 ) on Thursday August 28, 2008 @06:13PM (#24786089)
    At least there's not some odd hidden process that the users have no visibility to running in the background using resources.

    Oh wait...
  • that's it? (Score:5, Funny)

    by nomadic ( 141991 ) <nomadicworld AT gmail DOT com> on Thursday August 28, 2008 @06:13PM (#24786099) Homepage
    I'm impressed with Microsoft's forbearance.
    • by Spy der Mann ( 805235 ) <`moc.liamg' `ta' `todhsals.nnamredyps'> on Thursday August 28, 2008 @06:26PM (#24786323) Homepage Journal

      I'm impressed with Microsoft's forbearance.

      I find their lack of faith disturbing.

    • by langelgjm ( 860756 ) on Thursday August 28, 2008 @06:29PM (#24786377) Journal
      What are you talking about? For the average user, changing the wallpaper is one of the most important functions a computer can perform!
      • by Antony-Kyre ( 807195 ) on Thursday August 28, 2008 @11:57PM (#24789847)

        Think about it. Microsoft could have did stuff like this. Thankfully, they didn't.

        Change the homepage to Microsoft's website, perhaps a page about Windows XP and piracy.

        Have Clippit pop up in the corner of Windows XP, saying, "It looks like you're using a pirated copy of Windows. Would you like to purchase one now?"

        Slow one's Internet connection to 56kbps speed, except when doing Windows Updates.

        Disable any and all video capabilities.

        Limit the display to 800 x 600 at 8-bit colour.

        Disable accessing certain file types, such as video files, music files, etc. (Jokingly, because if you pirate Windows, you might be pirating other things as well.)

    • Re:that's it? (Score:4, Interesting)

      by lysergic.acid ( 845423 ) on Thursday August 28, 2008 @07:03PM (#24786883) Homepage

      i hope that's meant to be sarcastic.

      i'm using a Dell my dad gave me as a gift when i went off to college, and it was supposed to come with a copy of XP (pre-installed). naturally, after a few years of use, i had to upgrade the computer/reformat the HDD/etc. during this process i found that Dell didn't actually give me a Windows XP setup disc. they had instead given me some Dell "system recovery" disc that would have re-installed all of their Dell-branded crap and bloatware from their software partners which i'd spent years removing and replacing.

      i found it much more convenient to just borrow a friend's XP disc. however, i realized to my dismay that the XP serial number which came with the Dell didn't actually work with anything except for the Dell OS Recovery disc. and i wasn't going to use that disc (by now i'd lost it anyway) and have to spend a week uninstall everything and manually re-install all the new service packs and updates. so i just ended up using a "pirated" XP setup disc image i found on the web which included all the latest service packs and updates (minus WGA) and no other useless crap.

      unfortunately, i accidentally installed the WGA update one day. and so every time the system starts, and seemingly every 15 minutes after that, i get told that my copy of windows isn't "genuine" which causes whatever program was in the foreground to lose-focus and is particularly annoying when you're typing.

      • Re:that's it? (Score:4, Interesting)

        by hedwards ( 940851 ) on Thursday August 28, 2008 @09:27PM (#24788525)

        Dell actually uses a different key on their recovery discs than the one that's on the side of the computer.

        If you open d:\I386\winnt.sif The key is listed in there somewhere. That key also works, and I believe that in the past when I rolled my own discs, that was the one I'd use. IIRC I took the disc from my brother's computer and enter Dell's registration key. That generally worked just fine.

        But that was years ago, and I don't really deal with Windows much these days.

  • by Brad1138 ( 590148 ) * <> on Thursday August 28, 2008 @06:13PM (#24786101)
    "Some sites have also suggested that this is a sneaky scheme to get more people to buy Windows Vista after disappointing sales of the new OS"

    It's going to be very funny if this does more for Linux than Vista.
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by sbeckstead ( 555647 )
      I'm confused, Microsoft claims great sales of Vista. which is it? We have a bus service where I live that's has a big Vista on the side of the bus, kind of reminds me of the Microsoft product, large lumbering and hardly used because it doesn't go anywhere useful.
    • by luwain ( 66565 ) on Thursday August 28, 2008 @07:24PM (#24787083)

      The problem with these schemes by Microsoft is that they more often than not inconvenience legitimate owners of valid licenses. I've had more than a few cases of valid installations of Windows "deactivate". It's doubtful that WGA is "bulletproof" and won't flag some legitimate licenses as invalid and screw-up a loyal Windows users' system. Also, for those who really pirate Windows (are there that many pirates out there??), hacking around WGA is child's play. I think that this will turn more people off than stop pirates. I've been using Ubuntu 8.0.4, and I'm very pleased. I have no problem exchanging documents with Windows users, and since I'm doing development in Java, there's no incompatibility there either, since even the Windows guys are using NetBEans and Eclipse...Is there really much pirating going around that Microsoft has to waste programming resources to combat it? From what I see, people want to BUY XP. Microsoft could probably stop XP from being stolen altogether, if they just continued making it easy for OEMs to offer it, and continued support.

  • by jt2377 ( 933506 ) on Thursday August 28, 2008 @06:14PM (#24786117)

    Black Screen of Death

  • Yawn.... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by scarboni888 ( 1122993 ) on Thursday August 28, 2008 @06:14PM (#24786119)

    Can someone remind me why Microsoft wants to chase people off to other platforms again?

    • Re:Yawn.... (Score:5, Funny)

      by Spy der Mann ( 805235 ) <`moc.liamg' `ta' `todhsals.nnamredyps'> on Thursday August 28, 2008 @06:27PM (#24786347) Homepage Journal

      Can someone remind me why Microsoft wants to chase people off to other platforms again?

      They're increasing their users' pain thresholds so that they'll find Vista's annoyances tolerable.

    • Re:Yawn.... (Score:5, Funny)

      by click2005 ( 921437 ) on Thursday August 28, 2008 @06:33PM (#24786457)

      Because they're hoping one or two might actually end up buying Vista.

      The Vista Drake Equation

          N = R x fp x ne x fi x fe x L


          N is the number of Vista sales
          R is the number of reported WGA unlicensed XP install hits.
          fp if the fraction of those that care about a black screen & bit of text
          ne is the number of users with PCs that can actually run Vista
          fi is the fraction of XP users who dont have the brains to use Ubuntu
          fe is the fraction of XP users who dont use a tool to kill the WGA app
          L is the fraction of XP users too lazy to get Windows Update to skip the WGA app

      S - Number of sales
      X - Number of illegal XP copies

  • Great. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by bill_mcgonigle ( 4333 ) * on Thursday August 28, 2008 @06:14PM (#24786121) Homepage Journal

    Most people I know who run 'stolen' software don't have the funds, are not otherwise law-breakers, and are not aware of alternatives. I've had great luck giving these people an OpenCD and explaining the law, and, in the case of small businesses, the BSA's tactics.

    I wonder how long it will be before somebody comes along with a registry edit file that will replace the permanent watermark text with a link to Ubuntu?

    • Bull (Score:3, Insightful)

      by jmorris42 ( 1458 ) *

      > Most people I know who run 'stolen' software don't have the funds, are not otherwise law-breakers,
      > and are not aware of alternatives.

      Oh bull, if they can afford the computer they could have afforded to get the OEM preload instead of the pirate version from the neighborhood screwdriver shop. Or if they built it themselves then they damned sure could have sprung for an OEM copy when they bought the other bits. Most custom built machines are gaming rigs these days and if you can afford the video car

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        Most of them upgraded old computers with XP and Office they 'borrowed' from work. Custom gaming rigs exist in a parallel universe for the typical home user.

  • by topham ( 32406 ) on Thursday August 28, 2008 @06:14PM (#24786123) Homepage

    Just another reason to pirate it since I've triggered the damn tool multiple times on Legitimately licensed product.

  • *Innocent Whistling* (Score:5, Informative)

    by loteck ( 533317 ) on Thursday August 28, 2008 @06:15PM (#24786135) Homepage

    Cough, Cough [].

    *Continues innocent whistling*

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by QuantumG ( 50515 ) *

      I have a machine on which I installed XP Home Edition from original media, but I couldn't find the jewel case, so I had no idea what the serial number was.. Turns out you can just google for keys []. One of them will work, and Microsoft never checks again.

  • by stinerman ( 812158 ) <{moc.liamg} {ta} {enits.nahtan}> on Thursday August 28, 2008 @06:17PM (#24786163) Homepage

    The first thing I do after installing XP is turn the wallpaper to black.

    Apparently, pirating it saves me a step after install.

    WTG, MSFT!

  • Hmm... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Chris Acheson ( 263308 ) on Thursday August 28, 2008 @06:17PM (#24786167) Homepage

    Windows is shareware now?

  • I bet that.... (Score:5, Informative)

    by 8127972 ( 73495 ) on Thursday August 28, 2008 @06:18PM (#24786191)

    It will still flag perfectly legal copies of Windows as being pirated. Just like it has in the past.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by X0563511 ( 793323 )

      I bet it will continue to flag random people at a slowly accelerating rate, thereby pushing more and more people to Vista. That's probably what they think it will push people to, but hey - let's not disillusion them!

  • If we assume that one of the purposes of paying for Windows were to provide the user^H^H^H^Hcustomer with a "better Windows Experience" by means of fixing bugs and improving the Operating System in the next version, and due to the fact that Vista Sucks, I say we got ripped off and piracy is our legitimate right.

    And don't get me started into viruses.

  • by Ynot_82 ( 1023749 ) on Thursday August 28, 2008 @06:20PM (#24786231)

    I know several people who've bought new machines in the last 6 months
    and been forced to have Vista pre-installed

    they didn't want it
    so pirated XP

    are they trying to push people away?
    cause it won't take much to annoy your userbase onto trying alternative OS's

    And I'll tell you what,
    once your average "mere mortal" Windows user, for whatever reason, tries Linux, and likes it
    his testimonial goes a long way with other mere mortals in the same boat

    • by caitsith01 ( 606117 ) on Thursday August 28, 2008 @08:48PM (#24788073) Journal

      I spent last night installing XP on a Toshiba Satellite A200 laptop for a friend who has tolerated Vista for about 6 months now.

      Not surprisingly, Toshiba (like Dell and many others) has signed a deal with the devil not to provide support for anything other than Vista (honestly, I can see why they might do a deal to pre-install Vista, but why stop loyal Toshiba customers from installing XP if they want to? Crazy).

      However, what is truly impressive is the hatred for Vista out there on the net, and the lengths that it inspires people to go to to get rid of it and, in the spirit of the net, help others get rid of it. Googling for info about getting XP up and running on this particular machine yielded pages and pages of helpful information about exactly what must be done to round up the necessary drivers (many from the OEM's who supplied the various components of the machine). Even better, a few heroes had actually compiled zip files containing every driver and distributed them via Rapidshare and the like.

      The other really startling thing was how many non-expert users were doing this. There were heaps of messageboard posts where inexperienced users basically begged for help to get XP working on their laptops. Due to the bod of Vista-hatred, the more tech savvy users were generally walking people through the process with a level of patience rarely seen on-line.

      I had the same experience installing XP on my Dell XPS 1530 (great computer, once you disinfect it) - there is basically a community dedicated to purging it of Vista.

      When you are inspiring legions of both expert users and ordinary non-techy people to go through the pain of installing an operating system using an ad hoc collection of unsupported drivers, something is badly, badly awry. I am critical not of MS so much as Toshiba, Dell and co - they are the ones who have made the key decision to support nothing but Vista. I wonder if they realise the lengths their users are going to to get around this choice?

      Incidentally, my friend's reaction was priceless when XP booted up quickly and quietly - "holy shit... you mean it's done? it's so... responsive! It's beautiful!" He then checked the memory usage and noted with awe that it was 120 megs after booting rather than 1 to 1.5 gigs for Vista.

      • by HeronBlademaster ( 1079477 ) <> on Friday August 29, 2008 @01:54AM (#24790623) Homepage

        While I don't disagree with you in any way, I'm always curious why people are upset when their RAM is being used. As I understand it, Vista pre-loads into RAM applications that you use often, thus (ideally) speeding up load time. RAM is there to be used; why do we get upset when we see near-100% usage? Personally, I don't care what XP's RAM usage is when I boot up, as long as it's responsive. If increasing XP's RAM usage to 1.5GB on bootup by loading stuff I use regularly would make my applications load faster, I would beg for it to be done.

        Anyone have any ideas about this?

  • by Adeptus_Luminati ( 634274 ) on Thursday August 28, 2008 @06:25PM (#24786299)

    They need to get more creative. Here's a few ideas:

    1) Cause the NIC to drop random ammounts of packets at random times.

    2) Change the wallpaper from Black Screen to one with a letter ending with "... The police are on their way".

    3) Every 2 minutes all keys on your keyboard get randomly swapped around.

    4) Swaps the mouse buttons. Or moving the mouse left, moves it right, up, down, etc.

    5) All print jobs only result in large words in upper case saying "PIRATE ALERT!"

    6) Boot sequence and shutdown sequence get 5 minutes added on to them. Hey MS, don't forget to make sure you cause the hard drive light LED to flicker a lot while the users wait around so they think it's something going on. While you're at it, randomly flicker that HD LED every few minutes for 20 seconds at a time.

    7) Every 10th web page visited would be redirected to goatse (is that site still around?)

    You get the idea... now hurry up so that people get fed up faster and switch to Linux.

  • Nagware (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Speare ( 84249 ) on Thursday August 28, 2008 @06:26PM (#24786331) Homepage Journal

    So, Windows is essentially a nagware product now? Choose to pay or not, depending on whether you think it'll be less painful? When will they append third-party advertisements to every file you save? When will it whisper subliminal insults into your audio stream?

  • by pezpunk ( 205653 ) on Thursday August 28, 2008 @06:28PM (#24786357) Homepage

    i paid for windows vista ultimate edition *waits for laughter to die down* but after a few months, i discovered that the machine i installed it on had some dodgy RAM and i had to replace it. i don't know if it was because i changed the RAM or because the bad RAM corrupted something, but after that Microsoft decided that my copy of Windows was pirated, and put a permanent message in the lower-right corner of my machine telling me as much, and refused to let me use certain features, such as the Aero graphics enhancements.

    personally, i suggest microsoft take a page from our founding fathers, and adopt a more "innocent until proven guilty" attitude (for example, offering a way to call them up and verify your CD Key) before implementing more draconian punishments upon the convicted!

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by pembo13 ( 770295 )
      You paid for it... I hear you get support with that. Much better support than IRC, mailing lists, or direct email addresses of potentially helpful developers. How did your paid support work out? If it didn't help, were you able to sue them for damages?
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by aerthling ( 796790 )

      i suggest microsoft take a page from our founding fathers, and adopt a more "innocent until proven guilty" attitude

      That's exactly what Microsoft have done here. This is just a reminder that they may be a victim of piracy, and only if their license has been examined and found to be invalid.
      Users aren't being punished, they're just being alerted that their operating system isn't licensed.

  • by Shamenaught ( 1341295 ) on Thursday August 28, 2008 @06:31PM (#24786409)

    My theory: This isn't actually an effort to get more people buying windows directly, but to maintain market dominance. M$ are squeezing the illegal XP 'market', trying to get them to use illegal Vista instead.

    This is merely the first step, they'll eventually add checks for the most common cracks, followed by kill switches. This comes after service pack 1 removed the kill switch from Vista, making it less risky to pirate.

    Whilst this might see a few people jumping ship to Linux or something, I'm guessing M$ decided the risks of losing a few freeloaers outweighed the importance of removing the XP-shaped-thorn from their side.

    Get everyone doin' the downgrade, that way people will be used to it for when windows 7 comes out. M$ have learnt their lesson, and won't be creating any more good operating systems any time soon. It's less profitable!

  • by Just Some Guy ( 3352 ) <> on Thursday August 28, 2008 @06:32PM (#24786421) Homepage Journal

    Yeah, that'll turn the h4xx04z away. Want to really make it worthwhile? Force a pink-on-pink color scheme, license the theme song to "My Little Pony", and play that in an uninterruptable background loop on all available sound devices. That'll do a lot more to keep a kid honest than would making his desktop look 1337.

  • by Morgaine ( 4316 ) on Thursday August 28, 2008 @06:35PM (#24786499)

    This latest feature is just one more reason for people to run pirate copies, with that particular "Advantage" disabled.

    Microsoft really doesn't get it. The only way to make people buy your software is to make it useful and friendly, not by making it annoying.

    This is just a small part of Microsoft's huge misconception about operating systems. No Microsoft, people don't buy operating systems to benefit you, nor to benefit third parties like content providers. People buy operating systems to benefit THEMSELVES.

    Such a simple concept, but apparently incomprehensible to Microsoft.

  • Sweet! (Score:3, Insightful)

    by gillbates ( 106458 ) on Thursday August 28, 2008 @06:37PM (#24786525) Homepage Journal

    Relative: Why does my computer lose my wallpaper and give me a black screen every hour?

    Me: Ah, that's just Vista for you. You have to pay Microsoft to get rid of that.

    Relative: Why? Why should I have to pay Microsoft? Why doesn't it just work?

    Me: A.) It's not Linux, so it won't "just work" no matter what you do, and B.) You didn't really expect Microsoft to let you use their computer for free, did you?

    Relative: Um, I already paid for it-

    Me: Yes, you paid for the computer. But you didn't pay Microsoft. You have to pay Microsoft before you can use it. You own the computer, they own the software.

    Relative: So wait - you have to pay for both the computer and Microsoft?

    Me: No, I use Linux. I only have to pay for the computer.

    Relative: But if I paid Microsoft, I'd own both the computer, and the software, right?

    Me: No, you would own just the computer. Microsoft would still own the software.

    Relative: But I could move the software to a new computer if I bought the software, right?

    Me: No, that's not how Microsoft works. You pay them, and you get to use the software on that computer. They still own it - you don't - and you can't move it from computer to computer.

    Relative: So let me get this straight: I pay Microsoft for software, and they still own it?! What kind of $&*!@ is that?

    Me: Yep, that's how proprietary software works. You get to use it, but you can't own it.

    Relative: So how is it that you don't have to pay Microsoft?

    Me: I run Linux.

    At this point, it starts to sink in that pirating Windows isn't doing them any favors. As far as I'm concerned, if you want to use proprietary software, you can pay for it.

    • Re:Sweet! (Score:4, Insightful)

      by GaryPatterson ( 852699 ) on Thursday August 28, 2008 @07:53PM (#24787395)

      Me: A.) It's not Linux, so it won't "just work" no matter what you do...

      Linux. It Just Works.
      (Your experience may vary.)

      Me: No, that's not how Microsoft works. You pay them, and you get to use the software on that computer. They still own it - you don't...

      That's not an artefact of proprietary software, it's basic copyright. I can download Ubuntu, but I do not own Ubuntu. I have a single copy, or as many duplicates as I want. I can't just do what I like with it though (eg change the branding and sell it as my own work sans source code) - there are rules for redistribution and all that. Nearly all software has some rules you must follow. F/OSS is not above this.

      And you can move Windows to other PCs. I've done it. It might require a call to the Windows Activation team, but it's not hard. You can't have it on two at the same time though, but you can shift it.

      I'm not a Windows user, except in the office. I'm a fan of Linux, even though I've never managed to really get it working right. I don't think you should misinform people about what proprietary software is or isn't though - only honest, accurate information is worth using to change people's minds about F/OSS.

  • Please help (Score:4, Funny)

    by fishthegeek ( 943099 ) on Thursday August 28, 2008 @06:52PM (#24786739) Journal
    I'm trying to figure out what all the fuss is about but I can't find this WGA thing. Does anyone know what repository it's in?
  • by Ritz_Just_Ritz ( 883997 ) on Thursday August 28, 2008 @07:00PM (#24786823)

    The more you tighten your grip, the more systems will slip through your fingers.

    It was a tossup between that quote and "Governor Tarkin, I should have expected to find you holding Vader's leash. I recognized your foul stench when I was brought on board."

    More of the same. Just let go.

  • links to the fix (Score:4, Informative)

    by robo_mojo ( 997193 ) on Thursday August 28, 2008 @07:48PM (#24787337)
  • by dindi ( 78034 ) on Thursday August 28, 2008 @09:29PM (#24788535)

    Wow, that is copy protection. Guess what, my default screen is black. Even though OSX does not allow it, I just set a black gif (10x10 pixels) as the BG image.

    I know, many of you like (just as me scuba pictures, cars, babes, bikes, nersy images, superheroes) but at the end I WANT TO SEE MY DAM ICONS, so the best is a black background.

    OK, Working as a programmer in the sportsbetting industry today (kickoff day) is a bit stressy, and after coding 12 hours at my (8 hour a day) consulting job pretty much kicked my arse, and I drank some rum from the Dominican Repubic ( ie I am kinda drunk).....

    Anyway, black BG is best, that is the ultimate oldscshool, and working in the *NIX environment this is the best you can set.

    So does MS expect to scare people with this mean black BG ?

The party adjourned to a hot tub, yes. Fully clothed, I might add. -- IBM employee, testifying in California State Supreme Court