Angry Robots, Round 2

You’ll all doubtless remember the inept piece of monitoring software that killed the live webcast of the Hugo ceremony. I’m sure that’s by no means the only instance of software incorrectly accusing someone of theft. In fact, here’s another example.

A couple of months ago I bought a new PC. It came with Windows 7, which has a whole slew of features intended to catch software pirates. When you first boot the system you have to register your copy of Windows, so I did. Imagine my surprise, therefore, when a few weeks later Windows asked me to re-register. I did. Several times. Eventually this stopped working. I just got messages telling me that the activation service was offline. And Windows started giving me rude messages about how parts of my system would be disabled until I registered the software, which of course I could not do.

I tried complaining about this on Twitter, and Microsoft’s support people soon noticed me. This lead to my getting some diagnostic software and finding a solution. Apparently my copy of Windows did not have the correct product key entered. Instead it had a factory default number. What I needed to do was run some software that would allow me to enter the key and all would be well. And so it was.

However, this confused me. Did someone (Lenonvo? PC World?) fail to correctly license the software before shipping it to me? If so, why did registration work earlier? And why was I getting messages saying that the activation service was offline when the actual problem was an invalid key?

Well, the software was working, so I let it be. Another of those great software mysteries. Except that today I was once again told that my copy of Windows was illegal. Entering the correct key fixed it again.

What concerns me about this is that a bug in Microsoft’s piracy prevention software could result in my being locked out of my PC, and cost me a lot of money to fix. I submit that this sort of problem will get much worse before it gets better. As companies get more and more obsessed with piracy prevention, more and more legitimate customers will find themselves incorrectly punished by badly written software. Phil Dick where are you?

Still, at least Microsoft have answered my questions. PC World haven’t yet addressed my initial support query. That’s 18 days without a response.

3 thoughts on “Angry Robots, Round 2

  1. Microsoft has a program under which large manufacturers (like Lenovo) can install using a single OEM product key, or prepare “system restore” disks that install the OS using the OEM key (provided the key matches up with a hardware identifier).

    Since you’re running a Lenovo install of Windows 7 on a Lenovo system, the default factory key should work. I think it’s worth another complaint to Microsoft.

  2. I’m very sorry to hear of your problem. Alas there’s ‘ A Lot of it about ‘ as it were, and I’m probably among many of your readers who are slow to respond with ‘ Helpful ‘ suggestions on the basis that, er, well, you are a high grade professional specialist in a demanding field of technology and thus you may well .. er, that is to say are likely to have done the ‘ simpler ‘ stuff?

    Anyway, just in case, and at risk of being withered, I will give my ‘ Helpful ‘ suggestion.

    I had a problem that was very similar to yours after my Vista based Dell Desktop PC s software fell over with prejudice as it were and I was so annoyed with Microsoft and the DELL O.E.M. copy of Vista .. the notoriously unstable vista ..that came pre installed on my Dell Dimension over 5 years ago I upgraded to Windows 7 Ultimate at a price that Might, Just Might, lead one to suppose that the software was of of dubious authenticity.

    Anyway the the copy of Windows 7 installed smoothly enough and did pass Microsoft authorization ………and I accepted the standard Microsoft automatic downloading of up-dates! There was my mistake.

    Now I’m not now an IT specialist and wasn’t one before I took early retirement from technical support at a UK University some time ago so this is me being cautious when I say that my – researched on line – solution was implemented last year and involved selectively deleting Microsoft’s spyware according to advice on a user groups mutual support FAQ solutions that have worked. No-one is more professionally cautious than me so I was very careful in editing the Microsoft files, and my personal stuff was routinely backed up on an external hard drive long before the vista system collapsed, but I was still very relived when The Fix worked and all was well until the next monthly Windows 7 update after which I suddenly came to realize that I had been so relived that the fix had worked I had forgotten to disable the auto update and thus had downloaded the monthly Microsoft Windows 7 malware removal tool update.

    Its that update that is the real Bugger since it is an overkill system that has become notorious for confusing legitimate OEM copies of Windows 7 with non authorized copies of the software and it defines everything in the least bit suspicious as being ‘Malware ‘

    Now you have a legitimate OEM copy of 7 and thus have all the proper registration codes but its my belief that you are correct in your suspicion that ..” As companies get more and more obsessed with piracy prevention, more and more legitimate customers will find themselves incorrectly punished by badly written software. ”

    Except that these companies are so obsessed with protecting their fat profit margins they will fall back on the good old ” Its not a BUG its a Feature ” excuse/rationalization of a shambolic mess.

    In theory since you have the correct registration codes your only problem should be the minor inconvenience of re-registering every time the Windows 7 auto update detects a ‘ dubious ‘ OEM copy of & and declares that you are a Pirate .. Arrrh Jim Lad ! Them that Dies will be the Lucky Ones! and so forth.

    Any way, at the risk of peddling a suggestion that you may already be implementing, you could try this … If you haven’t disabled the auto download feature go to ” Control Panel\System and Security\Windows Update\Change settings ” and disable it .
    You can check for updates manually every now and then and selectively download only those updates that wont confuse your PCs software; cumulative security updates are usually ok – its that monthly malware removal tool that is lethal and you can opt out of that .

    Windows 7 is now pretty stable and secure – famous last words – and the number of actually useful updates and crash Emergency Blues and Twos style alerts of the WE have Been Hacked! variety has dropped dramatically since the days of Vista so even if you don’t download the cumulative security updates at all you should be OK.

    You could also go into your ‘view update history and remove any of the monthly malware removal tool downloads that you might have downloaded before you set the system to ” never check for updates (not recommended ) ” and then re-register with your entirely legitimate registration codes.

    IF .. and only IF .. I’m right that should deal with your problem.

    I will now Brace myself for the Impact of Criticism by Real IT experts who are probably hovering in the background muttering ” She’s bound to have tried That”

    Whilst I wait it occurs to me that you might be interested in this interesting article ..

    ” Confessions of a Windows 7 pirate

    Summary: I’ve been hanging out with a bad crowd lately, trying out popular hacking tools and utilities to see if I could install Windows 7 without paying for it. Unfortunately, I succeeded. In this post, I’ll share my experiences, including close encounters with some very nasty malware and some analysis on how the latest showdown between Microsoft and the pirates is likely to play out. ”

    Arrgh and Avast there me Hearties ! and so forth.

    1. Interesting. I was pretty sure that some sort of installation was overwriting the legitimate license key. Somehow I am not surprised at the possibility that it is Microsoft’s own software that is the culprit.

Comments are closed.