Microsoft introduced Windows Genuine Advantage (WGA) in Windows XP. WGA acts as an anti-piracy measure for Windows. In XP it made a lot of sense for Microsoft, because XP required a product key during the install. For pirates that meant finding a key online. This was tricky, because keygens for Windows just don’t exist, so any key that they would find would be used by hundreds (or thousands) of other pirates. This made WGA easily pick out pirates and act accordingly. Vista and 7 don’t require product keys during the install, but give a 30-day grace period between the install and when WGA kicks in. WGA’s behavior when it identifies a copy of windows as “not genuine” has changed even within different service packs.
I believe WGA in XP is basically just a nag from the system notification area. In Vista RTM (pre service pack 1), WGA would disable AERO when the user logged in and only give an Internet Explorer window for the user to purchase a key. (Of course, the IE window allowed the user to open up the command prompt to do various things to get the system back without paying, but that’s not what this post is about.) Vista SP1’s WGA behavior was less of a show-stopper, and did allow the user to get to the desktop and use the computer semi-normally, but onto the Windows 7 behavior.
You may be a victim of software counterfeiting.
To use all Microsoft Windows® features, such as all updates from Windows Update; get the latest updates and receive product support, your copy of Microsoft Windows® must be validated as genuine.
That was after the occasional reminder-to-activate message balloon from the system notification area before the 30 days was up.
Clicking “Buy a new product key online” brought me to this webpage:
All of the other options in the activation wizard were to either type in a key or put off the task for later.
After neglecting to put in a key again, I was allowed back onto my desktop. I found that the desktop wallpaper was changed to plain black, and an “This copy of Windows” is not genuine” was placed in the lower-right corner of the desktop. (The other text is because the release of Windows that I am using is the public beta.)
I could change the wallpaper back, but every time I logged in the desktop would revert to plain black.
Finally, ever time I opened the Control Panel I was greeted with the following message. (Apparently I also changed the window color sometime between the time the previous screenshot was taken and this one. :-P)
That’s it. In the end, it seems that the OS all together still works. The desktop nag and login messages are nuisances, but the lack of Windows Update support is a strong motivator to get the thing activated. For someone who doesn’t want to spend the money, however, it seems that the less he restarts the computer the less of a haste the WGA nags would be.
Keep in mind that this is the behavior in the Windows 7 beta, but I think it’s safe to assume that the behavior won’t change much in the coming release candidate and final release.