A Real Alternative to WGA & Windows Update

Just found this.

For those that have been griping about the whole mandatory WGA, and further, the threat of future Microsoft “critical” updates that may or may not actually be useful or even work properly, read up on This Windows Secrets Newsletter, which details the Shavlik NetChkProtect alternative, can download and install patches as well as deploy these patches across your personal domain remotely and without the need for a client on the remote systems. It can also monitor and maintain patches for non-Microsoft products as well.

And it’s free for the first year for up to 25 PCs and very reasonably priced for subsequent years.

Frankly, with something like this I think Shavlik’s got a real winner on its hands. With the trust of Windows Update and Microsoft as a whole significantly shaken by the whole WGA debacle, this seems to be an excellent alternative that’s capable of everything WU does and more.

Bye bye, WGA.

I didn’t know there was a “WGA debacle”. Can you elaborate?

WGA, or Windows Genuine Advantage is a scheme from Microsoft to ensure any given copy of Windows is legal.

If WGA thinks the copy isn’t legal, it’ll do things ranging from preventing any patches from being installed, on up to disabling the computer.

A few of the typical scenarios that give honest people trouble:

It gets confused on PCs that were “imaged” - a very common way to set up lots of PCs at a corporation.

It also gets upset if it turns out the computer store you bought your PC from didn’t use an install copy with the proper “bulk license.”

It also is quite simply, a product of Microsoft and a part of Windows. That alone is enough to make it blow up now and then.

OK, this has got to be one of the strangest-ever links between thread content and the Google ads…

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Microsoft designed and released Windows Genuine Advantage (WGA) as a “critical update” through Windows Update. The program was designed to check your license and report it back to Microsoft for verification. If you were “genuine” then all was, in theory, good. Otherwise it would bug you incessantly about your ostensibly illegitemate Windows license until such time as you got a legitemate copy of Windows.

On paper it was Microsoft’s gambit in the war against piracy and supposedly a very simple one that could prove effective. In practise however it turned out quite differently:

  • Legitemate licenses were being occasionally confused with illegitemate ones, causing legitemate paying customers of Windows XP to effectively be called thieves and be subject to WGA’s nagging.
  • Caused system slowdowns, instabilities and crashes in a small percentage of systems it was installed on
  • Got a lot of people very, very upset.

Furthermore, several weeks ago Microsoft all but confirmed the idea that WGA would, if it found you had an illegitemate license (whether that was correct or not), ultimately be given the authority to prevent you from accessing Windows until you purchased a legitemate copy.

The icing on the cake has come in the last few weeks, where Microsoft has been the subject of two lawsuits (so far) alleging that WGA consistutes spyware because it reports information back to Microsoft without the user’s explicit consent.

All of this has added up to a mounting debacle that has upset a lot of people and caused numerous articles on WGA and its pitfalls to be published in print and web journals.

Frankly, NetCheck Protect couldn’t have come at a better time.

But if I’m understanding how both WGA and this third party program work, it won’t do a damn thing if MS decides to launch their “if it’s not a fully verified license, no Windows for you” campaign. This program seems to just search the net for all the updates to a bunch of software the user has installed, then either knows which ones are good and installs them, or prompts the user on every one. So it will tell you “don’t install WGA! WGA bad!”, so you avoid the hassle of it, but then, when MS finally pulls the big switch, and you don’t have the patch, you can’t run Windows.

There are two things at work here.

  1. If I understand the way WGA works correctly, it can’t “pull the plug” as it were if it isn’t installed in the first place. So, either don’t install it, or follow the directions posted on the net to remove it. Either way, if it’s gone it can’t do its damage.

  2. WindowsUpdate (eventually) won’t allow access to updates if a) WGA invalidates your license, and/or b) You aren’t using Internet Explorer (because it requires an ActiveX script to scan your system and report what updates are available based on what you don’t have installed). NetChk Protect doesn’t use WindowsUpdate – or for that matter a browser, and so will have no such restrictions.

Thus, the “big switch” would be irrelevant.

But there’s the catch, I thought that the plug would be pulled if either WGA found an invalid license, OR WGA wasn’t installed in the first place. Of course, to pull the plug without WGA installed, they would probably need to install something else that Netchk will refuse. So I guess one would pay $25 to either:

a) Not get harrassed by MS (almost worth it…)

or b) use a priated copy of Windows. Though I suppose if one is going to pirate Windows, they will probably pirate Netchk as well, eh?

: Scratching head :

I was inexplicably oblivious to the depth of these issues. I use WSUS to patch my servers and workstations, and I recall hitting an annoying snag during my monthly deployment a couple (few?) Months ago. When I manually ran WU in testing, I got prompted to WGA, but I found a doc online that oulined getting around it - like adding a %false or something in the URL (or something like that). Plus, I run automatic/scheduled updates on about 1,500 machines (XP, WIN2k and WIN2k3) and never saw the issue once when running automatic updates. Anyways, my users are a bunch of primadonnas, but I haven’t heard of any complaints yet. I’ll have to take a closer look at what I’m doing with WSUS this month. Scary.

NetChk won’t necessarily refuse anything, it simply makes all updates optional and downloading them would not be contingent upon license validation or the presence of any special components. Further, no plugs can be pulled if there’s no client on your machine designed to watch for a signal to do so. No WGA, no plug – XP does not itself contain any such backdoor feature. That’s what WGA is (or will be) for.

Perhaps. Not getting harassed by M$ makes it worth the price of admission right there, but I think the more important thing is that the ability to avoid having to have anything at all to do with WGA means you don’t need to run the risk that it will either think you have an invalid license or end up muddying up your system with slowdowns and crashes. Furthermore it allows you to avoid any future potential Microsoft “critical updates” that may or may not be of any use to you or your system.

NetChk does go beyond WindowsUpdate though, allowing for the deployment of patches and updates remotely across an unlimited number of machines (or up to 25 in the free version) in any LAN, WAN or PAN setting without the need for clients to be installed in the remote hosts to receive them. Not a great benefit if you’re already using remote management software in a corporate setting of course but considering that this is free software (for the first year) and pretty damn cheap for subsequent years ($25 for year 2, $6 for every year, per machine, thereafter), that’s a pretty nifty feature to have for home-based PANs and small business LANs.