New Windows Genuine authenticator can blank desktop backgrounds

If in the last week or so you've noticed that your desktop background in Windows XP Professional goes completely black exactly every 60 minutes, don't worry, it's not a virus.

A blackened desktop is the latest indication that the Microsoft Genuine Advantage program has determined your copy of the operating system to be non-authentic, as a service of its latest version rolled out to XP Professional users this week.

"The desktop background can be reset to anything else in the usual ways," wrote WGA senior product manager Alex Kochis yesterday, "but every 60 minutes it will change back to the plain black background. This will continue to happen until that copy of Windows is genuine."

Kochis' team has been tinkering with multiple ways to provide some kind of "in-your-face" notice to the user that Microsoft doesn't believe his copy of Windows to be a valid one, without making any kind of implied accusation that somehow the user is at fault. For Windows Vista, WGA disables the Aero translucent front-end, substituting the more conventional "Vista Basic" theme instead.

In addition to the blackened desktop, the new WGA will show a transparent, immobile notice in the lower right corner of the screen: "You may be a victim of software counterfeiting." The notice will remain in place whatever software the user may try to run, though it's probably not intense enough to cause screen burn-in.

In order to convince customers to play along, and even willingly download and install WGA just for the fun of finding out whether their Windows is counterfeit, product managers have had the daunting task of associating the positive experience of using a Windows that doesn't bug the user, with the WGA authentication process. It's as if to say, this unimpeded process is brought to you as a public service of Genuine Advantage.

So Kochis' post yesterday extended this association, along with some of the requisite boilerplate text that marketing suggests product managers add: "I'm excited about how this release balances our goals of providing a great experience to those who have genuine Windows and at the same time creating a compelling experience for those who have non-genuine copies to get genuine Windows," he wrote.

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