By J. D. Biersdorfer
Published: June 1, 2006
Microsoft Sets Sail Against Pirates
Q. This just started about a week ago, but every time we start up we get a message saying, ”This copy of Windows is not genuine” and ”You may be a victim of software counterfeiting.” What can I do? Is this a problem that needs to be corrected?
A. The messages are part of Microsoft’s continuing efforts to combat the piracy of its software. Those messages, along with notification balloons and desktop banners, may appear on your screen if the company senses through Internet updates that you are not using a licensed copy of its Windows XP operating system.
These new messages are generated by the Windows Genuine Advantage Notification program, software that was included a few months ago in the Automatic Updates feature of Windows. The program, known as WGA Notification, can also be installed if you manually download it from the Windows Update site.
These alerts are set to keep popping up until you click the Get Genuine button on the message and go to Microsoft’s site to purchase a license key ($99 for Windows XP Home or $149 for Windows XP Professional) or a full copy of Windows. If you unwittingly purchased a pirated edition of Windows and can prove it, you may qualify for a free replacement copy of the system. (You need to fill out a counterfeit report, provide a proof-of-purchase statement or receipt and send your bootlegged Windows discs back to Microsoft.)
More information is at www.microsoft.com/genuine.
The WGA Notification software was distributed to some Windows users in the United States, Britain, Australia, New Zealand and Malaysia. Microsoft’s Web site states that the WGA Notification software is currently optional, but that the program may be made mandatory for all Windows XP users later this year.
Taking Extra Steps To a Clean Disk
Q. I was in a store recently to buy a new computer, and asked for software to delete my files permanently before donating my old PC. The sales clerk said I didn’t need to buy the software, as I can do this in Windows by reformatting my drive with the Format command. Will that work?
A. The Format command is often used to prepare a disk for installing (or reinstalling) an operating system, but it does not securely erase all data from the computer. People who know how to dig around and recover data may still be able to mine personal information from your old PC.
Most experts suggest that computer users who need to securely and permanently erase data from a hard drive (the Pentagon, for instance) either physically destroy the drive or use a software utility to thoroughly overwrite all its information. It may take some time, but a good wipe program can repeatedly overwrite your hard drive with random data from 7 to 35 times to erase any personal files lingering on the drive.
There are many commercial software programs for Windows in the $40 to $50 range that can completely erase your hard drive, like WipeDrive (www.whitecanyon.com) and CyberScrub Privacy Suite (www.cyberscrub.com). There are also free options, like Eraser (www.heidi.ie/eraser) and Darik’s Boot and Nuke (dban.sourceforge.net), a small program that can be loaded onto a diskette or recordable CD and used to wipe your drive clean.
Finding Repairs In Strange Places
Q. Are there options for emergency computer service, especially if you’re traveling?
A. You can find emergency computer repair services in most places, but in an unfamiliar town you may have to dig around for one. One option is to use a local city search Web site like Google Local (local.google.com) or Yahoo Local (local.yahoo.com) before you leave home to look up available computer shops with emergency service; typing ”emergency computer repair” and the ZIP code of the city you’re going to should give you some localized results.
You may also find on-site service for regular check-ups or emergencies from companies that offer around-the-clock help. The Geek Squad (www.geeksquad.com or 800-433-5778) makes house calls, as does Nerds to Go (nerdstogonew.wpengine.com; 800-390-6373). Stores like Staples, Circuit City and CompUSA may offer repair services at some locations.