MS to OEMs: Get legit on Vista, or OS is toast

PC owners and OEMs discover what Microsoft means by a “diminished user experience”

Last week, Microsoft sent certified letters to its OEM partners regarding Vista's anti-piracy technology -- or, more accurately, what happens if they dare ship a system with a "non-genuine" copy of Vista.

The answer: The system is crippled for 30 days, then hosed entirely until you pony up for a license. This is apparently what Microsoft means when it warns of a "diminished user experience." (To me, that's what you get when Windows works normally.)

This would be fine if Microsoft were a reasonably competent organization and Windows Genuine Advantage worked flawlessly. True pirates deserve to be punished. But Microsoft isn't and WGA doesn't -- at least, judging by readers who have bought legit OEM copies of XP from major manufacturers, only to have WGA label them as pirates.

At press time, Microsoft's Vista validation forums contained about 600 similar complaints -- including several from people whose validated systems suddenly failed the WGA test after installing third-party security software.

It gets worse. Microsoft offers OEMs a chance to "win a cool PC" by taking a quiz testing their knowledge of Windows Vista and WGA. But it doesn't exactly instill confidence when you type the URL into your browser and find out the page doesn't exist.

To be fair, I haven't heard a lot of whining about Vista's faulty WGA hosing people's systems. But that may be because Microsoft has been playing nice, trying to avoid more bad PR for its underwhelming new OS. The certified letter could be the first step in a get tough campaign. If so, we may be in for a long ugly summer.

Does partnering with Microsoft mean always having to say you're sorry?