No reader question, this time. Just a rant.
We all hate Windows Genuine Advantage. Not only is it a hassle that might accuse you of stealing something you legitimately bought, but its very name adds insult to annoyance. It's obviously an advantage to no one but Microsoft.
But with a simple change in policy, the folks in Redmond could use it to eliminate a far more serious problem: The difficulty in obtaining an actual copy of Windows to go with your legally-purchased license.
If Windows came with your computer, you probably have no way to restore it beyond a complete reformat. If you lost the restore discs that came with your PC, or altered your partition table and thereby rendered your restore partition unbootable, you can't even do that. And you almost certainly don't have the options and utilities that come with a genuine Windows CD or DVD.
And why not? Because Microsoft acts as if giving away Windows discs is the same as giving away licenses to run Windows. And yet the company must know that's not true. Otherwise, Microsoft wouldn't make you go through the activation process, or keep hitting you with Windows Genuine Annoyances. It's the product key--that long number you have to enter when you install Windows--that defines and proves your purchase of the operating system.
So why can't Microsoft simply give the disc away. Make it downloadable as an .iso file. Charge $5 to mail a physical disc to those who don't like long downloads. Make it known that anyone can give the disc to anyone else.
I'm not suggesting that Microsoft give away Windows. You'd still need a unique product key to activate it, and you would get that project key either by paying Microsoft or buying a PC with Windows pre-installed (all such computers already come with a product key sticker). Or you'd already have the product key, but still need a product to install.
This could work just fine with XP, Vista, and (when it ships) Windows 7. Microsoft doesn't even have to keep selling XP to freely give away the discs; I know plenty of people who "own" XP but need a way to install it.
A great many commercial programs, perhaps a majority of them, are now sold this way. You download the program, install it, try a limited version, then pay for a key that will unlock the full version. They used to call this shareware or demoware. Now its just the way software is sold.
Microsoft: Are you listening?