Inside Office Genuine Advantage


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We’ll push past the pages of fancy wording from Microsoft and get to the heart of what Office Genuine Advantage is and what it means to you.

Office Genuine Advantage is a system to check if your copy of Microsoft Office is properly licensed. It’s only done on particular occasions and with your advance approval. The current benefits and downside (‘carrot and stick’ if you will) are small and non-critical but that might change.

Currently the OGA is only compulsory for Office users with Korean, Simplified Chinese, Spanish, Brazilian Portuguese, Russian, Czech and Greek language versions. It’s optional for English language Office users, but that will change in the future.


WHY DOES IT MATTER?

Anything that checks your software license needs to be understood by customers. While the consequences of OGA are minor, that’s the inevitable precursor to more stringent application of OGA in the years ahead.

For most people who buy and use Microsoft Office legally there’s no problem – OGA will validate you and that’s it. It takes a minute or two, which for individual users is not onerous.

If you have an illegal copy of Office then OGA won’t validate your setup, that’s not critical as things stand now but, as we keep saying, that will change.

Our biggest concern with any software authentication scheme are properly licensed users who are deemed pirates by these automated methods. We have no problem with Microsoft protecting their business from theft but we’re always wary of Redmond’s presumption of their own infallibility. When software activation was introduced we covered it in detail for Office Watch readers and there were many teething problems. Over time activation has improved but at first there were issues that rightly annoyed paying customers.

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WHO IS AFFECTED

OGA only applies to users of Office XP, Office 2003 and presumably Office 2007 when it is released. It also applies to individual installations of core Office apps (eg Word or Excel alone) in their Office 2002 (XP) or later incarnations.

Microsoft is strangely reluctant to talk about which individual programs fall under the OGA. Word and Excel are definitely included and we’d expect Powerpoint and Outlook are as well.

Frontpage, Publisher and Visio will NOT be checked with OGA at present so presumably InfoPath is also excluded. The server components of Office like Exchange Server and Sharepoint aren’t mentioned at all.

Eventually the OGA will apply to a wider range of Microsoft and Office programs but for the moment the OGA is only compulsory for Office users with Korean, Simplified Chinese, Spanish, Brazilian Portuguese, Russian, Czech and Greek language versions. At this stage OGA is optional for English language Office users.


WHEN IS MY OFFICE LICENSE CHECKED?

The Office Genuine Advantage only kicks in if you want to download some non-security critical downloads from the Microsoft web site. This means downloads like add-ins, templates etc.

When you get to a download page there’s a button which runs the OGA system. For most people this means installing an ActiveX control (Windows will handle that for you after the normal security warning) which sends some info to Microsoft. If you have a legal copy your web page will refresh and let you download the extra you want.

Once the ActiveX control is installed it will be run at your command for future downloads that require validation. Because there are not enough acronyms in the world the control is called OVA – ‘Office Validation Assistant’.

If you can’t or don’t want to install the ActiveX control there are alternative but slower methods of validation.

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CARROT – WHAT DO I GET IF I PASS?

If the OGA thinks you have a legal version of Office then you get the extra you wanted to download plus either a sigh of relief or a warm inner glow for being acknowledged as an honest citizen.

According to Microsoft having genuine Office means you get Reliability, Additional Value, Confidence and Peace of Mind. Since OGA doesn’t limit access to security updates or service packs it’s hard to see how it affects the reliability of Office. The additional value from the extras available via OGA is small at this stage. Certainly you get a warm inner glow from knowing you’re a legal user.


STICK – WHAT HAPPENS IF I FAIL?

If the OGA thinks you have an illegal copy of Office then you won’t be able to get the extra you wanted to download. For the moment, that’s it.

There are no other current consequences to failing the OGA test, your copy of Office will continue to work as normal. Unlike Product Activation (done when you install Office) which will limit your use of Office after a trial period.

Security patches for Office are NOT part of the OGA check. In other words, all users of Office can download security updates without any license check.

Microsoft has confirmed to us that the term ‘security updates’ includes all Office service packs so those essential updates will continue to be available to all comers.


CARROT ON THE END OF THE STICK

If the OGA says you have an illegal copy of Office, Microsoft has an option to make you legal.

End users who are unable to validate their Office product may be eligible to receive a special complimentary offer for Microsoft Office Standard Edition 2003. This offer is available for a limited time and designed to assist customers who are victims of counterfeiters. It requires filing a report providing details of the transaction, naming the supplier of the counterfeit software, and submitting a copy of the qualifying media. This offer is not a substitute for a copy of Microsoft Office purchased pre-installed on a PC.

There’s no stated time limit on this offer so it could be withdrawn at any time and it only extends to a copy of Standard Edition, not Professional or other Office bundles.

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WHAT ABOUT ACTIVATION?

Product Activation is the system of checking your license to use Office or Windows either when you install the software or soon thereafter. Normally this is done over the Internet but activation can happen over the phone, fax or even mail.

Activation checks to see if the product key you entered has been used on another computer recently. It’s much more complicated than that since it checks if the hardware is the same or only slightly different plus the time since the last activation with that product key.

Activation happens once when you install on a computer. The new Office Genuine Advantage works whenever you want to download some extra from the Microsoft web site.


WHY HAVE BOTH?

OGA gives Microsoft a chance to catch stolen copies of Office not picked up during product activation. It’s possible to install Office and have it activated but the product key is later reported as stolen or is misused. With OGA Microsoft can check the legitimacy of a product key at other times during the use of Microsoft Office and not just at installation.

Some unscrupulous hardware retailers will sell a computer and include a copy of Office pre-installed, as a cost-saving measure they install a pirated Office and not a proper license. Until now the buyer would not immediately know it’s an illegal Office because the seller would have done the activation before delivery. With OGA the customer will be warned they have an illegal copy when they try to get extras for Office.

Other product keys for Office get distributed around the Internet and while product activation will eventually catch some of these keys, Office Genuine Advantage lets Microsoft check license validity at later times.

This means you can have a copy of Office which is activated and even passes OGA checks but, if the product key is listed as improperly used, later OGA checks will fail.

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YOUR PRIVACY

According to Microsoft the only information collected by the OGA is:



  • Windows product key
  • Office product key
  • PC manufacturer
  • Version of operating system
  • PID / SID – software and hardware ID’s
  • BIOS information and MD5 checksum.
  • Hard drive serial number
  • User and system locale (language setting and version in Windows)

Microsoft says there’s no information sent to identify or contact you. Interestingly the Microsoft web site elsewhere admits that your IP address is also noted (as is standard with any Internet communication) but is only used a ‘rough geographic’ purposes.


CONCERNS

The biggest worry is that OGA will not validate legitimate Office users and we hope Microsoft will learn from the testing of product activation and be more open to the possibility that the system is falsely reporting.

Some people might be worried that Microsoft is collecting and using more information than they are disclosing – since there’s no independent confirmation of the OGA process it really comes down to your level of trust in Microsoft.

Network administrators will be unhappy that there’s no tool to validate Windows or Office across a corporate network. This means employees will have to validate individually, the time taken and support costs might be small for one person but can add up across a large business. Astonishingly, Microsoft is asking for feedback about producing such a tool, as if there’s some question about enterprise customers even wanting such a thing. Such a tool should be part of the first release of OGA not an afterthought.

Overall the current implementation of Office Genuine Advantage seems reasonable. Most of the complaints we’ve seen from readers so far are either based on rumor or false information (hence this detailed issue) or are spawned by some conspiracy theory about Microsoft that lack any factual basis.


MORE INFO

There’s a 10 plus page FAQ on the Microsoft site and if you dig through that you might find an answer to your question.  The FAQ seems mainly designed to ‘accent the positive’ and highlight the dire consequences of using illegal software rather than inform in a clear and direct way. There’s plenty of creative wording and some people might be irked by terms like ‘software ecosystem’.

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