Until recently, Microsoft's antipiracy technology was pretty decisive: either your copy of Windows was genuine or it wasn't.
With a software update this week, however, Microsoft has added a new "Yellow state" for times when it just can't tell whether a copy is legitimate. According to Microsoft, the new indeterminate reading can occur, for example, when a local error or network error prevents the validation check from being completed.
The message is part of a controversial add-on to Windows XP, known as Windows Genuine Advantage Notification, which tells users whether Microsoft believes their copy of Windows to be legitimate. Validation is required for most Windows XP downloads, though users can still get automatic security updates. With Windows Vista, some features won't work at all unless a machine is validated as genuine.
For machines that get the new "maybe pirate" reading, a window pops up that says "unable to complete genuine Windows validation." Encountering the new reading does not limit a user's ability to download additional software, as is the case when a computer fails validation.
A user can "click to see more details and address the problem, ignore the messages, or suppress them altogether," Microsoft said in a statement.
Microsoft said it hoped the new state would lead to better experiences for customers. "If a system or network error prevents an accurate status check, Microsoft wants customers to know that and have the option to fix the problem," Microsoft said. "We have seen many instances where the failure to complete validation is masking other system problems that users should attend to.
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