“Windows Genuine Advantage” my @#$%!

Today I visited my family in Ottawa, and brought with me my father’s birthday gift — a computer I had built for him. The system is very bare bones, but my idea was to recycle as many parts as I could from the old machine and swap them into the new. In particular, I wanted to transfer the hard drive, as that would make sure no data would be lost, although I suspected I might have a problem so I did make a backup first.

And yes, we had a problem.

You see, when Windows XP is first installed the system creates an installation code out of the product key and the serial numbers of some key system parts. This code is then registered with Microsoft to validate that the copy of XP is genuine. The process is called “Windows Genuine Advantage”, although it is only an advantage for Microsoft.

So what happened when I swapped the hard drive? The system, upon startup, detected that new hardware was present, and assumed that the copy of Windows that was being run was a pirate copy. In other words, every time I tried to get into Windows apart from Safe Mode, it was no dice.

“No problem,” I thought to myself, “all I need to do is redo the validation routine with Microsoft.” Except that doesn’t work. Safe Mode only worked if I didn’t have any networking drivers installed, so no Internet access. And while Microsoft does have a telephone mechanism for validation, the telephone menus did not include an option for the problem I was facing. I finally managed to find an option to be passed to an actual human being…and the system hung up on me.


So I did the only thing left to do: I completely reinstalled the operating system. In retrospect this really was my best option, and (unfortunately) I have enough experience reinstalling Windows that the system worked just fine. My parents now have a much faster PC, and I’m hoping that the automated processes at Microsoft won’t one day decide that my parents are pirates. AARRGGHH!!