Are Wine users just whining about Microsofts anti-piracy plans? Or is Microsoft unfairly targeting and discriminating against customers attempting to run Windows programs on Unix and Linux?
Microsoft Corp.s WGA (Windows Genuine Advantage) program has had its share of critics. But this week, a number of open-source advocates joined the ranks of those questioning Microsofts methods for thwarting software piracy.
On Wednesday, a developer of Wine—an open-source implementation of the Windows application-programming interface that allows Windows applications to run on Unix and Linux—said he discovered that Microsofts Windows validation tool checks for Wine and generates an error when it is found.
Wine developer Ivan Leo Puotis e-mail was linked on the Slashdot.org site and immediately generated a flood of comments.
While some posters said they believed Microsoft was within its rights blocking users who were running older versions of Windows, others said they believed Microsoft was unfairly targeting users running legitimate Microsoft software on top of non-Microsoft operating systems.
WGA, which Microsoft began beta-testing in September, is set to become mandatory later this year for all users looking to download Windows-related patches, fixes and other software add-ons from Microsoft. The program is designed to check whether consumer and small-business customers are running legitimately licensed copies of Windows XP.
Microsoft has been testing the WGA program on the Microsoft Download Center. The company has been requesting that users validate their copies of XP before obtaining certain downloads.
Currently, if users decide against validating, they still are allowed to obtain the requested downloads.
But this "optional" grace period will end later this year. Microsoft is considering extending the Genuine Advantage program to other software categories, including Office, server software and games, although there is no timetable yet for when the company will do so.
Wine does not require Microsoft Windows, as noted on the Wine informational Web site, "as it is a completely free alternative implementation of the Windows API consisting of 100% non-Microsoft code."
Nonetheless, in the case of Wine, "Microsoft isnt simply checking for a valid or invalid Windows version," said Alex Ionescu, a developer with the ReactOS Project.
(ReactOS is an operating system which is compatible with Windows applications and is based on the Windows NT/XP kernel. The ReactOS developers use Wine libraries for some application support.)
"I have reversed their check code, and also used a debugger to see what they are checking live [on my Windows machine], and there is a special piece of code, a special function, which is dedicated to detecting Wine by using a registry path check. If this registry path exists, a message will tell the user that he is running an "unsupported operating system," Ionescu explained.
WGA isnt merely blocking Wine users from obtaining Office-related applications from Microsofts download site. "Its used by all the genuine downloads, including some really basic developer tools," Ionescu said.