Microsoft's Windows Genuine Advantage (WGA) Program was designed to give people an incentive to move to and stay on legitimate, licensed copies of Windows. Because of WGA, Microsoft no longer allows pirated copies of Windows to be updated, and many Microsoft tools and programs that would normally be freely available are now only available to licensed customers.
Unfortunately, many people who do have legitimate copies of Windows find they're unable to validate their computers through WGA. This is frustrating, since the validation process is a bit of a black box, especially for people who aren't technically inclined. But even the more technically inclined may have a hard time diagnosing why WGA isn't working.
One of the tools that Microsoft has created to help disentangle WGA validation issues is Microsoft Genuine Advantage Tool (version 1.5). The tool is a simple standalone executable, no installation required, which polls the system it's run on to determine if there are any obvious problems with WGA.
The program has four tabs -- Windows, OEM, Office and Browser -- each of which lists diagnostic information you can use to find a problem with WGA. The main Windows tab lists whether or not WGA has validated Windows as genuine in the first place, as well as the product ID and WGA version information (to determine, for instance, if there's an earlier version of the WGA components installed). Under Browser, you can examine a number of common browser settings that cause WGA to fail if they aren't set correctly. Note: One of the settings that is most important, whether or not data sources can be accessed across domains, is not listed here. It is not a browser-wide setting but a zone-specific setting, and so it needs to be checked according to the zone you have Microsoft.com set for in your copy of IE.
You can use the tool in conjunction with Microsoft's own interactive WGA diagnostic Web site, at http://www.microsoft.com/genuine/diag.
About the author: Serdar Yegulalp is editor of the Windows Power Users Newsletter. Check it out for the latest advice and musings on the world of Windows network administrators. He is also the author of the book Windows Server Undocumented Solutions.