The Windows Genuine Advantage Disadvantage

Could Windows Genuine Advantage cause problems after I upgrade my hard drive?

Brian Vaughan, Alameda, California

It's possible. Naming this legal spyware an "Advantage" is a bit like calling the official Soviet newspaper Pravda ("Truth")--putting a word in the title doesn't make it so. Windows Genuine Advantage checks your Windows installation to confirm that its license key matches your hardware. If the key turns out to be registered for a different computer, WGA objects and generally makes your life miserable.

In theory, WGA can distinguish between a new hard drive and a new PC. In reality, though, it sometimes gets confused and asks you to reactivate Windows--usually a painless chore. If reactivation fails, call Microsoft's Activation hotline at 888/571-2048. To speak with a human being, say "agent" when asked which option you want, and don't waver when the automated phone system attempts to convince you that you would be better off talking to a machine. The hotline is open around the clock.

Matters grow complicated if your copy of Windows came with your PC and if WGA thinks your new hard drive is a new computer. An "OEM" copy of Windows isn't supposed to be transferred to a new PC. If you had multiple partitions on your old drive, create the same partitions, in the same order, on the new one. If that doesn't work, call the vendor's technical support. And don't blame WGA if your computer won't boot after a hard-drive upgrade; your BIOS probably can't recognize the new drive.

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