Microsoft requires Windows piracy checks

Microsoft Tuesday is going live with a program designed to protect customers from using counterfeit copies of Windows.

Microsoft is expected to go live with a program requiring customers to validate that they are running legitimate copies of Windows before they can use Microsoft's download services.

The Windows Genuine Advantage 1.0 program ensured that customers using Windows Update, Microsoft Update for Windows and the Microsoft Download Center raun a program that checked that their Windows operating system (OS) was genuine before they could download updates or new content from those services, said David Lazar, director of Genuine Windows for Microsoft.

The company has been testing the program since September and hads validated more than 48 million systems so far, Lazar said. Until Tuesday the program had been voluntary.

Customers who discovered they had a counterfeit copy of Windows through the program either would be given a free version of the OS or could purchase it for a discounted price, he said.

To get a free version of Windows, a customer must fill out a counterfeit report identifying the source of the software, provide a proof of purchase and send in a counterfeit CD of the software.

If customers disn't have all of that information, they could still fill out a counterfeit report and receive a copy of Windows XP Home Edition for $US99 or a copy of Windows XP Professional Edition for $US149, Lazar said.

Windows XP Home normally sells for $US199 and Windows XP Professional Edition usually costs $299.

The move to lock out pirated copies of Windows from the download sites is part of Microsoft's effort to fight software piracy, which is a major issue for the software vendor.

Senior attorney in the legal and corporate affairs department of Microsoft, Bonnie MacNaughton, said the company estimatedthat more than one-third of all copies of its software were counterfeit, based on a recent joint report released by the Business Software Alliance and research firm IDC.

The study found that 35 per cent of software worldwide is pirated. In North America alone, the piracy rate for software is 22 per cent. "We consider that to be a staggering number," MacNaughton said.

One issue the software maker faced in fighting piracy was that many users didn't know that their copy of Windows was illegal, Lazar said. Windows Genuine Advantage allowed customers to solve this problem in a few minutes through the automatic validation.

The Windows Genuine Advantage checking mechanism is anonymous, and includes an ActiveX control on the client side and the Windows Product Activation service on the Microsoft side. During the testing process, a user had to install the ActiveX control and enter the Windows product key, which on new PCs bought with the operating system is typically found on a sticker affixed to the PC. However, providing a Windows product key was no longer required in the live program, Lazar said.

This is not the first time that Microsoft is checking whether installed copies of Windows are legitimate. Windows Update already checks for certain volume license keys that are known to be used illegally to activate copies of Windows.

Microsoft also has a website, www.howtotell.com, providing customers with information on how they could discover whether or not they had a genuine copy of Windows, Lazar said.

While counterfeit copies of Windows will be prevented from downloading updates, Lazar said Microsoft was not including security updates in the lock-out. Even customers who did not check their copies of Windows for authenticity would be allowed to download security updates through Windows Update, Microsoft Update for Windows and the Download Centre, he said.

"Those are available to all Windows users with or without validation," Lazar said. "We think of it like public health. We want to make sure no one gets infected by another system on the Internet because of our program."

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