Do Pirates Deserve a Windows Update?

By Larry Seltzer  |  Posted 2004-05-13 Print this article Print

Should you get updates to Windows if you don't have a legal copy? Some time ago, Microsoft stopped allowing this, at least for some versions of Windows. Seems perfectly fair to me, but is it wise?

Microsofts policy for the upcoming Service Pack 2 for Windows XP with respect to pirated copies of the operating system stirred a minor controversy in the media recently. A report elsewhere had claimed that Microsoft would be allowing even users of pirated copies to install the update.
A tad incredulous, we called to check and werent surprised to find out that Microsofts practices for Service Pack 2 (SP2) will be essentially the same as those for Windows XP Service Pack 1.

At this point, a quote from the Windows Update Privacy Statement is instructive: "Windows Update also collects the Product ID and Product Key to confirm that you are running a validly licensed copy of Windows," the statement says. "A validly licensed copy of Windows ensures that you will receive ongoing updates from Windows Update. The Product ID and Product Key are not retained beyond the end of the Windows Update session, unless the Product ID is not valid." Microsoft knows which product keys have been used for product activation, and it knows a specific list of product keys that have been pirated. In either case, if youre not on the right list, no Windows Update for you.

Now, I think the first, most important thing is that Microsoft is not only within its rights not to encourage piracy by providing fixes and upgrades for pirates, but right to do so. Whatever you think Windows is worth, the consumer cost is pretty cheap, especially as almost everyone gets it preinstalled on a new computer. And if you dont think its worth that, the right thing to do is to use something else. If you think a car is overpriced, you dont steal the car, do you?

But thats not the only issue here. You can make a case that its in everyones interest that as many people as possible, even pirated Windows users, have good security. Next Page: I think of it as a bit like needle exchange.

Larry Seltzer has been writing software for and English about computers ever since—,much to his own amazement—,he graduated from the University of Pennsylvania in 1983.

He was one of the authors of NPL and NPL-R, fourth-generation languages for microcomputers by the now-defunct DeskTop Software Corporation. (Larry is sad to find absolutely no hits on any of these +products on Google.) His work at Desktop Software included programming the UCSD p-System, a virtual machine-based operating system with portable binaries that pre-dated Java by more than 10 years.

For several years, he wrote corporate software for Mathematica Policy Research (they're still in business!) and Chase Econometrics (not so lucky) before being forcibly thrown into the consulting market. He bummed around the Philadelphia consulting and contract-programming scenes for a year or two before taking a job at NSTL (National Software Testing Labs) developing product tests and managing contract testing for the computer industry, governments and publication.

In 1991 Larry moved to Massachusetts to become Technical Director of PC Week Labs (now eWeek Labs). He moved within Ziff Davis to New York in 1994 to run testing at Windows Sources. In 1995, he became Technical Director for Internet product testing at PC Magazine and stayed there till 1998.

Since then, he has been writing for numerous other publications, including Fortune Small Business, Windows 2000 Magazine (now Windows and .NET Magazine), ZDNet and Sam Whitmore's Media Survey.

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