Microsoft Lowers the Boom on Illegal Windows Copies

It will be mandatory for Windows users to certify that their copy of the software is legal and genuine in order to receive many updates.

Microsoft Corp. is tightening the noose for those people running illegal or pirated copies of its Windows XP Professional, Windows XP Home, Windows XP Tablet editions and Windows 2000 software on their systems.

Starting Tuesday, it will be mandatory for users of this Windows software to certify that their software is a genuine and legal copy before they will be able to receive any updates except security patches and fixes via Windows Update, Microsoft Update, and the Download Center.

Some 80 million Microsoft Windows customers use those three services every month.

The updates that will be withheld for those users who refuse to allow their software to be validated include those for Windows Media Player, DirectX for gaming, the new Windows anti-spyware products--in short, everything except critical security fixes, said David Lazar, Microsofts Director for Genuine Windows in Redmond, Wash.

While there is an Office Validation Assist program that currently validates Office users licenses, Lazar was not specific as to whether Microsoft plans to expand this Windows Genuine Advantage program to other products.

"That would be speculation. This is certainly something to consider, but is not something that is in the pipeline at this time," he said.

Asked why Microsoft is still allowing illegal users of its software to get security updates, he said that "we are making a trade-off between getting a high conversion rate from non-genuine to genuine against the public health on the Internet. We want to make sure that people are not getting infected unnecessarily."

Microsoft launched in September 2004 the WGA (Windows Genuine Advantage) initiative, which was designed to check whether consumer and small-business customers were running legitimately licensed copies of Windows XP.

Until now the program has been running as a voluntary "opt-in" in 25 different languages, wherein users validate their software by providing Microsoft-requested system information, including their Windows product keys, names of PC manufacturers and operating system versions.

The Redmond software company then uses this to determine if customers are running legitimate copies of Windows.

More than 5 million users have participated in the voluntary validation process. But that opt-in component has now ended.

Microsoft has also made changes to streamline the process, including no longer requiring customers to enter their product key since the ActiveX control used to validate their software can now automatically determine whether they have a genuine Windows product.

"We run a system scan using an ActiveX control, or an alternative EXE if the customer is unable or unwilling to run ActiveX controls, and we are able to identify a genuine system by doing several checks," he said.

Essentially what will happen is that users will get a notification from Microsoft asking them to participate; if they accept this request, the ActiveX control will then be installed and the scan run in the background.

Once the scan has been completed and the software is verified to be genuine, from that point forward the user will be entitled to receive all updates, he said.

The ActiveX control can be deleted once the verification has been completed, as it installs a small key license store that entitles the user to future updates.

But, if the ActiveX control is revised in the future, it might have to be downloaded again at that time, Lazar said.

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