Microsoft Tightens Piracy Policy

Updates hinge upon software validation.

Users running illegal or pirated copies of Microsoft Corp.s Windows are no longer able to get most updates, the software maker has announced.

Beginning last week, users running Windows XP Professional, Windows XP Home Edition, Windows XP Tablet Edition and Windows 2000 Server must certify that their software is genuine to receive updates via Windows Update, Microsoft Update for Windows and the Download Center. Approximately 80 million Windows customers use those services every month.

Updates that will be withheld from those who refuse to allow their software to be validated include those for Windows Media Player, DirectX and new Windows anti-spyware products—in short, everything except critical security fixes, said David Lazar, director of Microsofts Genuine Windows Advantage program, in Redmond, Wash.

Some system builders and resellers welcomed the move. Tim Klan, president of Expert Computers Inc., in Erie, Pa., said counterfeit software creates an unfair price advantage for distributors that sell their counterfeit products at artificially low prices.

"Windows Genuine Advantage helps businesses such as mine because it levels the playing field for honest channel partners," Klan said. "Whats more, the software offerings and access to Microsofts download tools help us differentiate the genuine product we sell from the counterfeit products we compete with."

Microsoft is showing some mercy to users it believes were unknowingly sold illegal or pirated software. It is offering users who can provide proof of purchase and the original counterfeit CD a free copy of the software, Lazar said. Users who fail the validation process can buy a legitimate product key from Microsoft at a cost of $99 for Windows XP Home Edition and $149 for Windows XP Professional.

Lazar stressed that validation is "an anonymous process, as our privacy statement is very strict and says that we do not collect any information that can be used to identify or contact the user."

Lazar declined to say whether Microsoft plans to expand the Windows Genuine Advantage program to other products.

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

Customers can validate their software by running a system scan using an ActiveX control or, alternatively, an .exe file if they are unable or unwilling to run ActiveX controls, Lazar said.

Bonnie MacNaughton, lead attorney for Microsofts U.S. anti-piracy enforcement program, said there will be some 13 million new, unlicensed Windows-based PCs in the United States in the coming year, which "is an enormous problem for us. I think a substantial percentage of those customers will not know that they have illegal software."