There were anonymous, nonspecific reports this week that a corporate license code for Microsofts Windows Server 2003 had been released on the Internet. This product has been released to manufacturing and is planned to release to the public later this month, but beta versions have been in wide use for some time. Observers fear the leak of the license code will lead to widespread piracy, because corporate licenses dont require the normal activation process with which Windows XP users are generally familiar.
I asked Microsoft about the reports and they confirmed the basic facts. They dont know exactly who leaked the code, formally known as a "volume license product key (VLK)," but I suspect someone at the offending company will get in trouble.
The fact that corporate license codes do not require activation has always been an obvious potential problem with Windows Product Activation, but I dont think Microsoft really intended that WPA should prevent deliberate, determined piracy. They always pitched it as an effort to combat "casual copying," which refers to users - most of them not realizing they are breaking a license - putting their copy of Windows on a second computer, or even loaning the disk to a friend.
But even so, Im not sure that there will be widespread piracy. One thing weve all learned over time is that buying a copy of Windows is not the end of the relationship with Microsoft. Youre going to need updates for bugs and security holes, and the easy way to get them is through the Windows Update service. Microsoft also mentioned in their statement that "pirated code is not supported by Microsoft in any way and will not have access to service packs or Windows Update."
The same thing happened with Windows XP. Some codes were leaked and a lot of pirated copies were made. But when Service Pack 1 for Windows XP came out, Microsoft prevented it from installing on systems with the pirated codes. If I understand Microsoft correctly, if your Windows Server 2003 is installed with a pirated code, it wont have access to Windows Update. You can imagine them putting similar checks into the installer programs for individual patches and service packs, maybe even into patched code itself. (And as someone who has made his living in the past writing software I wish Microsoft the best of luck. Software pirates are thieves. If you dont like the price of the software, use something else, and dont try to claim that you have no alternatives.)
Access to Windows without access to the patches that fill the steady stream of security issues that plague Windows as well as other operating systems just isnt worth it. Running a desktop version of Windows without easy access to the latest patches is a bad enough idea, and servers are supposed to perform critical roles. I dont think anyone running a real server on which they expect to rely will use a pirated copy. But it makes you wonder how many worms and other security vulnerabilities continue to spread because of systems that remain unpatched because they use pirated codes.