Windows Update to perform mandatory piracy checks

Users looking to download the latest Windows updates now have to verify that their copy of the operating system is legitimate.

Microsoft Tuesday announced the release of Windows Genuine Advantage 1.0 as the next step in its global

anti-piracy initiative. Validation with WGA will be required for customers using Windows Update, Microsoft Update for Windows content and the Download Center. Microsoft, however, excluded security updates, which will remain available to all Windows users.

If a user’s software is found to be counterfeit, they can fill out a piracy report, provide proof of purchase and send the fake CDs to receive a legit copy at no cost. Those who only submit a piracy report will receive a copy of Windows XP Home for $129 and Windows XP Pro for $199.

Tuesday’s launch comes after a 10-month pilot phase in which out of 82 million customers who viewed the opt-in page, 47 million opted into the pilot program. These customer had their PC validated as genuine or non-genuine and then got their downloads. As a reward to users with WGA validation, Microsoft began offering incentives like extra software halfway through the pilot.

Elliot Katz, product manager, Windows client at Microsoft Canada said software piracy impacts the industry as a whole.

“It is not just a Microsoft issue,” said Katz. “Everybody in this industry from software authors all the way down to people in the channel as well as customers are really impacted by pirated software.”

Thirty-six per cent of all software applications in use in Canada are pirated, according to an independent study conducted for the Canadian Alliance Against Software Theft (CAAST). This costs the Canadian economy $1.1 billion in lost retail sales — 2.2 per cent of the $41 billion lost worldwide due to software piracy in 2004.

On his Web site, CAAST critic Russell McOrmond of Ottawa-based Flora Community Consulting, calls CAAST’s research methodology into question: “Their numbers hinge on wishful thinking on the demand for their software, not any objective way of counting.”

McOrmond, who classifies himself as a strong supporter of reducing software theft, said piracy is one of the main reasons why competitive software has not been able to break into the market as quickly.

“One of the barriers for the non-software manufacturers has been the fact that it’s so easy to illegally copy software manufacturing,” said McOrmond, adding that MS-DOS, for example, compared to other operating systems at the time, was one of the easiest to copy.

But Katz said anti-counterfeiting programs like WGA have nothing to do with Microsoft increasing its revenue.

“It’s about providing a level playing field for the channel so that legitimate resellers don’t have to compete with poor quality in low-cost pirated software,” Katz said. “It’s about a customer knowing that when they’ve purchased a copy of Windows that it will be a complete copy with all of the capabilities, security and advantages that a genuine copy provides.”

With the WGA release, Microsoft has also tweaked its validation process by automatically checking participants’ PCs to determine whether they are running valid Windows software. In the past, Windows users had to enter their 25-digit product key in order to validate their software.

But longtime computer programmer Peter Rukavina of Charlottetown-based Reinvented Inc. said Microsoft and other commercial software vendors should consider other approaches to the problem like learning from the open source and shareware movements.

“The heavy-handed, smash people over the head, police state way of controlling software piracy just doesn’t work,” said Rukavina. “If it worked, there would be no software piracy.”

Rukavina added companies like Microsoft might want to consider making software less expensive and treat it more like a service than a commodity so there’s an incentive not to pirate it.

Likewise, McOrmond said if everyone who owned software from commercial vendors had to pay the full retail price for it, that market would have disappeared long ago.

“People would have realized the full cost of software,” he said. “They’d realize the alternatives provide the same software services using business models that make more sense.”

Comment: info@itbusiness.ca

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