Microsoft Taking Innovative Approach to Vista Piracy

Unlicensed copies will run temporarily, slowly restricting access to features over time as copies continue to be used without registration.

(Seattle) Microsoft Corp.'s forthcoming Windows Vista will take much harsher steps to curtail piracy than previous versions of its operating system, including crippling the usefulness of computers found to be running unlicensed copies of the new software.

The software maker said that people running a version of Windows Vista that it believes is pirated will initially be denied access to some of the most anticipated Vista features. That includes Windows Aero, an improved graphics technology.

If a legitimate copy is not bought within 30 days, the system will curtail functionality much further by restricting users to just the Web browser for an hour at a time, said Thomas Lindeman, Microsoft senior product manager.

Under that scenario, a person could use the browser to surf the Web, access documents on the hard drive or log onto Web-based e-mail. But the user would not be able to directly open documents from the computer desktop or run other programs such as Outlook e-mail software, Lindeman said.

Microsoft said it won't stop a computer running pirated Vista software from working completely, and it will continue to deliver critical security updates.

The company also said it has added more sophisticated technology for monitoring whether a system is pirated. For example, the system will be able to perform some piracy checks internally, without contacting Microsoft, Lindeman said.

Microsoft also is adding ways to more closely monitor for piracy among big corporate users, who tend to buy licenses in bulk.

Microsoft plans to take similar tough measures with the forthcoming version of its Windows server software, dubbed "Longhorn," and to incorporate it into other products down the road.

The crackdown shows how much more seriously Microsoft has started taking Windows piracy, which for years has been extremely widespread in areas such as Russia and China. The Business Software Alliance, a software industry group, estimates that 35 percent of software installed on PCs worldwide is pirated.

In recent years, the market for Windows _ one of Microsoft's main cash cows _ has become more saturated. That's left the company eager to make money from users who may otherwise have obtained illegal Windows copies.

Microsoft has already instituted tougher piracy checks for Windows XP users who want to get free add-ons such as anti-spyware programs. But until now, the warnings and punitive measures were mainly seen as annoying, rather than debilitating.

Cori Hartje, director of Microsoft's Genuine Software Initiative, said the company now wants users to notice the difference between legal and pirated copies of Vista.

"Our goal is to really make a differentiated experience for genuine and non-genuine users," Hartje said.

Analyst Roger Kay with Endpoint Technologies Associates noted that Microsoft has the right to curtail illegal distribution of its software. The new piracy measures, he said, "seem harsh only in comparison to how lenient it has been."

Nevertheless, Kay said he expects that the anti-piracy tactics will keep some people from upgrading to Vista from the current operating system, Windows XP.

"There will be an XP backlash, which is to say people (will) cling to XP in order to avoid this," he said.

Kay also doesn't expect the new piracy measures to be that effective against hardcore pirates, who have built de facto businesses selling illegal Windows copies. But he thinks it will stop some lower-level piracy.

After many delays, Redmond-based Microsoft is expected to release Vista to businesses in November and consumers in January.

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Reader Comments:

Fri, Oct 6, 2006 Anonymous Anonymous

I can imagine a virus that just alters that one (or a few) files that certify the "genuinity".
Vista will do the rest...

Thu, Oct 5, 2006 Anonymous Anonymous

Actually, functions not working as time goes by, or the browser crashing after an hours use - this is all just normal behaviour for Windows isn't it? Is this just spin doctoring an inability to make Vista stable? And how will disabling Aero hurt anyone? It will speed the machine up majorly and give the user a better result than those with Aero running. Crazy logic in this plan.

Thu, Oct 5, 2006 Anonymous Canada

So....if the operating system is working correctly AND you have licensed it then you should never have any problems and it should always run efficiently! I've yet to see that! How will users that are not computer savvy know if this is 'normal' behaviour or something that they haven't patched...!
Why don't they have all the features running and then allow 'additional special features' if the product is licensed correctly...instead of taking about giving!

Thu, Oct 5, 2006 MJS San Antonio, TX

I hope that Microsoft will disable the operating system crippling features after they stop supporting the operating system. Some systems that are old and continue to need the old operating system, but now Microsoft doesn't support it and the validation or activation feature of their program is no longer available. If someone needs to rebuild that old machine with the old OS it won't be possible, especially with the crippling features still active. I recommend Microsoft set a date in the software after which the crippling feature will deactivate. That way the old machines might still be able to use the OS they were built to use. Even if Microsoft is no longer available to support their old product.

Thu, Oct 5, 2006 Anonymous Anonymous

Perhaps a rethink of their profit only driven methods could result in a much better product overall that people might actually want to spend money on. For my hard earned cash, I personally find Novell Suse or Redhat far more appealing than crash prone, bloated code, mess that M$ has been selling like snake oil for the last few years.

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