Microsoft Releases Anti-Piracy Update for Windows 7

Microsoft plans to release an update for Windows 7 today to counter software piracy.

The new Windows Activation Technologies Update continues anti-piracy technologies initiated with Microsoft's Windows Genuine Advantage program in 2006. In a Windows blog post, Microsoft's Joe Williams described the update, which validates Windows 7 copies, as a means of keeping customers' PCs secure.

"The update will determine whether Windows 7 installed on a PC is genuine and will better protect customers' PCs by making sure that the integrity of key licensing components remains intact," wrote Williams, who is general manager of Genuine Windows.

Windows Activation Technologies will detect more than 70 known and potentially dangerous activation exploits.

Initially, the update will run validations every 90 days, at which time Windows will download the latest "signatures" -- similar to an anti-virus service, according to Williams. On computers running authentic software, the update will run in the background and will not be noticeable to users.

However, if the core licensing files have been tampered with, or are disabled or missing, the update will run a check and repairs weekly. In addition, "periodic" dialog boxes will pop up that offer two options: get more information or acquire a legitimate copy of Windows. The update will add reminders for users of nongenuine Windows 7, including changing the desktop to a plain background with a watermark. Desktop icons will be left intact after that change is made, according to Microsoft.

The update will be distributed first to the Home Premium, Professional, Ultimate and Enterprise edition users. It will be available online at starting Feb. 16 and on the Microsoft Download Center beginning Feb. 17. It also will be offered as an "important" update on Windows Update later this month.

Enterprise customers will be able to import the update into Windows Server Update Services through the Microsoft Update catalog.

Williams stressed that the update will not reduce Windows functionality. Customers who choose to not install the update will continue to have access to benefits afforded to genuine Windows users if the copy they are running is genuine, according to a Microsoft spokesperson by e-mail.

Compared with Microsoft's Genuine Advantage effort, this update is notable in that it tries to get customers to contact Microsoft for validation, said Michael Cherry, an analyst with Directions on Microsoft, in a telephone interview.

"When they first started this, there were some definite issues in the way in which it worked," Cherry said. "If it felt you did not have a valid copy, it might reduce the functionality until you showed you had a legitimate copy."

This update also varies from previous efforts because it includes both activation and validation components.

In a ZDnet blog posting, Ed Bott wrote that he gave Microsoft an "F" for its Windows Genuine Advantage efforts in 2006 and 2007, followed by a C+ in 2008. More recently, he wrote, activation issues have become a nonissue, and false-positive reports are practically nonexistent.

The update aims to shut down counterfeiters who sell fraudulent Windows 7 packages to consumers. According to Cherry, few businesses intentionally purchase counterfeit software or computers with pirated software. The update will alert them if they do.

Privacy advocates have criticized Microsoft for its past anti-piracy efforts, particularly requiring the Windows Genuine Advantage update for Windows XP users in 2006. Now the update is voluntary and users can decide not to install it. It also can be uninstalled at any time.

Williams stressed that the update will not jeopardize privacy. "The information we receive from PCs during these checks does not include any personally identifiable information or any other information that Microsoft can use to identify or contact you," he stated.

Cherry said that Microsoft is trying to balance making sure that people have legitimate copies against being obtrusive.

"Microsoft is working very, very hard to not collect any personally identifiable information about you in this process," Cherry said. "Piracy is a big enough problem that for a relatively modest investment, this is going to give them returns."

About the Author

Anne Watkins is a freelance journalist based in Brooklyn, New York.


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