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Microsoft has removed the controversial Windows Genuine Advantage (WGA) validation requirement in the Internet Explorer 7 installation process, thus opening the experience to users of all versions of Windows -- including pirated ones.
"Because Microsoft takes its commitment to help protect the entire Windows ecosystem seriously, we're updating the IE7 installation experience to make it available as broadly as possible to all Windows users," Microsoft Program Manager Steve Reynolds wrote in a blog post.
"With today's 'Installation and Availability Update,' Internet Explorer 7 installation will no longer require Windows Genuine Advantage validation and will be available to all Windows XP users," he wrote.
Microsoft released IE 7 nearly a year ago marking the first major version of Internet Explorer since the debut of IE 6 in 2001. But the only way users could install it was by passing Microsoft's WGA validation, which confirms with Microsoft's servers whether a particular Windows installation is a legitimately licensed copy or a non-licensed pirated version.
As a result, countless users that knowingly or unknowingly run "non-genuine" versions of Windows had been shut out of the features of the latest version.
A number of security updates and improvements over its predecessor also are included in the IE 7 update, among which are an integrated phishing filter, visible menu bar by default, tabs and improved handling for AJAX. According to Microsoft statistics cited by Reynolds, the phishing filter has been protecting users from known phishing Web sites an average of 900,000 times per week.
Reynolds also wrote in his post that "IE7 is well on its way to becoming the most-used browser in the world." Hard, unbiased statistics to support Reynolds' claims on IE7's dominance are, however, hard to come by.
While Microsoft has shut out non-genuine Windows users from IE 7, its competitor, Mozilla, has no such restrictions with its Firefox 2 browser. W3C Schools' monthly browser statistics, for example, reported Firefox had a 34.5 percent share in July while IE 7 only had 20.1 percent. In the same month IE 6 had 36.9 percent.
The news comes as the latest development in Microsoft's often-controversial use of the technology. Since its debut in 2005, critics have contended that WGA can produce false positives, incorrectly flagging legal Windows users as having illicit copies. That was certainly the case in August, when a brief outage in the WGA service resulted in some legitimate users failing to pass validation.
Microsoft also had faced trouble in the courts because of privacy concerns relating to WGA. In a two-week span during 2006, parties from Washington and California sued the company, citing antispyware laws.
This article was first published on InternetNews.com.