said it would expand its Windows Genuine Advantage program to 25 languages as part of an expanded anti-piracy engineering, education and enforcement initiative.
“The goal of the program is to verify the authenticity of Windows software for customers, so they can avoid the risks associated with counterfeit software and take advantage of other benefits,” said David Lazar, Microsoft director for Genuine Windows.
Under the expanded program, users will have to show they have legitimate Windows licenses before receiving non-critical updates.
Microsoft launched the Windows Genuine Advantage program in September as a pilot for English language users. It lets users check to see whether the copy of Windows they’re using is legitimate. If not, U.S. users were advised to ask the software vendor for a refund or new copy.
But Microsoft continued to let any user — authenticated or not –take advantage of Windows Updates and Windows Download Center. According to Lazar, around 5 million people voluntarily checked out their software.
On February 7, Microsoft will expand the program to users of 20 languages, and gate off most content on the Windows Download Center to users of unauthenticated software.
At the same time, Microsoft continues to test the best combination of carrot and stick to get Windows users to participate. For example, in a six-week UK pilot, customers who had bogus but realistic-looking software could mail it in and get back the real thing.
This time around, users with Norwegian, Czech and Simplified Chinese language versions of Windows will be required to participate in the pilot program if they want to use the Download Center. Customers based in the People’s Republic of China, Norway and the Czech Republic who find out their version of Windows XP is counterfeit version will be offered a genuine version at a reduced price.
Even there, Microsoft is testing different refinements, Lazar said. As part of the mandatory validation in Norway, the Czech Republic and China, Microsoft will try out various price points and methods of qualifying the authenticity of the software.
Users who participate in the program also can take advantage of freebies and bargains, such as Winter Fun Pack 2004, 50 percent off a selection of MSN games or a six-month free trial of Microsoft Office OneNote 2003.
In the second half of 2005, participation in the Windows Genuine Advantage program will be a requirement for using the Microsoft Download Center and Windows Update. The Download Center offers free software and application enhancements, Lazar said, such as Moviemaker 2 for Windows or DirectX for gaming. “The improved experience is reserved for genuine Windows users,” he said.
However, Microsoft will continue to offer critical security updates, such as Windows XP Service Pack 2 to all customers, Lazar said.
“We don’t in any way gate access to critical security updates found on Auto Update,” Lazar said.
Microsoft has a lot of skin in the game. According to a study by IDC for the Business Software Alliance, 36 percent of the software installed on computers worldwide was pirated in 2003, while legitimate vendors lose nearly $29 billion a year to pirated software.
The Windows Genuine Advantage program is part of Microsoft’s larger anti-piracy strategy, according to Bonnie MacNaughton, a senior Microsoft attorney.
“We have a lot of irons in the fire to help our home business customers and channel partners understand whether software is licensed,” she said.
In September 2004, the FBI, with Microsoft’s help, closed down a software counterfeit ring, netting netted close to $87 million worth of counterfeit software and components in California, Washington and Texas.
MacNaughton wouldn’t comment on any other sting operations in the works, saying only, “We are continually looking for people who are deceiving our customers.”