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December 15, 2006

Microsoft girds its loins for battle with Vista pirates

Posted by David Hunter at 5:28 PM ET.

Besides upselling pricey new versions of its Windows Vista operating system, Microsoft is also committed to increasing the return on its Windows franchise by reducing the “shrinkage” from piracy. To that end, Microsoft yesterday rolled out a press release complete with pictures of genuine and fake Vista packaging:

And although Windows Vista is not yet broadly available, unauthorized DVD copies of Windows Vista are already for sale on streets around the world. Users unaware or looking for an inexpensive version of the software are risking, at minimum, losing their money, and worse, exposure to the security risks associated with acquiring and running counterfeit software.

… With the exception of products purchased by customers under volume license agreements, users can be confident that 100 percent of the copies of Windows Vista advertised for purchase or download prior to the January 30, 2007 consumer general availability date are counterfeit, and that any new PC purchased and pre-loaded with Windows Vista prior to general availability is improperly licensed or counterfeit software, and carries a risk of hacks, Trojans or other malware.

While there undoubtedly are unknowing users who end up with counterfeit goods, I suspect that most piracy involves customers who are fully aware of the clandestine nature of what they are buying and thereby indifferent to the nuances of the packaging. For them the deterrent is the Vista Software Protection Platform announced in October and related Microsoft actions and that’s actually the meat of the press release. Basically Microsoft promises to routinely retire compromised product keys and also release Vista updates that target specific counterfeit versions as they are discovered.

In particular, Microsoft released the first such Vista update this week to counteract the so-called “Frankenbuild:”

Over the last few weeks, we’ve seen a number of attempts at workarounds for Vista product activation.   As of now there are at least two distinct workarounds that have worked to some degree, but I’m sure there are more on the way.  One of these workarounds we have affectionately named “frankenbuild” because it involves cobbling together files from an RC build and with an RTM build to create a hybrid that bypasses activation.

… Windows Vista will use the new Windows Update client to require only the “frankenbuild” systems to go through a genuine validation check.  These systems will fail that check because we have blocked the RC keys for systems not authorized to use them. In other words, the wrong key is being used. The systems will then be flagged as non-genuine systems and the experience will be what we announced back in October …

All this is certainly exciting, but the ultimate objective is to make more money so the real question is how many conversions to paying customer status will be accomplished and that’s obviously still up in the air, if it is even measurable.

IDC suggests that “Microsoft’s anti-piracy campaign will drive customers toward Linux,” but Joe Wilcox disagrees and reasons that Windows XP is the pirate’s best friend. I suspect they are both right: Linux for political reasons in the developing world and XP because of its familiarity to pirates despite the newly strengthened Windows Genuine Advantage program. Then there’s the third option we are seeing now: head to head combat, Microsoft vs. the pirates. The pricey new versions of Vista make piracy an even more lucrative pastime and almost certainly guarantee more entertainment to come.

Filed under Financial, General Business, Genuine Advantage, Legal, Licensing, Microsoft, OS - Client, Piracy, Technologies, Windows Vista

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One Response to “Microsoft girds its loins for battle with Vista pirates”

  1. 22% of Windows XP installations bogus? -- Microsoft News Tracker Says:

    [...] Whatever the number of pirated copies, all this may be morally commendable, but the real question is how many scofflaws did it turn into paying customers? Aside from the 56,000 freebies there isn’t likely to be a clear answer. The next act in this morality play will be the Windows Vista Software Protection Program which has rather more draconian penalties than WGA. Filed under OS – Client, Windows XP, Windows Vista, Legal, Technologies, Piracy, Microsoft, Genuine Advantage [...]

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