Microsoft’s Genuine Microsoft Software program offers both a carrot and a stick to convince people not to use pirated copies of Windows. The carrot is access to the Genuine Advantage program and Microsoft Download Center which provide a variety of freebies exclusively to users of legitimate copies of Windows, while the stick is that if you don’t have a legitimate copy of Windows, you can’t use Windows Update, Microsoft Update, or Windows Download to get non-security fixes. Although crackers have figured ways around the system, it has apparently been enough of a success with end users checking their purchases that Microsoft has decided to expand it. Press release:
As part of the Genuine Software Initiative, Microsoft will expand a pilot of the Windows Genuine Advantage (WGA) program that provides notifications to consumers using non-genuine Microsoft Windows XP. Most customers will experience no change, but, for customers who are running a non-genuine copy of Windows, the new feature will enable notifications directly to their desktop that the copy of Windows they are running isn’t genuine. The Windows Genuine Advantage program was launched in July 2005 to provide an improved experience for consumers using genuine Windows XP and to help Microsoft address software piracy. To date, the owners of more than 150 million PCs have participated in the program. The first phase of the notifications pilot was launched in Norway and Sweden in November 2005, and in February 2006 in five additional countries. Today, Microsoft will expand the pilot to customers in the U.S., United Kingdom, Malaysia, Australia and New Zealand.
The notifications aren’t as strong as you might expect according to Joris Evers at CNET:
Following download and installation of the “Windows Genuine Advantage Notifications” tool, users of a pirated copy will see alerts at startup, login and during their use of the operating system. The alerts read: “This copy of Windows is not genuine; you may be a victim of software counterfeiting.”
Those who use a legitimate copy of the software won’t see any messages, Microsoft said.
People will be able to decline the tool download or uninstall it, said David Lazar, director of the Windows Genuine program at Microsoft. They can also suppress the alerts by right-clicking on them when they appear during the running of Windows.
According to the press release, Microsoft has also decided to expand the program to Office:
In addition, Microsoft is piloting Microsoft Office Genuine Advantage (OGA) this week to help customers determine if they have a genuine installation of the Microsoft Office system of productivity applications. The program will initially be piloted in seven languages: Brazilian Portuguese, Czech, Greek, Korean, Simplified Chinese, Russian and Spanish.
Microsoft continues to play this with a deft touch. The real target here isn’t an end user with a pirated copy of Windows or Office, but the pirate who sold it to them. When notified that they have an illegal copy, the end users “have the opportunity to report the source of a counterfeit installation” which Microsoft can then pursue through legal channels. As for efficacy, I’ve never seen any numbers quoted specifically for Genuine Windows, but presumably it is worth the expense.