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Validating Windows -- what's in it for me?

Microsoft is ramping up its Windows Genuine Advantage program, although who gets the advantage is debatable.

The week's top headlines

Customers express relief at departure of HP's CEO

Microsoft to acquire security specialist Sybari

A small wrinkle for Windows authentication

Windows Server 2003 SP1 shaping up

Microsoft issues critical fixes

Clearly, Microsoft benefits the most from making customers validate their copies of Windows. But since Redmond is one of the biggest victims of product piracy -- unauthorized copies of Windows surely outnumber even knock-off Fendi pocketbooks -- can you blame them?

The trick is to give something to customers in return for their cooperation. For consumers and small businesses, Microsoft is offering goodies such as software "fun packs" and discounts on other products. (Several such promotions were announced this week.)

For enterprise customers, the benefits are a little more elusive. Validating Windows desktops presumably will help volume license holders with their software audits. And, based on interviews with users, it appears that many enterprise customers will be willing to play the role of model citizen -- as long as it doesn't require too much of their time. That could be the case, though, if an administrator using a license key generator runs into a key that isn't recognized, and they have to scramble to locate the right one.

But the biggest perceived weakness in the Windows Genuine Advantage program turns out to be based on an incorrect assumption. Some have written recently that by requiring validation, Microsoft is creating a class of Windows-based computers that are guaranteed to be insecure because they lack security updates. Simply not true. Once the antipiracy program becomes mandatory later this year, only content from Windows Updates and the Microsoft Download Center will be off-limits to those who don't submit to the validation check. Automatic Updates -- and all its security downloads -- will still be available, even to pirated versions of Windows. That must have been a bitter pill for Microsoft's decision-makers to swallow, but they would have been crucified had they not made security fixes universally available.

Elsewhere in the news …

Call it a resignation if you want to, but Carly Fiorina was pushed out the door at Hewlett-Packard. After the surprise ouster this week, HP customers from Windows shops who talked to were consistent in their description of a hardware company that had lost its way. In fact, it had. Fiorina was brought in as CEO to shake up the fabled "HP way" of doing business, but in the process, customers felt the pain too. The biggest complaint we heard involved delays in server and desktop orders. If only Fiorina had ceded some of her control to a chief operating officer, things might have been different. Don't feel too badly for her, though. She walks away with a $21 million severance package, which should ease the sting quite nicely. … Microsoft has been on something of a buying binge lately. The latest spend is on New York-based Sybari Software, which makes antivirus and antispam software. Many of Redmond's recent security moves have been consumer or SMB related, but this one is squarely focused on the enterprise. Integration shouldn't be much of a problem, since Sybari's software is designed for Exchange. It also works with IBM Lotus Domino. … Service Pack 1 for Windows Server 2003 continues to chug toward the finish line. On Tuesday, Microsoft released a download for the second release candidate for Server 2003 SP1, as well as 64-bit versions of SP1. Release candidates are typically near-final-form test versions. … Administrators will have their hands full deploying Microsoft's February patch releases. Eight of the 12 security bulletins this month are rated critical. They cover everything from Office to Internet Explorer to Microsoft's OLE framework. … CNET quoted John Montgomery, director of product management for Microsoft's developer division, as saying that the first beta for the Longhorn client will be released by the end of June. … It didn't take long for the black hat community -- if they even qualify as a community -- to come up with a way to attack Microsoft's spyware-fighting tool. Even though it's only in beta form, the Microsoft AntiSpyware application is being attacked by malware called Bankash-A, which disables the tool. Impressive accomplishment. Beating up on beta software is like clubbing a baby seal.

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