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New Windows anti-piracy tools on the way

With counterfeit software rampant, Microsoft is taking steps to make sure users know that its latest releases are authentic.

With general availability of Vista coming and a new version of Windows Server due out later this year, Microsoft is redoubling its efforts to prevent privacy. Renewed emphasis is being placed on enterprises that may not even know they are using illegal software.

"Most IT pros and their companies want to be compliant," said Cori Hartje, director of Microsoft's Genuine Software Initiative. "Many customers buy what they believe to be authentic copies, which turn out to be illegal copies," she said. "They want to know 'how did this happen?' "

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Hartje said Microsoft plans to make available new tools that will help managers identify counterfeit versions of Windows Server software for Longhorn, expected late 2007 or early 2008.

"We have seen some high-quality counterfeit versions of Windows Server," Hartje said.

Microsoft has already been intensifying its efforts to stop piracy through its Genuine Software Initiative, which focuses on education, engineering and enforcement. For example, Microsoft launched an opt-in program called Windows Genuine Advantage Notifications in select markets as part of its continued effort to combat counterfeiting genuine Microsoft Windows software.

As part of the program, customers are invited to install WGA Notifications through Automatic Updates to confirm that they are running genuine Windows. Customers who are running genuine Windows will not see any messages. But customers who are using a non-genuine version of Windows will receive a message during logon that their copy of Windows appears to be non-genuine and they will be directed to the WGA Web site to learn more.

For at least one user, Microsoft's Windows Genuine Advantage authentication process has been helpful. "I really think it's helped us," said Alan Geleske, IT manager at TCB Manufacturing Inc. in LaPorte, Ind. Geleske said most people in his organization typically leave the license updating up to the IT department. "[Windows Genuine Advantage] checks for any necessary updates automatically in the background and keeps everything up to date for me," he said.

Software piracy remains an industry concern, with piracy rates holding at 35% worldwide and 22.3% in North America, according to the Business Software Alliance, a Washington, D.C.-based software industry organization. For Windows Server, Hartje said she believes the piracy rate is closer to 35%.

Although there are financial losses associated with software piracy, some of those losses may be overestimated, said Paul DeGroot, an analyst at Directions on Microsoft, a consulting company based in Kirkland, Wash.

"I think their assumption is that people who are thwarted in using illegal software will otherwise go out and buy [a legal copy], and I'm not sure that's true," DeGroot said. "If the illegal copies can't be used, those people may not upgrade or might use less restrictive, less expensive software -- such as open source -- instead."

Microsoft may also see piracy prevention as a way to protect revenues, although money coming in will likely be tied to computer sales instead of software alone. "I think Microsoft's revenue growth in the next few years is going to be driven by PC sales," DeGroot said. "There are going to be relatively few people buying Vista to put on an existing machine," he said.

Protecting its software should be important to Microsoft, DeGroot said, but the company will have to think hard about how difficult they want to make the validation process.

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