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RealTime IT News

Vista to Downgrade Pirates

Windows Genuine Advantage, the program launched by Microsoft to try and ensure only legitimate copies of the operating system were sold, today got a new name and a few more teeth.

Set to appear in Vista and Microsoft's next-generation server, Windows Software Protection Platform scans for unauthorized systems and downgrades features if a counterfeit is found.

"Customers that use genuine Windows Vista products should expect, and will get, an enhanced set of features that will not work on non-genuine or unlicensed versions," Cori Hartje, Director, Microsoft Genuine Software Initiative, said in a statement.

Set to appear in Vista and "Longhorn," the technology will eventually be added to more Microsoft products, the software maker said.

Microsoft said 35 percent of all software installed worldwide in 2005 was pirated, resulting in $35 billion lost, according to the Business Software Alliance.

The move follows both a string of lawsuits Microsoft filed against resellers offering counterfeit copies of its software, as well as lawsuits from users, charging WGA amounted to spyware.

"It is supposedly an anti-piracy measure, but in reality all it does is generate negative PR for Microsoft," Andrew Jaquith of Yankee Group, said.

Additionally, Microsoft introduced Microsoft Volume Activation for enterprises or customers with a large number of Windows installations.

The new procedure aims to reduce the loss of volume licensing keys, often used to counterfeit Microsoft software.

The changes, the software giant emphasized, should not impact legitimate users of licensed Microsoft products.

"We expect that most customers should never be affected by having a non-genuine installation," according to Hartje.

Unlike the WGA program, which would limit non-genuine systems' access to certain updates, the new software security platform includes a "reduced functionality mode." This mode eliminates access to some features of the upcoming Vista, including the Aero desktop interface, ReadyBoost performance enhancer and Windows Defender, a spyware detection application.

Microsoft said it will not turn off offending PCs. However, if the user has not submitted a valid authorization key after 30 days, a persistent warning will appear in the lower right-hand corner of the Vista desktop: "This copy of Windows is not genuine."

The new "reduced functionality" will allow the user to only access the IE Web browser. The Vista "start" button, as well as desktop icons will vanish. Lastly, after an hour, the user will be logged off, according to the white paper explaining the new technology.

The changes are "along the lines of nagware," Michael Silver, a Gartner analyst, told internetnews.com. "It will certainly get a few more people upset at Microsoft," he said.

The new system largely benefits Microsoft, who will force companies to do more work setting up and activating their Vista licenses, the analyst said.

But the new arrangement "makes it vastly easier" for companies and provides a higher level of assurance about the software installed in enterprises, said Rob Enderle, principal analyst for the Enderle Group.

The new licensing method cures the increasing appearance of malware embedded in the software, something that Enderle called a "nightmare" for companies, as well as Microsoft.

Consumers will feel the biggest impact from the changes. The real test for Windows Software Protection Platform is when there are thousands of users, rather than a plan on paper, he said.