Microsoft Attacks Piracy – With Free Software

By | November 25, 2004

Microsoft is making a serious effort to attack piracy: by giving away free copies of Windows XP to pirated users in the UK.

The move is currently targeted at consumers who may be using pirated copies of Windows XP “by mistake”. The move comes several months after the launch of Windows XP Service Pack 2, part of which was an anti-piracy system which locked thousands of users out of their own computers. Many of these users were unaware that they were running a pirated copy.

The deal only covers Windows XP and only five copies per person can be swapped. It´s all free, bar the initial postage and package. The offer only applies to pre-installed home or professional Windows XP bought before 1 November.

Alex Hilton, Microsoft´s license compliance manager, said the bulk of piracy seen by Microsoft was in the OEM (original equipment manufacturer) sector.

“Some examples we´re seeing from the Far East and eastern Europe… are very high quality”, Hilton said, and are aimed at the high-end user. “That´s the sector we´re trying to address.”

That said, there is evidence that the scheme was perhaps originally designed for store-bought copies of XP as well, which would cover a much larger base of users. In fact, it is estimated that as many a 2% of store bought copies of Microsoft software is in fact either pirated, or has had the license key used before. For Windows XP, this means roughly 2 million users may be currently locked out, or will be locked out once they download XP SP2. If this initial OEM-targeted campaign is successful, industry experts are expecting Microsoft to broaden the campaign to protect users at large.

You can envisage an ideal (from Microsoft´s point of view) world where software was authenticated online, where support a fixes were conditional on the software either being legitimate or legitimized and where the penetration of pirate copies of Windows was at least substantially reduced. How do you get there from here, though? Microsoft is clearly testing the waters, but really all that means is that it´s trying to find out how.

Leave a Reply