Microsoft Trials License Checkpoint

Microsoft may be taking Windows product activation one step further. A pilot program at the Microsoft Download Center will require users to validate their Windows license in exchange for access to file downloads. The immediate benefit for legitimate customers who have genuine copies of the operating system will be faster downloads; users with counterfeit software may find themselves locked out altogether.

The pilot, called Windows Genuine Advantage, is currently opt-in only; however, Microsoft has not ruled out the possibility making product validation a permanent gatekeeper. Microsoft is running the pilot program to investigate new ways to differentiate its genuine software from illegal and counterfeit copies as well as for the added advantage of soliciting consumer feedback.

In essence, the Windows Genuine Advantage Web site depicts the validation process as the wrapper and promised benefits such as greater reliability, faster access to support and overall richer experiences with Microsoft products as the candy.

The validation process is a one time deal that is strikingly similar to Windows Product Activation: A PC's hardware profile is matched up with customers' 25-character Product Key. During the pilot, users who are found to be running non-genuine copies of Windows will be given information on how to obtain a legitimate copy of Windows before being allowed to download their requested file.

While Windows Activation is not required, a genuine Windows services activation key may be necessary to access the site; as corporate editions of XP are not activated.

When BetaNews asked Microsoft whether or not the pilot program would translate into a permanent anti-piracy solution and bring to an end download access for Microsoft's 'unofficial' customers, a spokesperson told BetaNews, "Microsoft is simply gathering feedback at this point and we can’t speculate on what might result from the pilot."

The spokesperson also addressed BetaNews's concern that limiting access to necessary security fixes has the potential to lead to a higher frequency of massive Windows-related security incidents. "During the pilot, all participants – genuine or not – will have access to all of the downloads they want, including those related to security," said the spokesperson.

Microsoft has addressed additional concerns at a frequently asked questions Web site that was set up for the pilot.

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