Microsoft to Lock Pirates Out of Vista

Microsoft said Wednesday that it plans to clamp down hard on piraters of its next-generation operating systems, crippling both Windows Vista and Windows Server "Longhorn" if users fail to activate their copies within 30 days.

While the restriction of operating system features has been around since the advent of Windows XP in 2001, the new program takes that process a step further. It would also make widely distributed volume-license product keys -- traditionally supplied to corporations -- harder to use.

Called the Software Protection Program, the initiative is made up of several parts. The first move is to make certain features unavailable unless the user has confirmed their copy of Windows as genuine. Only licensed copies would have access to Aero -- Vista's new user interface -- and ReadyBoost, which uses a flash drive to temporarily add more memory to a computer system.

Additionally, the functionality of Windows Defender would be crippled, and optional downloads from Windows Update would be unavailable to the unlicensed user. Microsoft would also place a watermark on the desktop at all times that reads "This copy of Windows is not genuine."

The biggest change, however, is to the Windows activation process. With a number of corporate product keys publicly available on the Internet, activating a pirated copy of Windows Vista was quite easy as it only took one activation to prevent reduced functionality.

With Vista, the activation isn't permanent. If Microsoft discovers that the user has used a product key without authorization, it will force the user to reactivate his or her copy of Windows. Product keys may be blocked for a number of reasons, Microsoft says, including for abuse, stolen or pirate keys, or if the key was seized due to anti-piracy efforts.

"The Software Protection Platform has been under development for several years," Microsoft's director of the Genuine Software Initiative Cori Hartje said. "It brings together new anti-piracy innovations, counterfeit detection and tamper-resistant features into a complete platform that provides better software protection to programs that leverage it."

While Vista and Longhorn are the first to use the new technologies, the program would expand to other products in the coming years.

Hartje cited data from the Business Software Alliance that indicated 35 percent of all software installed in 2005 was pirated and unlicensed. This represented some $35 billion in lost revenue for the software industry.

"Software piracy is not a victimless crime," she said. "It harms consumers, businesses and other organizations every year."

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