Microsoft Widens Download Checkpoint

After participation that has "exceeded expectations," Microsoft is expanding its Windows Genuine Advantage pilot, which requires users to validate their Windows license in exchange for special perks at the Microsoft Download Center. Changes to the program include added languages and exclusive access to software.

"To help differentiate the value of genuine Windows from counterfeit versions, Microsoft will now make a variety of special software offerings available exclusively to customers who validate as genuine," a Microsoft spokesperson explained to BetaNews.

These software titles include Photo Story 3 for Windows, which was previously sold as part of the Microsoft Plus Digital Media Edition add-on, and an upcoming Holiday Fun Pack. Validated users will also receive 50-percent discounts on five MSN Zone games and Microsoft's Hosted SharePoint Service. A OneNote trial will soon be offered as well.

While the company set an initial goal of 20,000 customers, an overwhelming 820,000 have opted-in since the pilot's launch last month with few customer service inquiries.

Microsoft would not say whether the positive response makes it more likely for the company to fight piracy by prohibiting non-genuine Windows users from downloading, but acknowledges the pilot is part of "Microsoft's enforce anti-piracy policies and laws."

"Make no mistake that the program is as much about fighting piracy as rewarding customers," Jupiter Research senior analyst Joe Wilcox told BetaNews. "As part of its fiscal 2005 first quarter announcement last week, Microsoft revealed that sales of Windows licenses to PC makers grew six percent year over year compared to estimated 10 percent worldwide PC growth. One reason for the disparity: Growth in geographies with high piracy rates."

The validation process is strikingly similar to Windows Product Activation: A PC's hardware profile is matched up with the customer's 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.

Education plays a pivotal role in discouraging piracy and Microsoft says that many customers "want to know whether or not their reseller sold them a genuine version of Windows." But Jupiter's Wilcox questions whether Windows Genuine Advantage takes the best approach.

"Validation could penalize consumers that may have unknowingly purchased pirated copies of Windows on new PCs," said Wilcox. "Should they be punished because the seller broke the law? I'm not convinced the burden should be placed on the buyer, if it's the seller that stole from Microsoft."

At the moment, however, Microsoft says it is only testing the waters and gathering feedback from Windows Genuine Advantage. "It is too early to speculate what might result from the expanded pilot," a Microsoft spokesperson told BetaNews.

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