Non-Legit Windows Users Get Amnesty

UPDATED Expanding its Windows Genuine Advantage program, Microsoft will now compensate customers in the United States that unknowingly purchased counterfeit versions of Windows XP with complimentary genuine Windows copies. There is one catch, however: customers must first file a report on the unscrupulous reseller.

Windows Genuine Advantage (WGA) is a carrot and stick initiative that requires users to validate their Windows license in exchange for special perks at the Microsoft Download Center and full access to updates. Microsoft asserts that WGA protects customers by ensuring the security and integrity of Windows installations, and protects resellers by reducing the number of competitors that practice counterfeiting.

Security updates will still be distributed via the Microsoft Download Center to all Windows users - legitimate or not. In the U.S. the program remains opt-in, but Microsoft has begun to restrict download access in some international markets, particularly where software piracy is widespread.


"WGA is designed to differentiate the value of genuine Windows software from counterfeit software so that customers can enjoy the confidence that comes with genuine software, and that it is part of Microsoft's ongoing commitment to protect its customers from software counterfeiting and its partners from competitors who engage in this practice," a Microsoft spokesperson told BetaNews.

In order to receive a complimentary copy of Windows XP Professional, customers must first file a confidential piracy report, hand over the fraudulent media and provide Microsoft with a proof of purchase. Microsoft has put in place a control to make certain that applicants are filing legitimate claims.

When asked if customers are essentially being required to snitch on the reseller they purchased from, the spokesperson said, "Microsoft is collecting information on counterfeit resellers in order to get a better sense of their illegal practices and for use in with authorities to enforce anti-piracy policies and laws."

"Microsoft devotes substantial time and energy toward fighting software counterfeiting, and customers can be assured that we will take appropriate action in response to their report," the spokesperson added.

However, Microsoft acknowledges that many users will not be able send in their counterfeit CD and proof of purchase. For those customers, Microsoft is offering a $149 replacement Windows key that can be immediately activated, with a boxed copy of Windows XP Professional arriving later in the mail. "We want to be able to expedite the process," Microsoft says.

"Overall, I think Microsoft has executed the WGA program fairly well. I skeptically viewed the program when introduced last year. Should customers 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," Jupiter Research senior analyst Joe Wilcox told BetaNews.

"But I also see Microsoft in a kind of damned if it does and damned if it doesn't situation. Reduced piracy means more revenue. Potentially greater customer satisfaction from genuine Windows could mean more revenue. Potentially reduced security problems because of tampered Windows XP software could boost customer satisfaction and, in theory, perception of Microsoft and software sales," said Wilcox.

"I assume that some bean counters up in Redmond already figured the costs and benefits of WGA versus the costs associated with aggrieved customers."

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