Microsoft expands Windows piracy check on downloads

Policy will apply to local language add-ons

Expanding its measures to combat software piracy, Microsoft will require users who want to download local language add-ons to Windows to first validate their copy of the operating system as legitimate.

Microsoft offers versions of Windows XP in 24 languages at present. It supports an additional 20 languages with free operating system add-ons, called Windows XP Language Interface Packs. The add-ons do not offer complete translations of the Windows XP user interface, but cover many of its common features.

Over the coming months, Microsoft will require users who want to download the add-ons to first authenticate their copy of Windows, blocking access for users of pirated Windows copies, the company said in a statement. The first add-on to be affected will be the Vietnamese language interface pack, which was made available on Wednesday and requires validation to download.

Microsoft has been testing the piracy lock, which it calls Windows Genuine Advantage, on its Download Center Web site since September. Over 5 million users have taken part in the test, according to Microsoft.

The Redmond, Washington-based software maker has gradually been expanding the piracy check, beginning with certain international versions of Windows XP. Currently Download Center visitors using Norwegian, Czech and Simplified Chinese versions of Windows are required to validate their copy of Windows.

At an unspecified date in mid-2005 Microsoft will require all Windows XP and Windows 2000 users to validate their copy of Windows before they can download software from the Download Center or Windows Update Web site, the company has said.

Microsoft's Download Center and Windows Update Web sites offer applications such as Windows Media Player and the Windows AntiSpyware product as well as security updates for Microsoft products. Windows Automatic Updates, the security update feature in Windows, will not require validation, nor will security patches on the Download Center, according to Microsoft.

The Windows Genuine Advantage checking mechanism is anonymous, according to Microsoft. It includes an ActiveX control on the client side and the Windows Product Activation service on the Microsoft side. A user has to install the ActiveX control and enter the Windows product key, which is typically found on a sticker affixed to the PC.

Software piracy is a major issue for Microsoft. In the U.S. alone, almost a quarter of all Windows users run an illegal copy. However, one problem the software maker faces is that many users running illegal copies of Windows don't know that their software is pirated. Users who discover that they have a pirated copy of Windows will be offered a genuine version of Windows at a discount, Microsoft has said.

Microsoft has adopted a multipronged attack on software piracy. The company is selling cheaper versions of Windows in certain Asian countries where software piracy is widespread and is also working closely with law enforcement to stop those who manufacture or sell illegal copies of its products.

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