Microsoft has given software pirates a little more to worry about, following the announcement this week that it has begun to widen the scope of its Windows Genuine Advantage (WGA) program to include checks for the authenticity of Microsoft Office software. The company also has made changes to WGA to broaden the reach of its Windows XP verifications.
Currently in the pilot-testing phase, the new Office Genuine Advantage (OGA) service notifies Microsoft Office users whether their software fell off the back of a truck or is authentic.
Microsoft has not said where pilot users for the program are located or how many are participating, and the company has declined to say when the program will reach North America.
Real or Faux
Also beginning this week, some users of Windows XP in the U.S. who have signed up for Microsoft's automatic updates and have granted the company the ability to do WGA checks might be presented with an alarming notice.
After installation and a system reboot, users who have an illegitimate copy of Windows XP will be greeted with a message that reads: "This copy of Windows is not genuine; you may be a victim of software counterfeiting."
The notice directs users to a WGA site on which they can "learn the benefits of genuine software." The reminders will continue until a genuine copy of the OS has been installed.
"Microsoft is clearly interested in maximizing its revenues for XP and minimizing piracy," said Andrew Jaquith, a Yankee Group analyst. "They are gradually turning the screws on people who don't register with WGA."
Since the its launch in 2005, Windows users have had the option to register for the WGA program if they wanted to receive automatic security updates and other free goodies from Microsoft's site.
However, according to Microsoft, the program might become compulsory for users later this year. Those who have not validated their software through WGA will not be able to download Internet Explorer 7 and Windows Defender, among other applications.
The Business Software Alliance estimates that some 35 percent of all PC software used worldwide is counterfeit. In addition, a recent IDC study predicted that reducing piracy by 10 percent over the next four years could add 2.4 million new jobs and $400 billion in economic growth to the global economy.
While these figures might be alarming, at least one expert is concerned about a massive antipiracy initiative. Rob Ayoub, an analyst at Frost & Sullivan, said that Microsoft's increasingly severe crackdown on piracy might actually serve to further the spread of viruses and other malicious software.
"The more of this cracking down on piracy that they do, the more they will keep people who have pirated copies from updating," he said. "That increases proliferation of security problems and, to my mind, that is the biggest problem."
Ayoub said that, once users turn off the automatic-update feature in Windows -- no matter the reason -- there will be more and more unpatched machines vulnerable to malicious attack. "As much as I respect Microsoft's stand on piracy," Ayoub said, "I don't think this is the right way to handle it."