Microsoft gets tough on Office fakers

People who can't validate their Office software as licensed will be denied access to add-ons and updates, the company says.

Microsoft is making its antipiracy check mandatory for Office.

The company introduced Office Genuine Advantage in April as a voluntary way for people to ensure that they only used licensed and legal copies of the productivity software. But as of Friday, Office Online templates downloaded from within Microsoft Office System 2007 applications will require validation of the Office software in use.

And as of January 2007, people will also have to complete the authentication test if they want to use Office Update.

The move means that users who are caught using software that can't be proved to be 100 percent legal won't get access to add-ons and updates from Microsoft. Those denied access because their version does not pass the authentication test will need to prove that their software is valid before they can proceed.

Microsoft says it will "continue to provide a complimentary copy of Microsoft Office to help qualifying customers who unknowingly acquired counterfeit versions of Microsoft Office 2003." But users will need to "fill out a counterfeit report, provide proof of purchase and send in their counterfeit CDs" to prove their entitlement to a free replacement copy of Office.

Customers who have "unknowingly acquired" a counterfeit version of Office and can't provide these details will have to pay a license fee, Microsoft said. This will be $359 for the Office Genuine Advantage kit for Microsoft Office Professional Edition 2003, while the Microsoft Office Small Business Edition 2003 costs $269 and the Microsoft Office Student and Teacher Edition 2003 costs $139. This offer is available for November, the company said.

Tony Lock of analyst firm Sageza said that the licensing changes were not unexpected. He believes it makes sense for Microsoft to bring its licensing strategies for Office and Windows in line. "But I think most of the problems come from Windows and not Office," he said.

Microsoft has escalated its battle with software pirates during the past two years through the "Genuine Advantage" add-ons for Windows and Office, its biggest cash cows. The company is now expanding its push by putting antipiracy features in its new products and taking more drastic action when it finds that a product was illegitimately acquired.

Earlier this month, Microsoft owned up to problems with Windows Genuine Advantage when some validated customers were denied access to their applications because of a software problem.

Colin Barker reported for ZDNet UK from London. CNET News.com's Joris Evers contributed to this report.

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