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Microsoft trades Windows discount for piracy info

Company offers users in China a 50 percent discount if they come clean on how they got their bootleg copy of the operating system.

Microsoft has extended its antipiracy olive branch to China, offering users of bootleg copies of Windows a 50 percent discount on a legitimate version if they come clean on how they got their pirated copy.

As part of a two-month promotion that started in February, the company is offering a Chinese version of Windows XP Home Edition and Professional Edition at 786 yuan ($95), and 1,270 yuan ($153), respectively. According to Microsoft's Web site, the two products normally retail for about $199 and $299.

To qualify for this offer, users with unlicensed copies of Windows installed on their machines need to complete an online form in which they disclose how they obtained the bogus software.

For example, they will have to specify whether their existing Windows packages were installed by an independent reseller, bundled with their PCs at the point of sale or purchased from street peddlers. A discount voucher will then be e-mailed to these users following their submissions.

The promotion mirrors a similar effort introduced in the United Kingdom last November in which Microsoft offered to swap fake copies with genuine versions of Windows XP for free. However, the piracy rate in China is much higher than it is in the United Kingdom, which could significantly raise costs for the Redmond, Wash.-based software giant if it were to go with a similar approach.

In a further attempt to stem piracy, Microsoft now requires businesses and consumers in China to verify that their copies of Windows are genuine before they're allowed to download security patches and other OS updates.

The mandatory validation measure, which was also implemented in Norway and the Czech Republic last month, will be expanded to all other countries by the middle of this year.

Winston Chai of CNETAsia reported from Singapore.