Beginning Tuesday, the piracy check will be mandatory for all customers worldwide who want to download add-ons for Windows XP.
The only exception is for security-related patches. Regardless of whether a system passes the test, security updates will be available to all Windows users via either manual download or automatic update. The Microsoft Update and Windows Update utilities, which provide notifications of new patches, will require validation.
It's all part of Windows Genuine Advantage, ato increase the number of Windows users that are actually paying Microsoft for its software. Currently, the company estimates that roughly a third of Windows copies worldwide are not legitimate.
"We really want to cut that rate," said David Lazar, director of the Windows Genuine program.
With Windows' share of the desktop market estimated to be well above 90 percent, cracking down on illegal copies of the OS is seen as one of the few ways for Microsoft to grow its Windows business. The two other main ways that Microsoft has identified are increasing the number of PCs per household and expanding computer usage in emerging markets.
Lazar declined to say how much Microsoft hopes to cut into the piracy rate with the Windows Genuine push. However, he said the company does see a need to create a clearer distinction between genuinely purchased and bogus copies of the OS.
"One of ways we are going to do that is by enhancing the value of genuine Windows," he said.
As part of that, Microsoft is adding a few more freebies to the "carrots" it gives to those whose Windows copies pass muster. Lazar said that Microsoft has also refined its online tool that checks for genuine copies such that customers won't have to enter their Windows product code, as was sometimes the case while the Windows Genuine program was in testing.
Meanwhile, those who fail the validation test will be presented with two options. People who send in their CDs, show proof they bought Windows and fill out a piracy report will be eligible to get a legitimate copy of Windows at no charge. Those who don't have CDs or a proof of purchase but fill out a piracy report will have to--$99 for Windows XP Home and $149 for Windows XP Professional. Those prices are higher than the upgrade cost for Windows XP, but lower than the price one would have to pay for an entirely new copy of the OS.
Microsoftthe Windows Genuine program since last September. At first, the program had neither benefits for those who passed inspection nor any penalty for those who failed or opted not to go through the piracy check. Gradually, though, Microsoft has been adding perks and moving to make the process mandatory.
Lazar said the company has erred on the side of caution, noting that Microsoft does not know of any cases in which its piracy check falsely concluded that software was illegitimate. There has been a hack reported in which customers who have one genuine copy of the OS can pass along a validation code that can be used with nongenuine copies of the OS. Lazar said that method would require someone to get hold of a new code each day he or she wanted to download new software, though.
"It doesn't really scale," he said.