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Microsoft disables Internet Explorer 7 validation process

Software giant says security reasons were behind the move, but it could help in the race against rival browser Firefox.

Microsoft will now allow users of Windows XP to download Internet Explorer 7 without having to gain Windows Genuine Advantage authentication.

Windows Genuine Advantage (WGA) is part of Microsoft's Genuine Software Initiative. It is intended to help prevent the distribution and use of unauthorized versions of Windows. Previously, to download Internet Explorer 7, users had to authenticate to WGA.

"With today's 'Installation and Availability Update,' Internet Explorer 7 installation will no longer require Windows Genuine Advantage validation and will be available to all Windows XP users," wrote IE7 program manager Steve Reynolds in a blog post on Thursday.

Microsoft said that it had dropped the requirement for WGA for security reasons.

"Microsoft takes its commitment to help protect the entire Windows ecosystem seriously, and we're taking a step to help make consumers safer online," said a representative. "We feel the security enhancements to Internet Explorer 7 are significant enough that it should be available as broadly as possible, and this means removing WGA validation."

The representative said that removing the validation did "not interfere with Microsoft's commitment to fighting software piracy."

However, Tristan Nitot, president of Mozilla Europe, suggested that Microsoft may be concerned over the uptake of IE7. Mozilla develops rival Web browser Firefox.

"I think IE7 adoption is too low according to Microsoft's tastes, partly because many people are concerned with issues with regards to WGA," Nitot told CNET sister site ZDNet UK. "I guess Microsoft's not so happy with the numbers."

There are conflicting statistics available on the popularity of the major Web browsers. For example, according to Web analysis site W3Schools, Firefox has more market share than IE7, with 34.5 percent and 20.1 percent respectively. However, according to Net Applications, Firefox 2.0 has 13.6 percent of market share, while IE7 has 34.6 percent. Both sites indicate that Firefox and IE7 are gaining market share, while Internet Explorer 6 is losing market share.

According to a reader poll on sister site ZDNet, 55 percent of respondents voted that Microsoft had dropped WGA "to try to grow IE7's market share (at the expense primarily of Firefox) by going after the more technical browser audience, many of whom see WGA as little more than another objectionable DRM scheme."

Tom Espiner of ZDNet UK reported from London.