Microsoft expands antipiracy program

Company will require those who want to download a local language add-on to Windows to verify that their copy of the OS is legitimate.

Ina Fried Former Staff writer, CNET News
During her years at CNET News, Ina Fried changed beats several times, changed genders once, and covered both of the Pirates of Silicon Valley.
Ina Fried
2 min read
As part of its growing antipiracy program, Microsoft plans to require customers that want to download a local language add-on to Windows to first verify that their copy of the operating system is legitimate.

Over the coming months, Microsoft will require all customers wishing to download one of 22 "Language Interface Packs" to first authenticate their copy of Windows.

"They are significantly valuable add-ons to Windows," said David Lazar, director of the Genuine Windows program at Microsoft. The language packs add localization options beyond the dialects for which Microsoft offers full-fledged Windows versions.

The move is the latest expansion of a broad program in which Windows users are asked to verify their copy of Windows before downloading various add-ons.

When the pilot program began last year it was purely optional, with no benefit for verifying one's operating system and no penalty if the OS was found not to be genuine. Over time, Microsoft has added perks for those whose Windows copy passes muster, and the company has announced plans to withhold software downloads from those whose copy is determined to be unauthorized.

Microsoft has said that piracy costs the company millions but has not been specific about its losses. The Business Software Alliance, of which Microsoft is a member, has pegged annual industrywide losses at $29 billion, though that figure has been disputed.

Lazar noted that the language packs are still relatively new, allowing Microsoft to blend two strategies together--increasing the number of languages in which Windows is available and clamping down on piracy.

The company is starting this week with its Vietnamese language pack and plans to add the validation requirement to four or five language packs each month.

Microsoft has been gradually shifting its Windows Genuine Advantage from an opt-in program to one that will be required for most downloads. The program has been optional in all but three countries: Norway, the Czech Republic and China. However, Microsoft plans to make it mandatory for all users by the middle of this year. Lazar said Wednesday that the company was on track to meet that goal.

In countries where Microsoft is requiring customers to verify their version of Windows, the software maker has been offering a discount on a legitimate copy of the OS to those whose copy is found to be pirated. Lazar did not say what percentage of customers have opted for the offer but said there has been "good uptake."

The company is also being clearer about which security updates will be made available to those whose Windows copy fails to pass the test. In the past, Microsoft had said customers would not be able to use Windows Update to get security patches at will but noted that users would still be able to keep their machines current via Automatic Update. Lazar noted on Wednesday that customers can also download individual patches from the Microsoft Download Center, although that requires a customer to know what patch they're looking for.