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Microsoft piracy check comes calling

Expands program to alert people who run illegal copies of Windows and starts a campaign to fight Office piracy.

A correction was made to this story. Read below for details.

Microsoft is taking its fight against software piracy to the desktop.

Starting Tuesday, the software maker will push out a test tool that checks whether the copy of Windows a PC is using is properly licensed. It will be sent to millions of people in the United States, United Kingdom, Malaysia, Australia and New Zealand, Microsoft said Monday.

Following download and installation of the "Windows Genuine Advantage Notifications" tool, users of a pirated copy will see alerts at startup, login and during their use of the operating system. The alerts read: "This copy of Windows is not genuine; you may be a victim of software counterfeiting."

Those who use a legitimate copy of the software won't see any messages, Microsoft said.

People will be able to decline the tool download, said David Lazar, director of the Windows Genuine program at Microsoft. Once installed, the alerts can be suppressed by right-clicking on them when they appear during the running of Windows, but the tool can not be uninstalled, according to Microsoft.

In addition, Microsoft this week is kicking off Office Genuine Advantage, which checks on installations of the productivity package, which includes Excel and Access. The plan is to test out the program initially in seven languages: Brazilian Portuguese, Czech, Greek, Korean, Simplified Chinese, Russian and Spanish.

The efforts are part of Microsoft's antipiracy fight. Windows Genuine Advantage (WGA) was launched in September 2004. Since last July, Windows XP users have had to validate their operating system to be able to download additional Microsoft software, such as Windows Defender, Windows Media Player or Internet Explorer 7. Hackers, however, have repeatedly found ways around the checks.

The alerts include a link that goes to a Web site that explains what people with pirated versions of Windows need to do, Lazar said.

Earlier, Microsoft confronted people with the piracy checks when they attempted to download such add-ons. The switch to desktop alerts was introduced on PCs in Norway and Sweden in November 2005, then expanded to the Czech Republic, Denmark, Israel, Poland, and Taiwan in February. Tuesday's move is a further expansion of the trial program.

The WGA expansion is a precursor to the antipiracy features Microsoft is building into Windows Vista, the update to the operating system expected in January 2007. In Vista, certain operating system features will only work as long as it is a properly licensed copy.

Microsoft isn't pushing Windows Genuine Advantage Notifications out to all Windows users, but to a random subset, Lazar said. It is using its Windows Automatic Updates feature to deliver the tool. Automatic Updates, typically used to deliver security fixes, is enabled on the PCs of most Windows users, according to Microsoft.

To date, more than 150 million PCs have participated in the WGA program, according to Microsoft. About 65 percent of users in seven countries have accepted the Windows Genuine Advantage Notifications tool download, it said.

Microsoft's piracy checks won't prevent users from getting security updates. Regardless of whether a system passes the genuine test, security updates have been available to all Windows users, via either manual download or Automatic Updates.

Correction: Due to incorrect information provided by Microsoft, this story incorrectly described the ability to uninstall the Windows Genuine Advantage Notifications tool. The tool cannot be removed.