Microsoft to Put Anti-Piracy Tech Into Vista, Longhorn

People running pirated versions of Microsoft’s upcoming Windows Vista operating system and Windows Longhorn server software will face having the programs rendered inactive, the company said this week.

Freshly installed software must be registered with its maker or it will operate only in “reduced functionality mode,” as Windows XP does now without being registered. If it is not registered within 30 days of installation it will cease to function, Microsoft is warning.

Limited Access

People who don’t register and validate Vista with Microsoft will still have access to critical security updates, but they won’t have access to Aero, a graphics technology, ReadyBoost, a removable flash memory, and Defender, a protection against pop-ups, spyware and malware.

Vista and Longhorn are the first two products that will ship with the anti-piracy features, but Microsoft said more of its products will include the technology in the future.

“I think that at one level, the measures seem somewhat Draconian to me. On another level, from a business standpoint and an intellectual property standpoint, the company is perfectly legally and morally justified in protecting its assets,” said Charles King, principal analyst at Pund-IT, an IT analysis firm.

However, he said he would like Microsoft to be more forthcoming with details of the mechanics the company will be using to pull the anti-piracy functions off. “I do wonder if the strategy and the technology is going to work,” he said. “I hope that the way that it’s deployed is essentially bulletproof. I think if any group of legitimate Windows users ends up having their system compromised incorrectly, this could result in a very big black eye for Microsoft.”

Widespread Problem

Microsoft stock was down slightly in early trading Thursday, which may in part be a reflection of stockholders’ concerns that the anti-piracy measures may affect legitimate users.

“I think that they may be concerned [about] exactly how the company’s going to do this,” King said. “I think there’s a sense, and I think it’s a reasonable concern, whether or not the company’s decision to pursue this will have any effect on consumer and business uptake of its upcoming Vista and related products,” he said.

The Business Software Alliance reports that 35 percent of all software installed worldwide during 2005 was pirated or unlicensed, accounting for US$34 billion lost in the U.S. alone for that year. The research said that for every two dollars of software shipped, one dollar of software was obtained illegally. The study said that 22 percent of all software in North America was pirated, with over 69 percent pirated in China and Eastern Europe.

Microsoft is hoping its latest moves will help it stem the piracy tide. The Vista corporate version is scheduled to ship in November, and the consumer version is scheduled to ship in January. Longhorn is set to ship in late 2007.

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