Microsoft is even more of a control freak

Microsoft makes copying Vista a monster task

With Windows XP, antipiracy measures were a bit of an afterthought. But with Windows Vista, Microsoft had pirates in its sights from the get-go.

Even the unique Vista retail packaging–a plastic box with one round corner–was designed, in part, to thwart counterfeiters. And the packaging is just the start; most of Microsoft’s antipiracy work is built-into the software itself, meaning that just copying the code and getting a product key isn’t enough.

“It’s a different game for the counterfeiters,” Cori Hartje, director of Microsoft’s Genuine Software Initiative, said in an interview. “They’re having to resort to this full attack on the product.”

One such exploit was dubbed “Frankenbuild” because it merged bits of the beta versions of Windows Vista with the final product in an effort to defeat the validation checks built into the software. But, thanks to technology built into Vista, Microsoft was able to update its defenses and start flagging such systems–even those that initially passed activation–as illegitimate.

The antipiracy effort has been building slowly inside Microsoft. Microsoft began quietly testing a Windows Genuine Advantage program in 2004 with an optional check that offered no benefits for taking part, nor penalties for machines that didn’t pass. The company quickly expanded the program, adding some incentives for those machines that were verified. The company later made the checks mandatory to download most Windows updates and add-ons.

Microsoft has seen reducing piracy rates as a way to boost its sales, particularly given that the fastest PC sales growth is coming in emerging markets where piracy rates tend to be higher.
With Vista, checking for pirates was always part of the plan. Technology built into Vista allows Microsoft to periodically evaluate the OS to make sure it is legitimate, rather than just having one opportunity, when the product key is first entered at activation.

That’s important if Microsoft learns, say, that a once-valid product key has been compromised. Microsoft also used the validation mechanism after Frankenbuild was discovered, forcing machines to go through validation, which the Frankenbuild systems failed because the software was not an intact copy of the OS.

There are a number of features, including the new Aero user interface, that require genuine validation. As part of Vista, machines that fail validation go into reduced functionality mode if not remedied within 30 days, meaning such systems can be used only to browse the Internet for an hour at a time.

Microsoft has also tightened the rules on volume licenses, largely eliminating the ability for businesses, even those with bulk purchase deals, to use one product key across an unlimited number of machines. Microsoft has two options with Vista. Companies can either use their own PC or server as a sort of hall monitor to make sure which Vista systems are out there, or they can get a multiple-use key from Microsoft, though such keys have a set number of activations. Businesses can also use a combination of the two approaches.

It’s a little early to tell how all of the efforts are working, but Hartje said there are some reasons for optimism.

“We see indications from our channel that they are concerned they get genuine product,” Hartje said. “We’re optimistic the technology changes are going to make a difference. The fact we haven’t seen any high-quality counterfeits is a good sign.”

While engineering is a big part of Microsoft’s efforts, the company is also doing other things. One recent move was to change the way copies of Windows are produced. Rather than just license replicators to build as much of the software as they might need, such disc makers are now required to pay a part of the cost of the software when the discs are first burned, discouraging large stockpiles of authentic discs from building up in warehouses.


3 Responses to “Microsoft is even more of a control freak”

  1. Jake Boden Says:

    It is still amazing to me what lenghts people will go to in order to steal Microsoft Software. Microsoft has to continue to build more and more into software to prevent piracy, and most people using pirated software do not even realizing they are stealing it. I hope at some point this changes and people come to understand that it is stealing and Microsoft can put less effort into casual pirates and go after the big ones that are stealing intentionally.

  2. amandakerik Says:

    I have to point out that there’s a whole realm of fully functional software that literally CAN’T be pirated… because it’s free to use in every way possible.

    Open source generally has a license that says you can take the code, look at it, change it, share it, etc as long as whatever you create from it has the same license.

    This stops companies like Microsoft from absorbing the code. Doing so would be breaking the license because the resulting product isn’t released under the same license.

    I must also point out that total reliance on Microsoft software will take more and more of your rights away. I, for one, enjoy having the right to listen to my music on whatever device I choose.

  3. LizPeters Says:

    I have just bought a new computer. Windows XP Pro came with it rather than Vista (I paid extra for that) and it is a fully licensed one with disk, book and official serial number. All went okay until I tried to load other programs, not Microsoft, that I have been using for 2 years on my old computer. They are apparently illegal copies!
    Apart from the fact that I paid quite a high price for them from an E-bay store and can not afford new ones, I want to know what rights Microsoft has to prevent the loading of other companies’ software? Is Microsoft paid by other comanies to “control their software” as well as its own, or has it just taken on the task of being God again?
    I could use open source programs with my XP, but rather than have the hassle of activations and deactivations, transfers and blockouts, I am going to complete the process by Uninstalling XP and starting again with Linux. I am looking forward to hassle-free computing in the future.

    Ok, first off I’d like to correct something that came across in your comment – open source doesn’t have activation hassles – no activations / serial keys / registrations needed.
    I find using open source programs on XP to be a nice stepping stone – going from IE with no options to tweak the little things like button spacing to going to Linux with anything tweakable can actually be a bit of a culture shock!
    I agree – getting out of the MS hamster wheel is usually the best choice, and with access to Google… there goes 70% of the fear! Because you can always look it up / ask in one of the forums.
    I recommend Ubuntu – but you might like Kubuntu –
    *shrugs* There are lots of choices out there!


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