Microsoft continued to smoke out what it considers to be shadowy denizens of its channel, filing lawsuits early this month against 20 software resellers in 13 states for distributing counterfeit or improperly licensed products.
The latest legal salvo is part of Microsoft's ongoing Genuine Software Initiative, which aims to educate consumers and businesses of the many different ways in which they can end up with illegitimate software running on their networks.
Steve Schulte, a partner at Capital Network Solutions, Sacramento, Calif., says Microsoft's antipiracy efforts help stamp out the spread of unscrupulous licensing behavior that makes life difficult for other channel partners.
"We've run into a couple of scenarios in virtual environments where resellers have taken licenses and pushed them onto other servers. Not only is that unethical, it also hurts us when we're going into competitive bids," said Schulte.
Schulte noted that Microsoft is in the process of adopting the antipiracy tactics of Citrix, another Capital Network Solutions partner, which requires its software to be activated on the back end using licensing keys.
Microsoft is aware of the problem with counterfeit licenses, and last month launched the Get Genuine Windows Agreement (GGWA), which allows organizations that have been duped into buying illegitimate versions of Windows XP Professional to obtain volume licensing agreements and avoid liability issues that stem from running illegal software.
GGWAs for small and medium businesses have a five-license minimum and are sold by partners, while GGWA for large businesses are sold through large account resellers or direct from Microsoft, said Cori Hartje, director of Microsoft's Genuine Software Initiative. The GGWA provides broader coverage than the Get Genuine Kit for Windows XP that Microsoft launched in July 2006, Hartje said.
"Many of our volume-type customers are interested in having one 'get right' type of agreement, a single purchase that takes care of everything all at once," said Hartje.
Microsoft has recently stepped up efforts to prosecute software pirates and unscrupulous system builders, some of whom use counterfeit certificate of authenticity labels, or COAs, to deceive customers into believing that the illegal software they're buying is genuine.
"There are some system builders that are shipping bogus copies of Windows, and customers are getting caught with bad copies that they can't register, and they get stuck," said Scott Braden, senior Microsoft analyst at Miro Consulting, a Fords, N.J.-based firm that specializes in Microsoft licensing.
Kevin Baylor, principal at Aequus IT, a solution provider in Bradenton, Fla., sees the GGWA as a step in the right direction, but not necessarily one that will make much of an impact on the software piracy situation.
"I definitely think the program will be helpful, especially for small businesses, which are generally happy to comply with licensing. But while Microsoft is on the right track in fighting software piracy, I don't feel it will completely negate its effects," Baylor said.
As with Microsoft's other volume licensing programs, pricing is set by the channel. One Microsoft partner who asked not to be named estimated the cost of legalizing a single copy of Windows XP Professional at $200, with the cost of fixing 10 machines running around $1,200.
"From a customer perspective, they're going to be upset because they'll have to spend a significant amount of money. But this does give them a way out," Braden said.
Some of Microsoft's antipiracy efforts have angered users. In August, Microsoft fixed a glitch with the validation scheme for Windows XP and Vista that was flagging legitimate versions of the OS as pirated ones. Microsoft subsequently said the problem was due to human error.