Microsoft has been increasing its efforts to battle software piracy using lawsuits and educational programs to bring more illegal users into the light. But as Microsoft moves toward delivering more applications as services, its anti-piracy tactics will also have to change, according to solution providers.
Microsoft's services portfolio currently consists of Exchange, SharePoint, Office Communications Server, Dynamics CRM and Live Meeting, and an online version of its System Center management software is reportedly in the works. But eventually, Microsoft plans to deliver a much broader swath of applications as services.
It's likely that Software as a service, which Microsoft calls Software Plus Services, will make it more difficult for pirates since it obviates the need for physical media and license certificates. But Microsoft, at least at this stage, isn't ready to speculate on the impact that Software Plus Services will have on piracy.
"It is too early to speak to the possibility of [Software Plus Services] being abused, or speculate on whether or not it will have a positive impact on software piracy," said Cori Hartje, senior director of Microsoft's Genuine Software Initiative, in an e-mail interview with ChannelWeb.
However, some solution providers said there are some unanswered questions that could eventually turn into real issues for Microsoft. For example, Kevin Baylor, principal at Aequus IT, a solution provider in Bradenton, Fla., thinks Microsoft could have a tough time regulating and enforcing software licensing terms in SaaS environments.
"Where will the Business Software Alliance come into play? How will end-users know that what they are using is legal? If a business is fully reliant upon hosted software, and that company is running illegal software, the BSA could essentially put that end-user out of business, by shutting down the illegal hosting company," Baylor said.
Delivering software on demand certainly makes applications harder for pirates to copy, but it's likely that some enterprising miscreants will find methods of circumventing whatever protection systems Microsoft puts in place, according to Dave Sobel, CEO of Evolve Technologies, a Fairfax, Va.-based Microsoft Gold partner.
"I definitely think we'll see a lot of software piracy go away. But as with any subscription-based service, people are probably going to be playing with licensing numbers, and I think this will make user authentication models even more important," said Sobel.
Travis Fisher, executive vice president at Inacom Information Systems, a Salisbury, Md.-based solution provider, said that in general, software piracy related to businesses often happens by accident, and online services will lessen the margin for error.
"Most violations that I see are due to ignorance -- not reading or understanding those complex license agreements -- or trusting an unscrupulous technician, who probably offered a solution for way under the price of any competitors," Fisher said.
Added Fisher: "I've always felt that piracy losses seemed overinflated -- the 'Warez Kiddies' are responsible for most piracy traffic. They seem to be motivated by collecting as much expensive software as possible, and not necessarily using the software functionality itself. "