Microsoft's Mandatory Windows Genuine Advantage Program Goes Live

As part of the program&'s terms, Microsoft is making it mandatory for all Windows customers to electronically submit their copy of Windows to determine its authenticity before users can download patches, update and fixes.

Microsoft said the intent is not to punish unwitting victims that might have received counterfeit or stolen copies of Windows, but to nab system builders that preload machines with counterfeit or stolen copies of Windows bearing false Certificate of Authenticity (COA) labels, said David Lazar, director for Genuine Windows at Microsoft.

Testing for the program began in September 2004 and has been ongoing in China, Norway and the Czech Republic since February and in the United States since May. The program was to go into effect midday Tuesday, Lazar said.

If a copy of Windows is determined to be counterfeit, Microsoft said users have three options: They can file a counterfeit report with proof of purchase; send in the counterfeit CD and get a valid copy; or, if they choose not provide this data and information about the supplier, they can pay a $99 upgrade fee for Windows XP Home Edition or a $149 fee for Windows XP Professional.

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In addition, Windows users can choose not to participate. But by doing so, they forfeit rights to updates via and Microsoft Update and other value-added materials that Microsoft provides to participants. There are workarounds that enable a user to get access to important fixes and updates if they need them.

Through the program, Microsoft hopes to catch distributors and systems builders that preload illegal copies of Windows on their systems. This practice costs Microsoft and law abiding system builders an estimated $31 billion per year in economic damage, according to the company.

One system builder said the program might yield good data on software pirates, but he is worried it may cause technical glitches for users who have genuine Windows but are experiencing problems that may result in the software being incorrectly flagged.

“I applaud the concept as a way to control piracy. However, [Microsoft] should build better systems for authorized end users, for example, a hosted Windows Update Site for network customers,” said Mike Healey, president of TenCorp, a system builder in Needham, Mass. “[The effort] may end up causing more end-user issues than it&'s worth. If the system doesn&'t run 100 percent flawlessly, then a valid user can get rejected even if their software is OK. You can be sure there will be a virus or two that will attempt to mess up this authentication program.”

To date, Microsoft claims it has processed 40 million copies of Windows for authenticity. Microsoft said it has a privacy policy to protect the identity of users.

One analyst sees the Windows Genuine Advantage program as an effective way to snag offenders and improve competitiveness for honest resellers, but said it will not be an impediment to serious counterfeiters.

“The program is good for legitimate partners, who are selling computers with genuine copies of Windows on them. Sure, Microsoft benefits too, but it is hard to compete with someone who isn&'t playing by the rules,” said Mike Cherry, analyst at Directions on Microsoft, a newsletter in Kirkland, Wash.

“It is likely that the sophisticated counterfeiter likely isn&'t affected too much by these programs, but the person who misunderstands or misinterprets the rules would likely stop and become legitimate because of this program,” Cherry said.