Microsoft Mandates Office Piracy Check

Microsoft Office

The news comes on the heels of Microsoft's controversial announcement earlier this month to add more anti-piracy checks to the upcoming Windows Vista operating system. There are differences, however, between the two, said Ashim Jaidka, director of the Office Genuine Advantage (OGA) program.

"Vista's Software Protection Platform wasn't ready at the time we needed to make a decision [about anti-piracy] in Office 2007's development," said Jaidka. Instead, the counterfeit sniffing OGA technology is based on Windows Genuine Advantage (WGA), the framework used by Windows XP. "It's a variant of that, and an extension of WGA."

Beginning Friday, users of Office XP and 2003 must prove to Microsoft that their software is legitimate to download add-ons from the Office Web site. "OGA only gets invoked then," said Jaidka. To download a template, for instance, requires that the user validate Office.

While validation had been mandatory for users of the Brazilian Portuguese, Czech, Greek, Korean, Simplified Chinese, Russian, and Spanish editions of Office since April, it had been voluntary for others. Friday, however, the check became compulsory for users of the English, French, German Italian, Dutch, Polish, and 11 additional language editions.

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Office 2007, which is set to debut later this year and early in 2007 to businesses and consumers, respectively, will also require OGA, said Jaidka.

Similarly, as of January Microsoft will also make users validate before they can obtain updates from Office Update, the separate service maintained at the Office Web site. (Users of Microsoft Update, which combines updates for Windows with those from other company products, including Office, already must validate to use that service.) As with WGA, security updates offered by Office Update that are pegged with the Redmond, Wash. developer's "Critical" rating will be delivered to everyone, including those running a non-genuine version of Office XP, 2003, or 2007, Jaidka confirmed.

If a copy of Office is flagged as counterfeit, users will be informed, then given information about purchasing a legitimate copy direct from Microsoft, via retail, or through a volume license. Some users, however, will be offered a free copy of the suite. Microsoft calls this its "Genuine Office Complimentary Offer."

"It has to meet some specific criteria to be considered for a complimentary copy," said Jaidka. "If it obviously looks like counterfeit, for example, if it's missing the Microsoft hologram, no. It if looks like it has a hologram, that's what we identify as 'high quality,' and we'll ship you a free copy."

Just as Microsoft defended WGA when it was rolled out, and again when Vista's Software Protection Platform debuted, Jaidka justified OGA with claims that counterfeit copies of Office might be dangerous. "There's an economic loss to us, of course, but it's amazing how often we find after examining the code [of a counterfeit] that it has been tampered with," he said. "If it's been tampered with, you have to wonder what else is has been done. There is a certain amount of [customer] protection associated with this."

Product activation, another contentious Microsoft program, will remain essentially unchanged for Office 2007. That differs from Windows Vista, which drops into what Microsoft calls "reduced functionality" mode if a valid product key is not entered within 30 days. In reduced mode, users can only browse the Web, and then only for an hour before being forced to again log on.

Office 2007, said Jaidka, will not go into any sort of reduced mode if the software fails the validation test. At least for the moment. He added, however, that Microsoft reserved the right to make changes in the future.