Microsoft Called 'The Biggest Hacker In China'

According to a Wednesday report in The Guardian (UK), many Chinese PC users are venting their anger on blogs and message boards, with one Beijing-based lawyer going so far as to accuse Microsoft of being the "biggest hacker in China."

Their anger stems from an update Microsoft issued for WGA in August that altered the validation mechanism for Windows XP -- which Microsoft says is the most-pirated version of Windows -- to mirror WGA validation for Windows Vista service pack 1.

After the update, users whose copies of Windows fail WGA validation see a black background every 60 minutes until they validate their copy, as well a watermark with a logo that reads "Ask For Genuine Microsoft Software." Previously, WGA notified users that their copy of Windows was counterfeit, but didn't change their background.

The WGA update is "a throttled release" which has only recently begun to roll out in China, and users there are having "a different reaction," a Microsoft spokesperson said in an email to ChannelWeb.

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Prior to Microsoft's release of Vista service pack 1, WGA caused copies of Vista that failed validation to enter a reduced functionality mode, but Microsoft changed to the black screen approach after several incidents in which WGA mistakenly flagged legal copies of Vista as pirated ones.

As one of the world's main hotbeds of software piracy, China represents a major challenge for Microsoft, from both an end user and government perspective. According to a January 2008 study sponsored by the Business Software Alliance, IDC estimated that more than 80 percent of PC software in China is pirated.

In June, China state media reported that the Chinese government's State Intellectual Property Office had launched antitrust investigations against Microsoft for allegedly charging more for its products in China than in other countries. Microsoft and the Chinese government subsequently denied the reports.

As part of its campaign to entice more Chinese users to purchase legal software, Microsoft last month slashed the price of its Office Office 2007 Home and Student Editions from 699 yuan ($102) to 199 yuan ($29).

Although WGA has been known to frustrate users, Microsoft insists that the technology is designed to make life easier for Windows users.

In August, Alex Kochis, senior product manager in the Windows Genuine Advantage group, said the update was designed to help XP users stay up to date with WGA notifications.

"Our research has clearly shown that customers value the ability of Windows to alert them when they may have software that is not genuine, but they also want the ability to stay up to date with the least effort required on their part," Kochis wrote in a post to the WGA blog.