Microsoft Tweaks Windows 7 Antipiracy Mechanism

Windows Activation Technologies is more than just a repackaged version of WGA, however. In a Q&A posted Thursday to Microsoft's Web site, Joe Williams, general manager of Worldwide Genuine Windows, said Windows 7's antipiracy mechanism will work as it does in Vista Service Pack 1.

Vista SP 1 users who don't activate at login see a dialog box asking them to do so, but Microsoft grayed out the 'Activate Later' option for 15 seconds, presumably to give users time to think about the gravity of the decision. In Windows 7, users don't have to wait 15 seconds to choose to activate later, although they are presented with a dialog box informing them of the benefits of activation, according to Williams.

Microsoft introduced product activation with XP as a means of combating piracy by requiring users to input a valid product key in order to activate the system. In 2005, in a bid to stamp out product activation circumvention methods that had sprung up, Microsoft introduced WGA, which verifies the authenticity of a user's copy of Windows on an ongoing basis. Williams said Microsoft will continue to issue WGA updates for XP.

Microsoft estimates that up to one-third of its customers worldwide may be running counterfeit copies of Windows, and no one would argue that the company doesn't have a right to protect its intellectual property. The reason WGA is unpopular is because it has mistakenly flagged genuine users as pirates on several occasions.

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In January 2007, Microsoft acknowledged that WGA had mistakenly identified more than half a million Windows users as software pirates. In August of that year, the validation scheme for Windows XP and Vista angered thousands of users by flagging legitimate versions of the OS as pirated, and causing some Vista users' copies to enter reduced functionality mode.

In fairness, no such incidents have occurred since November 2007, when Microsoft fixed a technical glitch in WGA.

The rise of BitTorrent triggered a flood of illegal software, and Williams noted that Microsoft's Windows antipiracy technologies help protect users from malware that sometimes gets packaged into illicit downloads. Last week, reports surfaced that malware was being circulated with a purported copy of the then-unreleased Windows 7 Release Candidate.

"This is why it's so important for customers to get their copies of Windows from a trusted source," Williams wrote.