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WinXP RC1download leak is Preview Program code

And you're supposed to pay for that...

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The WinXP RC1 code that can be downloaded for free is actually the XP Preview Program code, it turns out. In order to get this you're supposed to give Microsoft money ($9.95 in the US and Canada, and £17.63 for a CD in the UK), fill in forms and have your Passport checked, but if you know the right URL, this is entirely unnecessary.

The right URL, which was still operational this morning in the UK, is rapidly spreading around the web, so unless Conxion, the Microsoft partner hosting the code, puts a padlock on it the Preview Program is going to turn out to be a lot wider and a lot more expensive for Microsoft than the company had anticipated. Conxion itself announced that it would be hosting the Preview Program download code on Monday; Microsoft didn't make an announcement, but Conxion also sent out emails to Program subscribers on Monday saying the download was now available.

According to John Frederiksen, general manager of Microsoft's PC Experience (you just couldn't make some job titles up, could you?): "We chose Conxion for our first online beta OS delivery to the general public because of their proven ability to deliver Windows XP to our customers. Their new ActiveX Digital Delivery Manager will improve the delivery experience for our customers."

The leaked URL however skips whatever that is entirely, and allows you to get at the code via a download manager, e.g. Netant.

This is the second time this year that it's been possible to download Microsoft code from Conxion via some form of 'unofficial' route. Download links to Windows 2000 SP2 leaked out before Microsoft actually announced that the code was ready. In that case, the code was free anyway, so the only thing that got hurt was Conxion's load-balancing.

This time, however, the leak is more serious, and raises questions about Microsoft's ability to successfully sell code on the Internet. If security holes of this sort mean people can just walk in and help themselves, then the .NET future mightn't be so lucrative for Microsoft after all.

The legal side of this particular matter is also interesting. Now we all know that the code is for the Preview Program, and that we're supposed to pay for it, it'd clearly be stealing if we went and took it (which is why we're still not publishing the link). But what if - as has no doubt been the case for most of the people downloading the code over the past couple of days - you grabbed it without knowing what it was, and that it was supposed to be paid for?

You might argue that it's obviously something you're not supposed to have access to, and that you're equally obviously supposed to pay for - but is it that obvious? Microsoft gives software away sometimes, so why not this time? Actually, if they don't get the locks on the download soon, they'll probably wind up having to just give it away anyway... ®

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