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MS spells it out: pirates can, can't install WinXP Sp2

That's cleared things up then

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Internet Security Threat Report 2014

Fresh from killing off, then swiftly reviving, NGSCB/Palladium, Microsoft appears to be going for the double with an about-face on WinXP SP2 for pirates. Last week the company seemed to be giving the impression that altruism had triumphed over righteous indignation, today, it is denying it.

But not, as far as we can see, strongly denying it. The reports are not 'entirely untrue' - they are "not entirely true". Um, right.

This actually matches up quite nicely to the initial reports, because they quoted Microsoft group product manager Barry Goffe as saying Microsoft had not "explicitly done anything to SP2 to exclude it from pirated copies", and that: "It was a tough choice, but we finally decided that even if someone has pirated copy of Windows, it is more important to keep him safe than it is to be concerned about the revenue issue... Having these unsecured users means bigger worm and virus outbreaks - which also impacts the Internet and consequently, our legitimate users as well."

Not explicitly doing anything is perhaps not quite the same as not doing anything at all, and so it has come to pass. SP2 will check the product ID used by the machine it is being installed on, and if the ID matches Microsoft's list of known pirated IDs, then it won't install. Which means it looks like it's going to do pretty much the same as SP1 did, and that the checking systems Microsoft implemented at Windows Update will at the very least remain in force.

As it stands, these are fairly trivial speedbumps for wicked software pirates to surmount. The IDs in Microsoft's little list are well-known, so if the user of a pirated installation wants to update their system, then they can just change the ID they're using. This fairly minor barrier could be the origin of what Goffe was saying, but the way he put it clearly indicates some debate within Microsoft over the stance the company should adopt.

The relative mildness of today's denial, however, suggests that the debate might not be entirely over. Microsoft does intend to make a great deal of marketing noise over SP2 when it comes out, and we wouldn't altogether rule out (hell, now we're doing it too) further moves by the forces of righteous indignation to deny the wondrous upgrade to the freeloaders. The current situation certainly doesn't make a great deal of sense, given that the 'barrier' is really only a barrier to those who don't know how easy it is to get over, i.e. the people who're perfect targets to become owners of 'zombie PCs.' So logic seems to suggest either switching it off or turning it up. ®

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