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Microsoft treads softly on compliance

Touchy-feely approach backed with big stick

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Microsoft is taking a new approach to tackling piracy in the UK. The company's newly-appointed head of Licence Compliance Alex Hilton recently visited Vulture Central and admitted that previous MS anti-piracy efforts could be fairly compared to "a drive-by shooting". His appearence at El Reg saw him touting an altogether gentler message.

Steve Balmer called a halt to previous efforts that were alienating customers by branding them criminals. The software giant will now bang the drum for the benefits of software management. License Compliance employs 30 people and deals with shrink-wrapped and OEM software.

Hilton told us: "Instead of just saying 'get compliant' we're offering people tools to help them get there." Users can download Microsoft's Software Inventory Analyzer (MSIA) to help them check what software they have on a network and what licenses are required.

Hilton said the new approach has "three strands - talking to resellers, to customers and to people who influence opinion".

Resellers will be told where legit software is available and how to tell if it isn't. Microsoft has revamped its website - www.howtotell.com - with information on Certificates of Authorisation to help dealers tell if their software is pukka. Hilton admitted that pirated and genuine versions of software are now all but impossible to tell apart. Microsoft is also creating a brand and logo for its six official UK distributors to help resellers know they are working with legal distributors.

For customers the message is about IT asset management generally rather than just compliance: "Better management overall should mean cost savings for users. And it means once it's done you know what your costs will be - there won't be any nasty surprises," said Hilton.

Microsoft is also talking to the likes of the Institute of Directors and the Federation of Small Business to promote the message that software asset management is an important part of good corporate governance.

And the company is currently chatting to about 1,000 resellers suspected of selling dodgy software. The resellers' names came to Microsoft through a dodgy distributor which went into liquidation. The resellers have received letters from Microsoft but the software giant is talking rather than setting the lawyers on them. Hilton stressed that some may eventually be prosecuted.

Microsoft will continue to work with the BSA. ®

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