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Nearly one in five small UK businesses would consider buying illegal software. A survey of technology trends among UK SMEs, conducted for Microsoft by YouGov, shows that 17 per cent would consider breaking the law in this way, despite the obvious risks to their reputation.

The Business Software Alliance says small businesses are most likely to be caught out by counterfeit software, and are involved in more than 90 per cent of cases where illegal programmes are being used. It blames a lack of formal software purchasing policies for the problem.

In other findings from the Microsoft study, 85 per cent of business owners said a PC was essential to their business, but despite this widespread recognition only 44 per cent thought that technology could boost the bottom line.

More than three-quarters of small business managers use email on a daily basis, whereas just 60 per cent use their mobile phone every day.

John Coulthard, director of small business at Microsoft UK, said: "The desktop PC is an intrinsic part of day-to-day operations but to their detriment, managers are failing to realise how technology can help their companies succeed.

"Small business managers are unaware of the full capability of the technology that they've already purchased and as a result, they are missing out on a massive opportunity to be as competitive and aggressive as their larger rivals."

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MS sues resellers for counterfeit certificates
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UK firm fined £30K for dodgy software
11 charged over 'biggest-ever' MS piracy bust

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