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MS exec gets pragmatic about piracy

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A senior Microsoft exec has admitted that some software piracy actually ends up benefiting the technology giant because it leads to purchases of other software packages.

In this way, some software pirates who might otherwise never try Microsoft products become paying customers, according to Microsoft business group president Jeff Raikes.

"If they're going to pirate somebody, we want it to be us rather than somebody else," Raikes told delegates at last week's Morgan Stanley Technology conference in San Francisco, Information Week reports.

Raikes' stance seems at odds with the Microsoft's recent aggressive anti-piracy push, via its controversial Windows Genuine Advantage Programme, which resulted in many instances where legitimate users were identified as using "dodgy" software. And that's to say nothing of the millions Microsoft spends every year on other anti-piracy initiatives.

Rather than saying that piracy isn't a problem per-se, Raikes reckons that between 20 and 25 per cent of US software is pirated, he argues pragmatically that it can have benefits over the long-run. "We understand that in the long run the fundamental asset is the installed base of people who are using our products," Raikes said. "What you hope to do over time is convert them to licensing the software," he said.

Although Microsoft has no intentions of scaling down (much less abandoning) its effort to chase software counterfeiters, Raikes argues that it's against its interests to push illegitimate users so hard that they wind up using alternative products. "You want to push towards getting legal licensing, but you don't want to push so hard that you lose the asset that's most fundamental in the business," Raikes said, adding that Microsoft is developing "pay-as-you-go" software pricing models in a bid to encourage low-income people in emerging countries to use its technology.

Raikes' intervention provides a welcome perspective on the software piracy debate which has for a long time been dominated by the simplistic argument, wheeled out ad nauseum by industry groups such as the Business Software Alliance, that a copy of pirated software is equivalent to a lost sale. ®

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