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Microsoft's software IP prophylactic

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Microsoft told delegates at its Worldwide Partner Conference in Denver this week that it would deliver new software protection technology for developers and ISVs in October. But it won't be the same technology it currently uses to protect its own software.

The new Software Licensing and Protection (SLP) services product is derived from technology it acquired with the purchase of Secure Dimensions in January 2007 and is completely different from Software Protection Platform (SPP) embedded in Vista and Windows Server 2008.

"SLP Services is based on different technology and today focuses on .NET protection, with Win 32 and other languages coming in the future. Licensing and activation can be done with .NET as well as Win 32 applications and, although this technology is different than what Windows uses, there may be other Microsoft products that will use SLP Services in the future," explains Thomas Lindeman, Microsoft group product manager. He says there are currently no plans to make SPP available outside Microsoft.

The new SLP product uses a transformation technique and creates a unique Secure Virtual Machine (SVM) which sits inside the application code. This enables developers to decide which features they want to protect and also provides facilities to change protection dynamically. Microsoft calls such combinations SKUs.

Lindeman says developers will need to take care how they implement the SVM to avoid potential performance problems: "We will be putting out best practices and white papers on how to do this correctly. If done improperly, there could be some performance costs since the code is actually transformed."

SLP comes as two components - a software developers' kit called Code Protector SDK and an SLP Server. Microsoft will also be offering the server component as a service under the name SLP Online Services. According to Lindeman pricing will vary: "The Code Protector SDK is free and we sell private permutations to each vendor so they can uniquely protect their IP with a private virtual CPU that their code is compiled against.

Beginning October 1, we will sell two SKUs of the SLP Server from the volume price list and three SKUs of the SLP Online Services that will be sold directly from some of our specially trained partners. Lastly, beginning in October, all MSDN Premium subscribers will get a subscription to the Basic Online Service for free."

While most developers and ISVs will have to wait until October to get their hands on SLP Microsoft is to make the technology available to a privileged few via a technical adoption programme. It has also set up a web site where it will post new developments on the progress of SLP.

Lindeman also notes that SLP will be embedded in the next version of Visual Studio - codenamed "Orcas" - which is available as a pre-release download. ®

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