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Microsoft has dropped the requirement for Windows XP users to go through Windows Genuine Advantage validation in order to get Internet Explorer 7.

The move, delivered via a software update on Thursday, means even users of pirated copies of Windows can take advantage of Microsoft's latest browser software. For the rest of us it means avoiding the chore of WGA validation, a test that has been known to go wrong from time to time and is a chore even at the best of times.

IE7 comes bundled with Vista and as an optional update to XP. Dropping WGA checks for IE7 only affects Windows XP users.

In a posting to its IE development blog, Microsoft suggested creating a safer internet through the improved security features bundled with IE7 was more important than fighting piracy.

Actually it didn't use the words piracy or unlicensed use at all, instead referring to the "entire Windows ecosystem", a group which apparently includes "pirates". This line is consistent with the Redmond's previous statement that piracy is bad but not all bad since users of knock-off Microsoft software are likely to purchase Windows software and applications over time.

IE7 contains a number of security improvements including a built-in anti-phishing filter and Extended Validation SSL Certificates, another feature designed to protect against online fraud. "Because Microsoft takes its commitment to help protect the entire Windows ecosystem seriously, we’re updating the IE7 installation experience to make it available as broadly as possible to all Windows users. With today’s 'Installation and Availability Update', Internet Explorer 7 installation will no longer require Windows Genuine Advantage validation and will be available to all Windows XP users," it explains.

In addition to the big change of dropping WGA validation Redmond has made a few tweaks to IE7 for Windows XP, including making the menu bar visible by default. This move was described as a backward step by users responding to the news on the IE development blog. The lack of information about IE8 was also a bone of contention.

More than one person on the thread suggested that dropping WGA validation was designed to shore up IE's market share. IE remains the most widely used browser software but Firefox is gradually eating into its market share over recent months, a development that's undoubtedly not gone unnoticed at Redmond. ®

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