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Counterfeit Vista rate half that of XP

And not for the reasons you think

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The piracy rate for Windows Vista is less than half that of Windows XP, according to Microsoft. The vendor made the claim as it revealed plans to further curtail piracy when it launches the first service pack for Vista.

Redmond attributes tougher anti-piracy measures in Vista, which it intends to further improve, for its apparent progress against counterfeiting. Piracy rates are hard to measure precisely, as Microsoft notes.

Microsoft figures on piracy reduction are mainly based on internal metrics, like WGA (Windows Genuine Advantage) validation failures. Since WGA has been known to falsely flag up legitimate installs as invalid, this metric is far from robust.

Leaving aside the WGA doubts, Microsoft attributes about five per cent of Windows desktop OEM revenue growth to piracy declines.

The first service pack for Windows Vista will include updates that target and disable two types of known exploits to the Windows Vista activation process. One trick Microsoft aims to stem involves modifying system files and the BIOS of the motherboard to mimic a type of product activation performed on copies of Windows that are pre-installed by OEMs. Another tactic practiced by pirates involves artificially extending the time users have between installation and activation.

Windows Vista goes into reduced functionality mode that leaves systems flagged as counterfeit about as friendly to drive as a car stuck in first gear. Vista Service Pack 1 will change this so that users won't lose access to functionality or features. Instead, users of systems suspected of piracy will be "presented with clear and recurring notices" about the status of their system and how to get genuine systems. Nagging users rather than making them drive a bicycle fitted with training wheels is the way forward, according to Microsoft. Only cynics would suggests it's anything to do with an effort by Microsoft to reduce support call costs.

"Our new tactic, which takes effect with SP1 for Windows Vista and also will be part of Windows Server 2008, due out next year, is a proven and effective way to combat piracy. Customers want to know the status of their systems, and how to take action if it turns out they were victimized," explains Microsoft VP Mike Sievert.

"It’s worth re-emphasizing that our fundamental strategy has not changed. All copies of Windows Vista still require activation and the system will continue to validate from time to time to verify that systems are activated properly. What is changing with SP1 is the nature of the experience for those systems that are never activated or that fail validation."

The changes Microsoft has introduced with Vista SP1 are designed to go after pirates and counterfeit software in a way that minimises any disruption to our genuine customers, according to Sievert. That still leaves Redmond with one major problem, however, getting users to upgrade from XP to Vista. As long as Vista remains slow at performing basic functions like file copying, users and pirates alike will view it with something approaching disdain. ®

Beginner's guide to SSL certificates

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