Microsoft is adopting a gentler approach to computer users who install pirated software. Instead of having their systems disabled, owners will be encouraged by nagging alerts to buy legal versions of the programme.
Until now host machines were scanned by the Windows Genuine Advantage (WGA) anti-piracy system for signs of counterfeit programmes, when owners downloaded updates from Microsoft’s website. If an unauthorised copy of Windows Vista was found the majority of the operating system’s features were suspended – forcing users to acquire a genuine copy.
But now a new version of WGA is being rolled out with the first service pack for Windows Vista. Computer users found to have a pirated copy of Vista will continue to be able to use their computers – but with blatant signals that their operating system is a fake.
The desktop wallpaper will turn black and a white notice will appear alerting users to the problem. Each time they log on they will be prompted to buy legitimate software and every hour a reminder bubble will appear on the screen.
The new policy is intended to persuade users to invest in a genuine copy of Vista for as little as Dh600 for the home version.
“We want to make sure unwitting victims get great treatment,” said Mike Sievert, a corporate vice-president with Microsoft’s Windows marketing group.
WGA collects information about a PC during the check including the serial number on the hard drive and the IP address, but Sievert says none of this can be used to identify individual users.
The launch of Vista has been beset with problems, with users complaining of having to upgrade their machines by fitting top-of-the-range processors. Other teething troubles included a problem that prevented many genuine users from obtaining updates.
Industry analyst Chris Swenson said: “Microsoft realises it has to take a different approach with customers. If you shut down someone’s computer, you’re going to anger customers.”
Microsoft said the package of Vista updates will fix two faults in the operating system, which allowed counterfeiters to create fakes. One hack mimics the activation of software by computer makers before a PC is sold and the other extends the grace period given to those who install new software before they must activate it.
Computer giant uses ‘kid gloves’ to tackle rising software piracy