Microsoft has launched a free tool for checking that users are running genuine licensed Windows software and not counterfeit products, on the same day that the Business Software Alliance (BSA) extended its reward scheme for end users reporting cases of software piracy.
Windows Genuine Advantage (WGA) is a Microsoft program aimed at businesses and individual users that checks the version of Windows installed on a given PC is authentic. As an encouragement to users, WGA 1.0 also offers a series of system improvements to several other Microsoft applications including Media Player updates, MSN games and Microsoft Office One Note 2003. These updates are said to be worth around €375.
The technology supporting WGA is also being piloted for Office, under the name Office Validation Assistant or OVA. This was launched as a pilot scheme earlier this month for English versions of Office and is only optional at the moment. There are no plans to extend this beyond Windows and Office currently, Microsoft confirmed.
The company has claimed many people in Ireland are unaware the software they are using may note be legitimate. Clive Ryan, Windows and Client group manager with Microsoft Ireland, pointed out WGA is an anonymous tool that will help to identify counterfeit software. “It will improve people’s experience with Microsoft software and help protect the channel from companies selling pirated software,” he said.
The WGA validation process takes place on a user’s first visit to the Microsoft Download Center, Windows Update or Microsoft Update websites, http://update.microsoft.com/windowsupdate or http://www.microsoft.com/downloads. Customers are asked to participate in WGA and are prompted to download an ActiveX control that checks the authenticity of their Windows software. Windows users are longer required to enter their 25-digit product key in order to perform this check. If the tool successfully validates Windows, it stores a special download key on the user’s PC for future verification. Microsoft said this process does not collect any information that can identify the user or be used to contact them later.
Latest estimates put the total rate of software piracy in Ireland at 38pc. Microsoft’s news came as the BSA, an anti-piracy watchdog, extended its reward scheme to the end of September. This initiative gives money for end-user information about suspected illegal software use; the reward is set at 10pc of the recovery value of the software, up to a ceiling of €20,000. Reports can be made in confidence and anonymously if preferred over the internet at www.bsa.org or by calling 1890 510010.
According to a spokesperson for the BSA, the money is paid only on completion of a successful judgement or legal settlement. “These things aren’t done on a quick timescale,” she said. Proceedings could end up in or out of court because of the legal aspect to the case and as a result, payment of the reward could take months rather than days or weeks.
The BSA said it received “a large number” of leads for software copyright infringement during 2004 and 2005, although it could not give specific figures as some of these cases are still ongoing. Sectors where software piracy remains most prevalent include architecture, engineering, software and telecoms, the group claimed.
Siobhán Carroll, BSA’s regional manager for Northern Europe, said: “As long as the piracy problem exists, enforcement will continue to be one of our lines of defence. We would however prefer to work with companies to help them manage their software assets, which is why most of our funds are spent on educational activities.”
By Gordon Smith