Microsoft Offers Vista Preview to Fight Piracy

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Want to try Vista before you buy it? Microsoft now has a free online "test drive" of its Windows Vista operating system in its latest effort to fight software piracy and counterfeiting.

Users can access the preview of Vista on a Windows test drive site, said Cori Hartje, director of the company's Genuine Software Initiative (GSI). The test drive sets up a virtual environment that shows users what running Vista is like via a legitimate way of testing the software rather than going out and buying a counterfeit copy or pirating a genuine version, she said.

Though users won't be downloading all of Vista by going to the site, some software will be installed locally on their machines because the site needs to communicate with users that way, Hartje said. The test drive also will assess a user's hardware and evaluate what upgrades need to be made to run the OS.

In addition, Microsoft has offered customers a free preview of Office 2007.

Piracy Concerns

Hartje also discussed progress in the GSI program, an effort that Microsoft launched in July 2005 to prevent pirated and counterfeited versions of its software from being sold to users, with components that include education, engineering, and enforcement.

It was through the engineering part of GSI that Microsoft launched its controversial Windows Genuine Advantage program, which evolved into a built-in Software Protection Platform in Windows Vista. The program will put a user's version of Vista into limited functionality mode--allowing them only to surf the Web for an hour before rebooting--if they don't activate the product with a valid product activation key 30 days after installing Vista on a machine.

Though some have criticized Microsoft's antipiracy efforts as intrusive, Hartje defended the company's efforts to make sure customers purchase legitimate copies of Windows by citing a Yankee Group report made public this week that shows using counterfeit software actually hurts companies.

That report--which was commissioned by Microsoft--says one company in Queens, New York, purchased counterfeit copies of Office at a discount, but then found the software cost them more than it was worth because of frequent crashes and interoperability issues that delayed shipping to some of the firm's customers, Hartje said.

Counterfeit Software

Hartje acknowledged that some people who buy counterfeit Microsoft software are purchasing "high-quality" copies, and only later do they realize they have been duped. She showed off two copies of Windows XP that looked nearly identical, though one was counterfeit and one was legitimate.

Customers can report these cases on Microsoft's antipiracy Web site, and so far there have been 56,000 reports, Hartje said. For some customers who report they were deceived by clever packaging, Microsoft is offering a free, genuine version of the software they purchased. Hartje did not have statistics on how many such freebies have been distributed, however.

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