REDMOND, Wash. — May 7, 2009 — Software piracy is a pervasive problem that costs the world economy more than US$45 billion each year (1) But for victims of software piracy, the losses aren’t just monetary. Consumers face potential identity theft, system failures and unrecoverable data loss and market research firm IDC pegs the cost of compromised data in business environments at tens of thousands of dollars per incident. (2) (3)
Joe Williams, general manager, Worldwide Genuine Windows at Microsoft, says that Windows 7 will deploy new ways to protect consumers from software piracy and ensure that Microsoft’s intellectual property rights are respected.
Microsoft has focused its anti-piracy efforts on protecting customers and partners from the evolving risks of counterfeit software and increasingly sophisticated piracy scams. Every day, more than one million users activate and validate their PCs to make sure they’re running genuine Windows software, and Microsoft has made significant investments in customer education and engineering efforts to make this process simple, easy and reliable. For customers who do discover they are piracy victims, Microsoft has made a range of options available to them, including buying online or through retail, often at special pricing or even at no cost.
PressPass spoke with Joe Williams, general manager, Worldwide Genuine Windows at Microsoft, to learn more about steps Microsoft is taking to fight piracy and help protect customers, and what the company has planned for anti-piracy features in Windows 7.
PressPass: Apart from the obvious need to protect its own intellectual property, are there other reasons why Microsoft includes anti-piracy features in its software?
Williams: As a software company, it’s important for Microsoft to take a leadership role in fighting piracy. We constantly hear from customers that they want to know that they’re using the genuine high-quality Microsoft product they paid for, and they want to know that their systems are more secure and that their software doesn’t contain malicious code.
Counterfeit software delivers a poor experience and impacts customer satisfaction with our products — particularly if users don’t know that their software is non-genuine. For example, one piracy exploit caused more than one million reported system crashes on machines running non-genuine Windows Vista before we were able to resolve it. Customers running genuine Windows Vista Service Pack 1 are protected from that experience. And there’s an even simpler reason. If you pay for something, you want to know that you got what you paid for. We see many cases of customers who wanted to buy genuine software and believed they did, only to find out later that they were victims of software piracy. We want to prevent that kind of thing in the first place.
Ensuring that customers can trust the product they are using is particularly important since pirated software can contain malware and can threaten a user’s personal privacy and information. In fact, in the last few days we’ve seen reports of illegitimate distributions of the release candidate of our latest Windows operating system, Windows 7, being offered in a way that is designed to infect a customer’s PC with malware. This is why it’s so important for customers to get their copies of Windows from a trusted source.
It’s also important to our partners that we level the playing field. This includes the many original equipment manufacturers, Microsoft authorized resellers, retailers and others who deliver high-quality, genuine product every day. They rely on Microsoft to help them operate in an environment where they compete with other providers of genuine Windows, not software pirates offering substandard product at prices that are too good to be true. And finally, we invest a lot of talent, time and money in developing great software. As a public company, we have a responsibility to our shareholders and employees to protect our intellectual property and get paid for the products we bring to the market.
While it varies by country, our research shows that up to a third of customers worldwide may be running counterfeit copies of Windows. (4) Our experience has shown that a significant percentage of these people do not know the software they are using was pirated. Our anti-piracy efforts have always focused on alerting customers that their copy of Windows might be counterfeit and connecting them to support and assistance to obtain genuine software. This includes extensive self-help support systems and offers through resellers that provide “Get Genuine” options at low or no cost to piracy victims. We also work with government agencies around the world to support legislation and law enforcement actions that protect our customers and partners, such as the action in which United States and Chinese authorities worked in concert to break up a sophisticated software counterfeiting ring that was responsible for more an estimated US$2 billion worth of illegal counterfeits of Microsoft products.(5)
PressPass: Can you walk us through the anti-piracy experience in Windows 7 and the changes in that experience from Windows Vista?
Williams: The customer’s experience of product activation and validation in Windows 7 are built off of our Software Protection Platform that we introduced with Windows Vista. We had two primary goals: first, to enable Windows to protect itself by detecting when attempts have been made to circumvent or tamper with the built-in product activation technology; and second, to improve the experience of activating by focusing on enabling the customer to activate the product easily and, when necessary, to understand and resolve any issues they might face.
Overall the technology we designed for Windows Vista allows Windows to better protect itself and be updated over time. As a result, Windows Vista is harder to pirate, and we’re seeing fewer copies of non-genuine Windows Vista on customers’ machines. Windows 7 includes the latest generation of this technology and provides the technical foundation of our ongoing anti-piracy efforts.
While we have seen success with our implementation in Windows Vista, as evident from the lower levels of piracy, we also knew we could do better in Windows 7. For example, with Windows Vista Service Pack 1, if a PC was not activated during the login process, customers would periodically see a dialog box as a visual reminder they still needed to activate their copy of Windows. Within this prompt, they could choose to activate immediately or later. But the option to push the “activate later” button was grayed out for 15 seconds. Customers told us that while the prompt grabbed their attention, they didn’t understand why they needed to activate immediately and that the delay was annoying. In Windows 7 we modified this process: When customers choose to activate later they will see a dialog box highlighting how activation helps them identify if their copy of Windows is genuine and be allowed to proceed immediately without a 15-second delay. In Windows 7 we’ve made changes so that users will see more informative notifications messages and be able to more easily complete the tasks they need to.
PressPass: It sounds very similar to what was done through Windows Genuine Advantage for Windows XP. Is there any difference in the approach?
Williams: Fundamentally the goals are the same. The guiding principle is to enable the customer to know when the software they are using is genuine and licensed and help them to do something about it if it’s not. However the technology used in Windows Vista and Windows 7 is fundamentally different from that used with Windows XP. It consists of new code and the latest methods for protecting Windows in ways that can only really be achieved with the components that are built in to both Windows Vista and now Windows 7. For that reason the anti-piracy features in Windows 7 — and future versions of updates of the technology for Windows Vista — will be referred to more accurately as Windows Activation Technologies. We will continue releasing Window Genuine Advantage updates for Windows XP-based systems.
We also spent time thinking about how we could make activation and validation easier for enterprises. For example, we think IT professionals will appreciate support in Windows 7 for virtualized images and volume activation technologies. When Windows Vista was being developed, virtualization was primarily a server scenario, but today many companies have it in their production environment on both the server and the client. We listened and adapted our management tool for organizations by making them more easily available. When customers see and use the tools we’re providing to support Windows Vista and Windows 7 deployments, we think they will be impressed.
PressPass: What do you expect to achieve with these changes?
Williams: First and foremost, we want to increase customers’ confidence in Windows and their computing experience. The foundation of a great experience is great software, and we can only guarantee that if a copy of Windows is genuine. The malicious code and malware that counterfeit software can expose our customers to is a serious threat — ask anyone who has ever been a victim of identity theft. So ensuring that customers know they have genuine software or when they might be victims of software piracy is just as much a priority now as ever. With Windows Vista, we made significant strides in reducing the threat pirated copies posed to customers, our partners and Microsoft software, and we anticipate we’ll do even better with Windows 7.
Beyond Windows 7, we still have work to do to ensure that genuine software is readily available to customers anywhere they choose to shop. When administered the right way, anti-piracy programs can work well, as we’ve seen with the success of our Microsoft Authorized Refurbisher and Genuine Windows partner programs, which have been around for a few years now. One particular challenge is in emerging markets where access to genuine software is more limited. So we’re working closely with our partners to close that gap and make genuine software available. But more can always be done — which is why you’ll continue to see us invest in anti-piracy efforts such as Windows Activation Technologies over the long term.
(1) BSA/IDC 5th Annual PC Software Piracy Study, http://global.bsa.org/idcglobalstudy2007/studies/2007_global_piracy_study.pdf
(3) Risk of Counterfeit study, http://go.microsoft.com/fwlink/?LinkId=143926
(4) Historically Microsoft products, particularly Windows and Microsoft Office, have seen global piracy rates that are roughly in line with the Business Software Alliance’s annual software piracy study. See http://www.bsa.org/globalstudy.