Microsoft stops crippling “pirated” copies of Vista
Microsoft has revealed that it will stop stripping features from copies of Windows Vista that it doesn’t deem “genuine”, in a notable change to its anti-piracy policy.
Vista currently enters “reduced functionality mode” if the Windows Genuine Advantage (WGA) validation determines that a copy is counterfeit. Microsoft now says it will take a gentler approach with the release of Vista Service Pack 1.
“Although our overall strategy remains the same, with SP1 we’re adjusting the customer experience that differentiates genuine from non-genuine systems in Windows Vista and later in Windows Server,” says Microsoft corporate vice president, Mike Sievert. “Users whose systems are identified as counterfeit will be presented with clear and recurring notices about the status of their system and how to get genuine.
“They won’t lose access to functionality or features, but it will be very clear to them that their copy of Window Vista is not genuine and they need to take action.”
Microsoft’s softening stance is surprising, given the success of Vista’s anti-piracy features. The company claims Vista’s piracy rate is less than half that of XP’s, adding about 5% to Microsoft’s operating system revenues.
However, the WGA system has been beset by problems, such as the case earlier this summer where thousands of legitimate Windows owners were wrongly deemed to be running pirated software, leading to their systems being effectively crippled.
Battling the pirates
Microsoft insists it’s not making life easier for pirates. Service Pack 1 will include two new patches that address counterfeiting exploits.
“We currently see two primary types of exploits pirates often use to generate counterfeit versions of Windows Vista,” reveals Sievert. “One is known as the OEM Bios exploit, which 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 in the factory.
“Another is called the Grace Timer exploit. This exploit attempts to reset the ‘grace time’ limit between installation and activation to something like the year 2099 in some cases. Implementing exploits involves extreme alterations to key system components and can seriously affect system stability,” he says.
Microsoft says it will check its new anti-piracy don’t cause any further problems for customers. “We want to ensure that through this program, we maintain a great customer experience, and to do so, we will go after pirates and counterfeit software in a way that minimises any disruption to our genuine customers,” Sievert claims.