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M$ plans to give some pirates a break

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Microsoft

The move is the latest in a series of expansions for the Windows Genuine Advantage program, which Microsoft quietly launched last September. The program, which runs software that verifies whether a particular copy of Windows is legitimately licensed, is the linchpin of a campaign by Microsoft to boost the number of paying customers among the millions of people that use Windows.

The Windows Genuine effort started as a purely voluntary program, but Microsoft has since been requiring validation for more and more customers who want to download software from the company.

In March, for example, Microsoft said it would require those who want to download a foreign-language pack for Windows to first validate their copy of Windows.

Starting Wednesday, customers in the United States whose copies of Windows XP Professional do not pass validation will be presented with the option of getting a free licensed copy. To do so, customers will have to fill out a counterfeit report with Microsoft and be able to provide the Windows disk they have as well as some kind of receipt for their purchase.

"Our goal is really to ensure that the complimentary offer is for people who really truly were unknowing victims of counterfeit," said David Lazar, director of the Genuine Windows program.

Those who don't have the disk or the receipt are eligible to buy a licensed copy online for $149. That's less than the cost of a full copy of Windows XP Pro but more than what customers pay when they get Windows on a new PC.

"At first glance it seems kind of self-defeating to reward pirates with a free licensed copy," said The NPD Group analyst Ross Rubin. However, he said it is an opportunity for Microsoft to show customers the benefits of its official software and potentially win them over as legitimate customers for future versions. Plus, it could help them track down those who are heading up piracy rings.

"Much as narcotics officers bypass the lower-level dealers to get at the kingpins, what they are likely trying to do is get at the distributors (of pirated Windows)," Rubin said.

Test program

For now, the Windows validation process remains optional for most customers, though sometime this summer, Microsoft plans to make such scanning mandatory for those who want to download software from the company's site.

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