Microsoft turns up heat in licensing push

The software giant tells us it's gunning for people who are running unlicensed copies of Windows and Office, but won't deprive them of critical fixes

Microsoft signalled its intention to continue cracking down on unlicensed software this week when it announced the full roll-out of Windows Genuine Advantage (WGA), and extended the roll-out of Office Genuine Advantage (OGA) to the UK.

Users of both Windows and Office will be encourage to sign up to the two schemes — which would prove that they are using licensed software — or face exclusion from Microsoft's update service.

But on Tuesday, Microsoft made it clear that while companies that did not comply with the schemes would be excluded from some updates, they would still receive critical updates.

"Let me make it clear that everyone, whether they have signed for these schemes or not, will receive critical updates," a Microsoft spokesman told ZDNet UK.

WGA has been running in some countries for some time, but this did not include the UK, the US, Malaysia, New Zealand and Australia. Customers in those countries must now decide to opt in to the scheme or risk losing support and updates.

But Microsoft is playing down any action it may take against users who refuse to sign with the scheme and insists that it will continue to support all users.

"When someone signs up with Windows Genuine Advantage, we can check out their software and we can see if they are running a copy of Windows that is not genuine," Michala Alexander, Microsoft's UK head of anti-piracy programmes, told ZDNet UK. "If that happens, the customer gets three options. They can get the software properly licensed, they can get help in dealing with the issue, or they can decide to do nothing for the time being."

If an issue is raised and the user does not deal with it, then Microsoft will send out "a gentle reminder" said Alexander. The aim, she said, is to reassure customers that their software is genuine.

And Alexander is in no doubt about the cost of software that has not been properly licensed: "Every year, millions of customers and businesses are hurt by being duped into buying counterfeit software," she said. "Through this pilot, our aim is to educate our customers about the risks associated with using counterfeit software and equally, the value they can gain from ensuring the software they are running at home and at work is genuine."

The Office Genuine Advantage programme will initially cover seven languages, including Brazilian Portuguese, Czech, Greek, Korean, Simplified Chinese, Russian and Spanish. According to Microsoft there is already an "opt-in" version of Office Genuine Advantage available in the UK.

The move by Microsoft is part of its Keep IT Real Initiative which aims to "protect customers and partners from software piracy".