Microsoft's not-so-generous Windows deal

You've been burned by a crook who sold you a counterfeit copy of Windows. Microsoft says they want to help you out. But a closer look shows the deal isn't all that generous.

Have you been burned by a phony copy of Windows XP? Microsoft is pitching its Genuine Windows offer as a way to recover without paying extra. But the offer isn’t as good as it sounds. The deal is actually a twofer, with the details being different depending on your situation. Here’s how Microsoft pitches it:

  • Complimentary offer: Microsoft will make a complimentary copy of Windows XP available to customers who have been sold counterfeit Windows. Customers will be required to submit a proof of purchase, the counterfeit CD, and a counterfeit report with details of their purchase. Only high-quality counterfeit Windows will qualify for the complimentary offer.
  • Electronic License Key Offer: Microsoft will offer an alternative for customers who find out via the WGA validation process that they are not running genuine Windows, but do not qualify for, or choose not to take advantage of, the complimentary offer. These customers will be able to license a Windows Genuine Advantage Kit for Windows XP online for a price of $99 for Windows XP Home edition or $149 for Windows XP Professional. The Windows Genuine Advantage Kit for Windows XP will include a new 25-character Product Key and a Windows Product Key Update tool that will allow customers to convert their counterfeit copy to genuine Windows XP electronically.

The first offer is designed to take care of people who buy fake products from fly-by-night retailers or from auction sites. While the offer of free software sounds generous, Microsoft’s own stats show that this type of transaction represents a small fraction – significantly less than 20% – of “non-genuine” software as identified by the WGA validation tool. And you have to be willing to turn in whoever sold you the phony software, too:

A counterfeit disc is required in order to be eligible for the complimentary offer. This allows customers to show that a counterfeit transaction occurred. Customers who did not receive a counterfeit disk, but are willing to submit a counterfeit report regarding a fraudulent transaction, are able to qualify for the electronic license key offer. … The information that is required on the report is:

  • Was the copy of Windows preinstalled?
  • Where was it purchased (Web, street vendor, store, etc)?
  • What was the reseller’s name?
  • Did you receive a CD and a Certificate of Authenticity (COA)?
  • How much did you pay?
  • What was the date of purchase?

If you were burned by a PC dealer or a repair shop that installed a fake copy of Windows using a stolen or pirated volume license key – and that category accounts for roughly 80% of the WGA failures, according to Microsoft – you’ll have to pay up. But don’t think that Microsoft is giving you a substantial discount. That $99 price tag for XP Home Edition is $11 more than the current OEM price for the same package from, and the $149 sticker price for XP Professional is the same as charges for the package. For that matter, you could get an OEM copy of Windows XP Media Center Edition 2005 for $110. And in none of those cases would you need to file any paperwork.

Technically, OEM software is for system builders only, a category that includes hobbyists who build their own PCs. But given that you own a PC that came without a legitimate operating system, I’d argue that you should qualify for the OEM pricing. And Microsoft shouldn’t make you jump through hoops to pay it.