Steve Ballmer warned his company might "dial up" the intensity of antipiracy technology baked into Windows Vista as part of an effort to squeeze more revenue from China, India, Brazil, Russia and other emerging markets.
Ballmer's comments came during a conference call with financial analysts in which he repeatedly hammered home the theme that sales forecasts for Windows -- Vista in particular -- have been "overly optimistic."
One way Microsoft can bump up Windows sales is to tighten the screws on pirates, Ballmer says. "Piracy reduction can be a source of Windows revenue growth, and I think we'll make some piracy improvements this year."
"We have new technologies built into Windows Vista, something we call Windows Genuine Advantage [that] we've really dialled up in capabilities with the Vista release," he says. "I do think that will bring some revenue growth. We will have strong growth in the Windows business in emerging markets: China, India, Brazil, Russia and many others. Those markets are very high piracy."
According to the Business Software Alliance, an antipiracy watchdog group for the software industry, counterfeits accounted for 86 percent of the software sold in China, 72 percent in India, 64 percent in Brazil and 83 percent in Russia. The figures are 2005 estimates, the last year for which data is available.
Last fall, when Microsoft announced details of Windows Genuine Advantage in Vista -- which included new counterfeit-sniffing software as well as the crippling or disabling of important features such as the built-in antispyware protection and the Aero interface in bogus copies of the operating system -- the company took heat from both users and analysts.
It appears that Ballmer doesn't agree, for he hinted that Vista's antipiracy features might be tightened even more. "We [will] really ferret through how far we can dial it up, and what that means for customer experience and customer satisfaction," he says.
In other comments during the hour-long call, he repeated the promise that Microsoft would not again make the mistake of taking half a decade developing the next Windows. "We won't go five years again, I promise, between big Windows releases," he says.
The promise replay was interesting because of its timing. Earlier this week, Microsoft distanced itself from remarks made earlier by a company executive that the next operating system would roll out in 24 to 30 months.