Dantesque security for Vista and Longhorn

Dantesque security for Vista and Longhorn

Microsoft's long, strange trip to protect its software from piracy took another twist this week after the company introduced Microsoft Software Protection Platform for its upcoming Vista and Longhorn server operating systems.

The new platform is a collection of technologies that will require Vista and Longhorn users to register their products with Microsoft or face a Dantesque "limited-functionality" mode, which the company hopes will encourage users to go legal.

Limited functionality is nothing new. Since the release of Windows XP, Microsoft has been cutting off access to features and code for users who are running unlicensed versions of Windows. Now Microsoft has "enhanced" the reduced functionality mode.

What does "enhanced reduced functionality" mean? Well, no Windows Aero for one thing. (That's Microsoft's souped-up graphics capability.) Security software such as Windows Defender and some updates will be disabled. Unlicensed users will also have to wear the Redmond equivalent of a scarlet "A": a persistent message in the corner of their screen that reads, "This copy of Windows is not genuine." Translation: "Loser!"

One important decision the company has made is to allow unlicensed Vista and Longhorn users to continue receiving security software updates. In the past, Microsoft has denied unlicensed users even that courtesy, but more recently security experts have argued, successfully, that large numbers of unregistered, unpatched Windows systems are fat targets for malicious software that puts everyone else at risk.

Microsoft has made more than a few missteps in previous attempts to reduce unauthorized use of its software. Windows Genuine Advantage was partially rolled back after it was labelled "spyware" for stealthily installing itself on users' PCs and reporting information back to Microsoft .

For businesses that use volume license keys for Vista and Longhorn Server, Microsoft will introduce new, policy-based tools for activating those systems. The new tools, called Microsoft Volume Activation 2.0, won't be linked to Microsoft's software billing systems, the company said.

Windows Vista and Windows Server Longhorn will be the first products to ship with the antipiracy technologies, but they'll eventually be used in more of its products.

Around 35 percent of all software installed worldwide in 2005 was pirated or unlicensed, Microsoft said, citing a figure from the Business Software Alliance, an industry group.

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