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Online Vista preview to fight piracy

Microsoft is offering a free online "test drive" of its Windows Vista OS in its latest effort to fight software piracy.

Users can access the preview of Vista on the Microsoft website, says Cori Hartje, director of the genuine software initiative. The test drive sets up a virtual environment that shows a user what using Vista is like so they have a legitimate way of testing the software rather than going out and buying a counterfeit copy or pirating a genuine version, she says.

Though users won't be downloading all of Vista by going to the site, some software will be installed locally on their machines because the site needs to communicate with users that way, Hartje says. The test drive also will assess a user's hardware and evaluate what upgrades need to be made to run the OS.

Microsoft also has offered customers a free preview of Office 2007 on its web site.

Hartje was in New York last week to discuss progress in Microsoft's Genuine Software Initiative (GSI), an effort it launched in July 2005 to prevent the pirated and counterfeited versions of Microsoft software to be sold to users. The initiative has three parts -- education, engineering and enforcement.

It is through the engineering part of the GSI that Microsoft launched its controversial Windows Genuine Advantage program, which evolved into a built-in Software Protection Platform in Windows Vista.The program will put a user's version of Vista into limited functionality mode -- allowing them only to surf the Web for an hour before rebooting -- if they don't activate the product with a valid product activation key 30 days after installing Vista on a machine.

Though some have criticised Microsoft's antipiracy efforts as intrusive, Hartje defended the company's efforts to make sure customers purchase legitimate copies of Windows by citing a Yankee Group report made public Monday that shows that using counterfeit software actually hurts companies.

Hartje acknowledged that some people who buy counterfeit Microsoft software are purchasing "high-quality" copies, and only later do they realise they have been duped. She showed off two copies of Windows XP that looked nearly identical, though one was counterfeit and one was legitimate.