Microsoft said on Monday it would disable the two primary methods used by software pirates to illegally copy Windows Vista software in the Service Pack (SP1) update of the operating system.
The world's largest software maker said new features built into Vista are reducing piracy levels by half compared with its previous operating system, Windows XP. Windows Vista Service Pack 1, the first major update to the operating system, which is due out in the first quarter of 2008.
Currently there are two primary types of exploits pirates often use to generate counterfeit versions of Windows Vista. One is known as the OEM Bios exploit, which involves modifying system files and the BIOS of the motherboard to mimic a type of product activation performed on copies of Windows that are pre-installed by OEMs in the factory. Another is called the Grace Timer exploit. This exploit attempts to reset the "grace time" limit between installation and activation to something like the year 2099 in some cases.
"SP1 will include updates that will target those exploits and disable them," said Mike Sievert, Corporate Vice President, Windows Product Marketing.
According to trade group Business Software Alliance, about 35 percent of the world's consumer software is pirated. Windows, which sits on more than 90 percent of the world's computers, accounts for the bulk of those pirated copies.
Microsoft also said it would also change how it deals with pirated versions of Vista, whose users will now get recurring notifications that their version of software is fraudulent with a link to buy a genuine copy.
"Users whose systems are identified as counterfeit will be presented with clear and recurring notices about the status of their system and how to get genuine. They won?t lose access to functionality or features, but it will be very clear to them that their copy of Window Vista is not genuine and they need to take action," Sievert said.
However, this is a change in tactics from Microsoft's current approach for Windows Vista. With the original release-to-manufacturers version of Windows Vista we released in November 2006, counterfeit systems can go into a state called reduced functionality mode, which essentially suspends a number of features of the system until the user takes action to get genuine.
"Our new tactic, which takes effect with SP1 for Windows Vista and also will be part of Windows Server 2008, due out next year, is a proven and effective way to combat piracy. Customers want to know the status of their systems, and how to take action if it turns out they were victimized," Sievert added.
Despite the changes in Microsoft's tactics, the company's strategy has not changed. All copies of Windows Vista still require activation and the system will continue to validate from time to time to verify that systems are activated properly.
If a user of pirated software wants to purchase a genuine copy of Windows from Microsoft, they can do so for $89 for the Home Basic version or $119 for the Home Premium version.
Reducing piracy is considered one major way for the $51 billion software maker to spur growth in its dominant software franchises. The company said improvements in reducing piracy helped to spur a 25 percent rise in Windows sales in the September quarter.
Microsoft had sold 88 million Vista licenses as of the end of September.