Microsoft to pilot Office anti-piracy nagging

Users in Chile, Italy, Spain and Turkey first to see on-screen pop-ups

Microsoft Corp. will soon begin a pilot program for software that displays nagging notices on copies of its Office suite that the company deems counterfeit, the head of its anti-piracy effort said Tuesday.

The program, which will run as a trial for Office users In Chile, Italy, Span and Turkey, will add notifications to the already-in-place Office Genuine Advantage (OGA) initiative that detects illegitimate copies of the suite and blocks their owners from downloading free files and non-security updates.

Microsoft already tags counterfeit copies of Windows with notifications as part of its Windows Genuine Advantage (WGA) technology. Until today, however, OGA did not have a notifications component.

"Consumers will receive a pop-up dialog box alerting them their Microsoft Office software is not genuine," said Cori Hartje, the director of Microsoft's Genuine Software Initiative, the nameplate for its anti-counterfeit group.

According to Hartje, the new OGA notifications will display the pop-up the first time each day a user opens any of the Office applications, and follows that with another dialog box two hours later. The process will continue for up to 30 days.

After the one-month run of the pop-up, Hartje said, the scheme changes. "Office applications will be marked with a visual reminder that the copy of Office is not genuine," she continued. "[But] none of the visual cues presented will impair a customer from accessing their data or preparing documents."

The reminders will disappear only when the user uninstalls the pirated copy of Office or replaces it with a valid version.

The four-country pilot program will be voluntary, Hartje said, adding that the notifications will be offered as an update. It was unclear, however, if users who had Microsoft Update -- the version of Windows Update that also detects fixes and patches for Office -- set to automatically download and install updates would get the notification pilot without any additional warning or without requiring further approval.

Hartje also denied a link between the new notifications for Office and the existing nags that appear on counterfeit copies of Windows. "The pilot OGA notifications user experience is different from the WGA notifications experience," she said. "The shared similarity in OGA notifications and WGA notifications is the common goal of educating customers about the benefits of genuine and risks of counterfeit, and of leveling the playing field for our genuine partners."

Typically, changes in Microsoft's anti-piracy practices and technology that have been run as trials in only a few countries have later been expanded to include users worldwide.

In April 2006, for instance, Microsoft debuted the OGA program with a pilot launched in Brazil, China, the Czech Republic, Greece, Korea, Russia and Spain. By October of that year, Microsoft was requiring all users to run OGA if they wanted to download free templates from the company's Web site; by January 2007, all users had to validate their copy of Office with the OGA technology to use the Office Update site and service.

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Gregg Keizer

Gregg Keizer

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