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James Bond and The Keystone Cops: Microsoft Takes On Piracy

They probably don’t wear tuxedos or drink their martinis "shaken, not stirred," but it would be really cool if they did. Microsoft and the Russian police have been playing James Bond over the last year or so, working for his majesty’s (in this case, presumably Steve Ballmer’s) secret service and eyeing software pirates in Russia with a view to a kill. The idea is to (gold)finger pirates, put them out of business and send profits from legitimate software back home to Redmond (and its partners) from Russia with love.

Software piracy in Russia will have to die another day -- it remains a problem in Eastern Europe and elsewhere. But Microsoft’s efforts have made a difference and aren’t unlike what the company is doing over here to make sure that Windows is for your eyes only -- if you have a legitimate license. Everything considered, the strategy to work with law enforcement and use the legal system to shut down pirates -- or at least scare the living daylights out of them -- seems to be a solid one, both here in the U.S. and in places where piracy is endemic and is a very genuine threat to Microsoft’s and partners’ businesses.

All of this successful sleuthing stands in stark contrast to the wildly unpopular Windows Genuine Advantage program, a supposed anti-piracy measure that’s more keystone cops than James Bond. In a series of mini-bombshells (here, here, and here), ZDNet blogger Ed Bott exposes the litany of problems that WGA is causing for users of legitimate Microsoft applications. WGA, already disliked for its intrusiveness and the mysterious nature of exactly what it was reporting back to Redmond, now officially appears to be a half-baked -- and possibly not even well-intended -- program that is backfiring on Microsoft and angering both partners and users. And yet Redmond presses on with it, apparently unabated. Not a good idea.

Microsoft, for the sake of itself, its partners and the industry as a whole, must fight piracy. But a little more James Bond and a lot less keystone cops would suit both the company and everybody else in its ecosystem. A couple of martinis and a snazzy tux couldn’t hurt, either.

Have any bad experiences with WGA to share? Let me know here or at lpender@rcpmag.com.

Posted by Lee Pender on September 26, 2006 at 11:53 AM