Pirated XP sneaks onto shelves in Asia

Pirated copies of Windows XP have found their way into the Hong Kong market. The two-disked “released to manufacturer” version of the software lined the shelves in shops at several computer malls in Hong Kong and was on sale for about HK$70 (US$9) each. Windows XP is scheduled to launch officially in the territory on Friday.

Fake copies of the newly released Microsoft Corp. software were advertised openly and shopkeepers strategically positioned Windows XP CDs on shelves at eye-level. They assured interested customers that the CDs were from the “original” master disks and said that the software would work without any need for activation. Most of the pirated copies were of Windows XP Professional Edition, although beta copies of the Home Edition were also available. Both English and Chinese language versions were sold at the illegal operations. Counterfeit copies of Microsoft Plus extension for Windows XP were also on sale.

When contacted, Microsoft’s Hong Kong spokesman said that the company was aware that the pirated copies of Windows XP were available in the streets. “Software piracy is a problem all over the world and XP is no exception,” said Olivier Richard, regional PR manager at Microsoft Hong Kong. “Having counterfeited copies circulating is something we regret, but the piracy fight is a long term issue.” Like most Asian countries, Hong Kong has a legal framework that addresses the piracy problem, and it is up to the government and law enforcement agencies to implement the law, Richard said.

Microsoft has attempted to reduce piracy with its copy-protection product-activation feature, but the code was recently cracked, a U.K. security firm reported.

“We don’t pretend that product activation will suppress software privacy,” Richard said. Activation electronically matches the software copy to the piece of hardware it is registered to, and acts as a means to curb casual software copying, he said. Users do not need to give their names, e-mail address or any personal information when activating their new software, he said. Furthermore, customers who buy new PCs with pre-installed software would not need to go through this activation process, he said.

Although most of the pirated Windows XP CDs were of the software’s Professional Edition, it does not necessarily mean that enterprise version is more prone to piracy, Richard said. “The product activation process does not exist for enterprises with licenses” because under Microsoft’s volume licensing program, enterprise customers with at least 5 PCs are given master CDs to make copies as part of the contract, he said.

Hong Kong was chosen as one of the pilot countries where product activation will be used as a tool to reduce piracy, but its effectiveness has not been measured yet. “We hope we can get results, but that’s still early to judge, since it takes about a year to make that assessment,” Richard said, adding that independent organizations such as the Business Software Alliance measure the effectiveness of activation.

Microsoft, in Hong Kong can be reached at http://www.microsoft.com.hk.