The element of piracy always presents Microsoft with a difficult choice in how best to protect its intellectual property. Measures that are too lax could contribute to an uptake in unlicensed deployments and lost licensing revenue while more draconian techniques could threaten adoption of their products and place an unnecessary management burden on their paying customers. The software giant always has a formidable task in finding a balance between the two extremes and determining the best course of action with regard to protecting their products. Take the example of a university with a compromised Windows Server volume license key, posted by a student administrator on to the Internet for “sharing.” Installations using the key pop up around the globe, forcing Microsoft to invalidate the key. Software pirates around the globe shrug their shoulders and move on to the next key on their list while the university is stuck cleaning up the mess resulting from having a now invalid key.
Microsoft made the right choice in striking reduced functionality mode (RFM) from its final release and replacing it with more passive reminders. Whether or not it was warranted, the threat of activation failures affecting production workloads was a real concern for some potential Windows Servier 2008 customers given some of the recent, highly publicized failures of WGA. The truth is, most firms want to do the right thing but have difficulty keeping track of their Microsoft licensing. They don’t want to bear the burden — and shoulder the associated risk — of Microsoft’s larger fight against piracy. At first blush, newer techniques like Key Management Service (KMS) seem like a major administrative undertaking but are actually a step in the right direction as they allow customers to better track licenses in use. In the case of the aforementioned university, this new technique would have limited exposure.
As Microsoft continues to refine its activation methods, balancing anti-piracy and customer convenience is paramount. In its fight against piracy, Microsoft should keep legitimate customers top of mind by easing the burden brought on by license management.
By Chris Voce
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