Microsoft kills Office anti-piracy program

Office Genuine Advantage 'served its purpose,' says Microsoft as it drops validation checking

Microsoft last week killed an anti-piracy service that checked whether customers were running legal copies of Office, saying that the program had "served its purpose."

ZDNet blogger Ed Bott first reported on Microsoft's move after a tipster pointed him toward a support document on the company's site.

That Dec. 17 document simply noted that Office Genuine Advantage (OGA) "has been retired," but offered no explanation.

In an e-mail reply to questions today, a Microsoft spokeswoman added, "The program has served its purpose and thus we have decided to retire the program."

OGA, which debuted in 2007 for use with Office XP, was Microsoft's way to separate counterfeit from legitimate copies of its popular suite. In 2006, Microsoft restricted Office template downloads to users running a legal edition of the application bundle, then upped the ante early in 2007 by requiring all users to validate their copy of Office with OGA to use the now-defunct Office Update site and service.

In 2008, Microsoft added a notification component to OGA that nagged users of counterfeit copies to upgrade.

Microsoft declined to expand today on its reasons for dumping OGA, with the spokeswoman saying only, "Given our strong commitment to anti-piracy, we are making several new investments that will allow us to engage with customers and help victims of fraud."

She did not spell out what future anti-piracy changes Microsoft has in mind.

The company has disabled links that once pointed to additional information about OGA, and to a validation check. Those links, which were available on a page cached Sunday by several search engines, now redirect users to Microsoft's main Windows 7 page.

Windows Genuine Advantage (WGA), which was renamed Windows Activation Technologies (WAT) last year with the introduction of Windows 7, remained active Monday when Computerworld checked several copies of the operating system. WAT serves the same purpose as the now-discontinued OGA, but focuses on the legitimacy of Windows XP, Vista or Windows 7.

Microsoft's anti-piracy policies have had a contentious history as users had regularly complained about the validation checks. In June 2006, for example, Microsoft angered users by pushing a version of WGA to XP via Windows Update, tagging it as a "high-priority" update that was automatically downloaded and installed to most machines. A year later, a day-long server outage riled thousands of users who were mistakenly fingered for running counterfeit copies of Windows.

The 2006 incident sparked a lawsuit that accused the company of misleading customers when it used Windows Update to serve up WGA. That case was dismissed last February after the plaintiffs and Microsoft agreed to drop the lawsuit.

Office users are still required to activate their copies of the suite by entering a legitimate 25-character key after they install the software. Product activation, which Microsoft launched with Office 2000, is another anti-piracy service the company uses for Office on both Windows and Mac OS X, as well as for the Windows operating system.

Copies of Microsoft's software that are not activated drop into what the company calls "reduced functionality mode" that restricts its use and puts nagging notices on the screen.

Gregg Keizer covers Microsoft, security issues, Apple, Web browsers and general technology breaking news for Computerworld. Follow Gregg on Twitter at @gkeizer or subscribe to Gregg's RSS feed . His e-mail address is gkeizer@computerworld.com.

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