- The Washington Times - Monday, March 13, 2000

Microsoft Corp. will soon roll out a new software-protection scheme aimed at foiling software pirates. It might also catch some unsuspecting users by surprise.

As reported in the on-line newsletter "Woody's Office Watch," (www.woodyswatch.com/office/) edited by software guru Woody Leonhard, the scheme is called the "Office Registration Wizard." It will track the number of times you install Microsoft Office 2000 on a personal computer. After two installs, a user would have to call Microsoft for a code to let the software run past 50 allowed starts.

Microsoft, for its part, says the move is solely designed to stop the mass pirating of Microsoft Office (www.microsoft.com/office/), which is one of the firm's economic mainstays. The newest version, formally released last summer, is one of two mainstays of the firm's profits, according to journalist James Fallows, who spent six months as a consultant to the firm, and who detailed his experiences in the February 2000 issue of the Atlantic (www.theatlantic.com/issues/ 2000/02/002fallows.htm). The other big moneymaker for Microsoft is, of course, operating systems, of which Windows 2000, released Feb. 17, is the newest.

Right now, the Office Registration Wizard is only being implemented in copies of Office 2000 that are sold to the academic market i.e., to students and educators at very low prices. However, according to Jon Magill, Microsoft's director of business licensing, the ORW, as it's called, will ship on the "service release" of Office 2000 due in a few months. That service release will likely include some bug fixes and minor improvements, if past similar releases are any indication.

Mr. Magill cites recent reports of a U.S. trade deficit with the People's Republic of China that amounts to $8 billion; if software piracy were eliminated, he said, that number would drop by $1.2 billion.

The hang-up may come Mr. Magill concedes when a user needs or wants to install the software more than two times, on two different computers. Here's why: the current Office 2000 software license allows a user who buys a single retail copy of the product to install the program on their main personal computer and on a portable or home system for "occasional" use. (Such use is undefined, so far as I could determine, and in practice, one could install a single copy of the software on any number of systems.)

The new "Office Registration Wizard" will still allow those two installs and repeat installations on those "original" machines but will balk at any other installs, unless and until a user calls Microsoft and gets permission from a telephone-support person. Such people will be available on a 24/7 basis, Mr. Magill says, adding that decisions are made on a case-by-case basis.

That means that if you're stuck in a hotel at 3 a.m. trying to get ready for a business meeting, or if you're a company tech support person in a pinch, you may burn up some phone time and patience asking Microsoft to let you install a program on another machine. That new machine could be an upgrade; an emergency replacement (in case of loss or damage, for example) or it could have arrived under any number of circumstances.

Mr. Magill says callers can speak to a supervisor and appeal, and that Microsoft will "err on the side of the customer" in tough-call situations. But this move introduces another software installation block at a time when many in the world are embracing open-source-code software (free to acquire and modify), free office suites such as StarOffice from Sun Microsystems (www.sun.com) or Web-server-based applications, such as ThinkFree's "clone" of Microsoft's Word, Excel and PowerPoint tools www.thinkfree.com). The Microsoft move is somewhat ironic, to say the least.

At the same time, I appreciate the difficulty in which Microsoft finds itself: No one who creates things for a living clothing designs, house plans, or even newspaper columns wants to see their creative efforts ripped off without compensation. The same should obviously apply to software applications: it takes a lot of work to build them and improve them. However, it will remain to be seen whether the new Microsoft Office Registration Wizard which Mr. Magill says will be expanded to other Microsoft products, including operating systems, in the future will be a solution that frustrates end users.

It's also vital to note here that these tools do not apply to "enterprise" or "site-license" versions of Microsoft products, which Mr. Magill says operate under different business models.

For the small-business users among us, however, it may be our pocketbooks that decide the fate of this new Microsoft tactic. In response to a query, Corel Corp. said it won't ape Microsoft's plan, meaning it should be easier to install Corel Word Perfect Office 2000 (www.corel.com) and that fact alone could turn out to be a sales advantage.

Write to Mark Kellner in care of The Washington Times, Business Desk, 3600 New York Ave. NE, Washington, D.C. 20002, send e-mail to [email protected], or visit the writer's Web page (www.markkellner.com).

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