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'Office genuine advantage' extended to U.S.

Microsoft said Tuesday that it has extended its "Office Genuine Advantage" (OGA) anti-piracy program to the U.S., the UK and 11 other nations, bringing the total number of countries subject to the validity tests to 41.

Software piracy remains a serious problem worldwide, and the OGA program is part of Microsoft's (NASDAQ: MSFT) Genuine Software Initiative (GSI) that's meant to put a dent in it.

According to a study conducted by IDC and the Business Software Alliance (BSA), 41 percent of software running on PCs worldwide in 2008 was either counterfeit or used without a license.

"The retail value of unlicensed software -- representing revenue 'losses' to software companies -- broke the $50 billion level for the first time in 2008," according to the study.

OGA works by downloading a "notifications" program to the user's PC via Microsoft Update. However, it does not automatically install itself, as Microsoft's earlier Windows Genuine Advantage (WGA) program did. Instead, the user has to agree to the end user license agreement in order to install WGA, with one caveat: Once OGA is installed, it cannot be uninstalled, the company said.

WGA caused so many false positives that users and IT shops revolted. Microsoft ultimately disabled the most onerous part of WGA -- often referred to as "the kill switch" -- in both Internet Explorer 7 and in Windows Vista Service Pack 1.

Whereas WGA originally put the user's PC into a "reduced functionality" mode upon detecting what it identified as a counterfeit or pirated copy of Windows, OGA only provides a recurring onscreen notice that the copy of Office does not pass the authentic software validation check.

Microsoft renamed WGA to Windows Activation Technologies (WAT) last spring, although it still provides notification to users of software it suspects is not authentic or has been stolen.

The OGA technology that will be built into Office 2010, which is due out during the first half of next year, is based on Microsoft's Software Protection Platform (SPP), Keith Beeman, general manager of GSI, said in a post on Microsoft's "On the Issues" blog, Tuesday.

"The introduction of SPP into Office 2010 will also make it harder for counterfeiters to defraud consumers by selling inferior, bogus copies of Office, as the product will have technical features that make the program harder to pirate," Beeman said.

The OGA Notifications program can be installed on Office XP, Office 2003, and Office 2007.

Besides the U.S. and U.K., OGA will now also be used in versions of Office sold in Austria, Brazil, Finland, Greece, India, Ireland, Netherlands, Peru, Puerto Rico, Switzerland, and Taiwan.

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