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Microsoft Corp. is planning to make its currently voluntary Windows anti-piracy program mandatory some time in the second half of 2005, company officials said on Wednesday.

So far, however, Microsoft has no timetable for broadening the program to other Microsoft products, such as Microsoft Office, server software or games, company officials said. But they did not rule out such an expansion at some point. And Microsoft representatives hinted that the company might also allow Microsoft partners to employ the Genuine Advantage methodology and techniques in the future.

The “Windows Genuine Advantage” initiative,which Microsoft launched in September 2004, is designed to check whether consumer and small-business customers are running legitimately licensed copies of Windows XP. Since September, about five million users have participated in the voluntary validation process, according to Microsoft officials.

Users validate by providing Microsoft-requested system information, including their Windows product keys, names of PC manufacturers and operating system versions, which the Redmond, Wash., software company uses to determine if customers are running legitimate copies of Windows. Microsoft officials have said that none of this information can be used to identify or contactindividual users.

Microsoft has been testing the Genuine Advantage program on the Microsoft Download Center, where it has been requesting that users validate their copies of XP before obtaining certain Microsoft programs, patches and fixes for download. If users decide against validating, they are still allowed to obtain the requested downloads.

But starting later this year, Microsoft will require users who want any of the Windows-client-related code from the Microsoft Download Center and Windows Update sites to first validate their software as part of the Genuine Advantage program.

Microsoft has created a loophole for “customers who may require more time to move to genuine Windows software,” however: For some undetermined amount of time, Microsoft will allow these users to obtain critical security updates only via the Microsoft Automatic Update site, even if they don’t pass validation muster.

Read the full story on Microsoft Watch: Microsoft to Make Windows Anti-Piracy Program Mandatory