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Finally, Microsoft has an innovative idea.

Give people rewards just for simply proving that your copy of Windows is legal

There is an ActiveX program that checks your product ID. Users who "pass" the Genuine Advantage test will be offered the software. Those who find that their copies of Windows is pirated and/or counterfeit are not penalized. In fact, Microsoft does not know the identies of these users and they will still be allowed to download the requested items from the Microsoft Download Center.

When it launched its "Windows Genuine Advantage" pilot program in September, Microsoft Corp. was hoping 20,000 customers would opt into the voluntary program, via which Microsoft checks whether customers are running counterfeit copies of Windows. But by a little over a month later, 828,000 customers had opted in, Microsoft officials said Wednesday. And they did so with no real incentives, admitted David Lazar, director of Microsoft's Windows client product management group.

What led to the unexpected boon? "People want to know if they are running genuine software," Lazar said. "And people really were interested to find out if there were any benefits for opting in." Until Thursday, there were no tangible benefits to participating in the Microsoft Genuine Advantage program. But now, users who agree to participate in Microsoft's program will be offered up to $390 worth of software for free or reduced prices.

Microsoft advises users who discover their software is not genuine to make sure to continue to turn on Windows Automatic Updates to receive critical security updates; to return their products to the reseller or other party which sold them the product; and to fill out a "Report Piracy Now" report on the Microsoft Genuine Advantage site if the seller declines to replace the counterfeit product.

Microsoft officials are in the midst of assessing data from the pilot, Lazar said. The company has not said when or if it plans to make the validation process mandatory and whether the company plans to extend the program to other Microsoft software.

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