Pirates beware: Czechs in test group for Microsoft verification system

Bill Gates, photo: CTK

This week, we look at the significance of a Prague visit by Bill Gates, the U.S. billionaire and founder of the Microsoft Corporation. A number of new Microsoft projects could be in the pipeline here, but those of you using pirated Czech-language software may be in for a nasty surprise.

Bill Gates,  photo: CTK
The chairman and founder of the Microsoft Corporation, Bill Gates, was in Prague on Wednesday. He came to deliver a speech at the close of the Government Leaders Forum, a kind of talking shop for information and communication technology insiders and leading politicians, sponsored by the U.S. software giant. It's a big annual event for Microsoft, and about a dozen current and former heads of government, as well as European Commissioners and IT sector specialists, were in attendance.

But aside from the buzz surrounding the conference, at which a host of issue of interest to IT businesses and the people who regulate the industry were discussed, this was a big week for Czech-Microsoft "bilateral relations", if you will.

The software company signed a contract with the Czech National Security Office giving the Czech Republic access to Microsoft's source codes. That's something the company has done with about 20 European governments so far, and a significant vote of confidence in the stability of the political system, though nothing extraordinary.

But Microsoft is also looking at forming a creative alliance with the main fixed-line operator, Cesky Telecom, and its subsidiary, the mobile operator Eurotel, for home-entertainment services. What's more, Microsoft is considering building a European service centre in Prague.

That's all very well and good, you might ask, but what does it have to do with me?

Well, odds are that nearly every one listening to this programme or who attended that Prague conference has been putting money into Bill Gates' pockets for years now — that is, if you or your company bought or are using a legitimate copy of the Windows operating system and related Microsoft software.

You are, aren't you? Because here's the big news: Microsoft recently announced measures aimed at ensuring that you pay for a legal copy of Windows before you get any OS add-on features or updates. The corporation is even extending this restriction to security updates, potentially placing millions of software pirates and their families at risk. At least that's the way that some people see it.

From February 7, Microsoft will add support for 20 new language versions of XP for their opt-in "Windows Genuine Advantage" program. Users of Norwegian, Czech and Simplified Chinese language versions of Windows will be required to verify the authenticity of their copy of Windows.

Yes, Czech language versions: software piracy here, while on the wane, is still well above the European above. As of next month, customers using the Czech, Norwegian and Chinese versions of Windows will not be able to use a Microsoft download Web site starting next month unless they have a valid copy of Windows, said the director for Microsoft's Genuine Windows program

By the second half of 2005, all users will be required to participate in the Windows Genuine Advantage program to download anything from the Microsoft Download Centre or Windows Update.

But Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates on Wednesday also launched an initiative to accelerate innovation in science and computing in Europe. Speaking to journalists in Prague, Mr Gates said that the EuroScience Initiative would bring together talented people from universities and research centres throughout the continent. As part of the EuroScience Initiative, Microsoft plans to invest in a network of centres tied to key research institutions in Europe.

President Vaclav Klaus and Bill Gates,  photo: CTK
The initiative also aims to support the so-called Lisbon Strategy, a plan to make Europe the world's most competitive economy by 2010. Within the strategy, EU governments like the Czech Republic's are expected to boost research and development spending, cut bureaucracy and social spending and earmark more funds for education.

A memorandum of understanding was signed by Gates and Italian Minister of Education Letizia Moratti in Prague Wednesday. It was not immediately clear which other centres might follow, but Mr Gates said the programme would not be limited to Western Europe.

"We're sure there are great universities in the new (EU member) countries as well," he said. As Mr Gates also found time for a tête-à-tête with the Czech president, Vaclav Klaus, perhaps he has Prague in mind.