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Microsoft warning over system piracy

Mark Tran

Microsoft today confirmed that pirated versions of its next operating system, codenamed Longhorn, are being sold in Malaysia more than a year before the system is due to be officially released.

However, the software giant warned that the versions of Longhorn released so far are developer codes that are not fit for consumers or business customers.

"Customers may be misguided into thinking that they are purchasing a complete product, which is really an early version for development released just a couple of weeks ago," Microsoft said.

The company said the pirated version of Longhorn could have come from codes leaked either on the internet or at a recent conference in Los Angeles, where elements of Longhorn were shown to more than 7,000 developers.

Bill Gates, the chairman of Microsoft, has described Longhorn as the company's most important product since Windows 95, which cemented the company's dominance of the market for operating systems.

Longhorn, which is not expected to be ready until 2005, is designed to improve the current operating system, Windows XP, by altering its filing system, upgrading security and graphics, and making it less prone to crashes.

Despite the expected 2005 launch date, the early Longhorn versions are on sale in Malaysia for less than 10,000 ringgit (£1.30) per copy in shopping malls in the southern city of Johor Bahru.

Microsoft cannot be entirely surprised that pirated versions of the system have already appeared on the market. In 2001, pirated copies of Windows XP were on sale in China before the launch of the official version.

According to the Business Software Alliance, a US industry group, 68% of new software used in Malaysia last year was illegal - higher than the global average software piracy rate of 39%, but still lower than that of some Asian countries, such as China.

Microsoft said that it was working closely with the Malaysian authorities to ensure its business and customers were being protected.

"The Malaysian government has taken a strong stand against piracy, and has actively supported educational campaigns and strengthened its enforcement policy in line with zero tolerance on piracy," Microsoft said.

The Malaysian government has tried to crack down on suspected offenders by raiding their offices and enforcing strict copyright laws.

The laws provide for prison terms of up to five years and fines of 100,000 ringgit for each infringement but, despite this, piracy remains rife.

First published December 2, 2003

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