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Chinese netizens slam Microsoft's anti-piracy policy

Text by Henry MORTON , France 24 correspondent in Beijing

Latest update : 2008-10-28

US software giant Microsoft has launched a new war on piracy in China, where 8 in 10 Windows programmes are illegal. Chinese Web users were quick to denounce what they qualified as "brutal" methods.

"Do not allow Microsoft's tyranny!" bloggers across China have told fellow Web users. Hundreds of thousands of Chinese netizens are up in arms at the latest moves by the American software behemoth to combat piracy. The policy in question, dubbed operation "Black Screen", came into effect on the 21st of October, and is now the centre of massive controversy.

The mechanism is simple. When each of the 250 million Chinese who have a computer next try to update their copy of Windows, they will download a new verification program called “Windows Genuine Advantage” (WGA) and if that program discovers that the copy of Windows that is on the computer is pirated it will turn the users screen black, and continue to do so once every hour, until a genuine version of the software is installed.

Within hours of the program’s release, more than 100,000 Web users had connected to forums on and to express their anger.


“This action, taken by Microsoft, is illegal,” writes one netizen. “It is a move that is violent, aggressive and it is illegal.”


“Stopping people using pirated software is fine,” says another, “but turning peoples’ screens black will do nothing except anger the Chinese and cause problems for Microsoft.”

“When Microsoft started in China, it turned a blind eye to the problem of pirated software,” writes another blogger, “but now that it dominates the market, it has decided to get rid of piracy, doing so on a scale approaching hegemony.”


The government, through the national press, appears to back the anti-Microsoft sentiment. “Microsoft is the most dangerous hacker in China, breaking into people’s computers without their consent,” a Beijing lawyer tells the China Daily, the country’s English language newspaper.

In the kingdom of software piracy, Microsoft is but a lowly prince

For less than a Euro you can buy pirated Microsoft software from street vendors across the country, and more than 90 percent of Microsoft software in use, in China, is fake. A huge loss of potential earnings for the company and a personal one for founder Bill Gates, who made it a priority to build a massive new research facility in Beijing, to better supply Chinese needs. The Chinese computer market is now the biggest in the world, with some 250 million people online.

Operation “Black Screen” is a gamble for Microsoft. The software giant is obviously desperate to stop piracy and get a larger slice of what could be an enormously lucrative market. However, by angering Chinese computer users, it risks losing them to other software manufacturers and more than one million Chinese users, who knew of this campaign in advance, have already changed to a domestic alternative, according to Hong Kong daily, The South China Morning Post.

There is an alternative solution that many Chinese netizens feel would solve all of these problems: “If Windows was free, there would be no more pirated versions, software companies would be less dependant on software purchases and that would help relieve pressure on them during these times of financial crisis. The price of computers would become more accessible, and so more would be sold.”

Date created : 2008-10-28