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Will Microsoft Disable PCs With Pirated Content?

SCENARIO: It's tomorrow. You turn on your PC. First thing you see is:

    Microsoft has located pirated software on this PC.
    As a result, it can no longer access the Internet.
    To access the Internet, you must buy a new PC.

Don't kid yourself. It could happen. And not in the too-distant future.

Last week, in the post "Microsoft Spanks its Customers", I explained how Microsoft pulled the online plug on Xbox users who had modified their systems to run pirated software. Such users were banned from online play until they bought new Xbox units.

Few, if any, readers thought Microsoft was out of line. That surprised me, because it seemed pretty obvious to me that Microsoft might just be testing the waters.

According to the Software & Information Industry Association (SIIA), there are untold billions of dollars of pirated software in the corporate world. And pirated software and content is even more common on consumer PCs.

Software and content piracy are exploding, fueled by the easiness of copying software across the Internet, and the rise of a online culture that doesn't see anything wrong with stealing bits and bytes.

Ask yourself: Is your PC 100% clean? Did you pay for every single piece of software and content on your machine? No downloaded movies? No downloaded songs? No software "borrowed" from your other PC, or that of your co-worker?

And if you're 100% clean, how about your co-workers? Your boss? Your biggest customers? I'll bet the percentage of completely clean PCs is probably in the low single digits.

Microsoft almost undoubtedly has the technological ability to "fix" the piracy problem by altering existing copies of Windows. Microsoft's operating systems are extremely intimate with the Internet and there is code in place to check for licenses.

And Microsoft has some pretty compelling financial reasons for taking such a step. Microsoft would make billions of dollars in incremental revenue if even a tiny percentage of PC users were forced to buy new machines.

Needless to say, they'd have to prove a legal case to take such action. But have you read a software license lately? You practically sign away your first born son whenever you buy a piece of software.

There is only one thing holding Microsoft back, in my view. Fear of a backlash against Microsoft products. And yet... where was the outrage when Microsoft disabled millions of Xboxes? Totally absent.

I would be very surprised if at least one executive in Microsoft weren't thinking: "Gee, that went pretty smoothly; why not try something similar with PCs?"

What do you think? Comments welcome... and here's a poll: