Microsoft announced an evolution of the Product Activation anti-piracy technology in Windows 7, along with a rebranding that will make the previously separate Windows Genuine Advantage (WGA) and Product Activation functions in the system more integrated in the eyes of users.

Now dubbed Windows Activation Technologies (WAT) and branded under a cohesive Genuine Windows initiative, Microsoft's Windows 7-based anti-piracy components work together to both activate the OS and ensure that the system hasn't been compromised or pirated.

"The Windows 7 anti-piracy experience is similar to what we see in Windows Vista with SP1," Alex Kochis, director of Genuine Windows at Microsoft, told me in a recent briefing. "We make it easier for customers to get information about the process and make clearer choices. We've consolidated the experiences between validation and activation." These experiences are separate in Windows XP because the WGA validation technology was added after the OS was first developed. In Vista SP1 and Windows 7, they are a single, integrated experience for users.

Kochis told me that the activation and validation technologies in Windows 7 are completely different from those available in XP and an evolution of what's available in Vista. "So we've taken this step to recognize the difference in Windows 7 and are updating the branding," Kochis said. "It's a reflection of how we've consolidated the validation experience into activation."

Microsoft's research suggests that activation is a familiar software experience for customers, so folding production validation into that experience would be easier on users. Before, customers would have to activate Windows, then later prove the system was genuine (i.e., not pirated) so that they could download non-essential updates. Now, a single component provides both services, and no secondary checking is necessary for customers.

Kochis says Microsoft's anti-piracy efforts have been successful. "We're in a good place now," he added. "We are balancing the user experience with effectiveness. Customers understand that it's just part of the way Windows works now, and not a separate thing. This is how Windows protects itself and its users from piracy."