This week, Microsoft verified that Windows XP Service Pack 2 (SP2), the company's long-awaited security update, won't install on pirated copies of the best-selling OS. Press reports had suggested that Microsoft was going to let pirated versions install the update but the company says that XP SP2 will behave exactly like its predecessor, XP SP1, in that regard.
  
"Recent press reports indicating Windows XP Service Pack 2 will install on pirated or illegal copies of Windows XP are not true," a Microsoft spokesperson said. "Instead, prior to installing, SP2 will check the operating system's product ID against a list of known pirated product IDs. If the product ID is found to be invalid, SP2 will not install."
  
Microsoft recently delayed the long-awaited XP SP2 from the first half of 2004 to July or August, mostly because the company discovered incompatibilities between the update and some software applications and services. XP SP2 includes various new security-oriented features, such as a new on-by-default software firewall and other technologies that combat electronic attacks. 
  
Although Microsoft is adopting an XP SP1-like stance, the company's decision to prevent pirated copies from installing the XP SP2 update wasn't an obvious one, Microsoft sources told me last week. The situation is complex: Although the company obviously wants to prevent pirates from reaping the benefits of XP SP2, what happens when electronic attackers use unpatched, pirated copies of XP as worm or virus "zombies" in distributed attacks on legitimate computer users? In the end, Microsoft decided that the benefits of preventing pirates from updating their XP copies outweigh the benefits of protecting those systems. Let's hope that the company made the right decision.