Microsoft alerted me last night that it is modifying its Windows Genuine Advantage (WGA) program, which seeks to prevent software piracy by requiring that users validate their Windows copy online when seeking non-security updates from the Microsoft.com Web site. According to a representative of the company, Microsoft will now offer US customers who unwittingly purchased an illegitimate copy of Windows XP Professional a legitimate version of the OS.

As with any deal with the devil, the WGA XP offer comes with some strings attached. For starters, users wishing to obtain a legitimate copy of XP Pro are asked to first seek a remedy from the company that sold them the bogus version.

When that fails, Microsoft requires a proof of purchase, the counterfeit XP CD-ROM, and a detailed accounting of the purchase which includes information about the parties who sold them the software. Customers can also opt to obtain an electronic key for $150 that transforms their bogus XP copy into a legitimate copy. The qualifications for this version are less strict: Users only need to provide a detailed report and then pass an electronic scan that ensures their Windows version hasn't been tampered with in any way. I was unable to discern whether anyone's first born son would be required as well.

The XP replacement program will run through June 30, according to the company. For those of us stuck with unwittingly pirated versions of XP, it's a deal you simply can't refuse.