Bangkok (Thailand) - Microsoft's Windows Vista operating system will not launch until January 30, but software pirates around the world are already churning out illegal copies of the recently released RTM Vista. Often these copies are sold for pennies on the dollar when compared to the original price: We were able to purchase a copy of Vista Ultimate, which will retail for $400, for a mere $3.50 (US).
If you have been following the coverage, it is no secret to you that you will have to pay at least $160 to see the sleek AeroGlass 3D interface (available in Vista Premium and up.) Even updates on your new computer could be pricey, as manufacturers will charge an average of about $80 to take their users from Windows XP Home Basic to Vista Premium. No matter how you turn it, Windows Vista will cost you a lot more than your previous Windows XP operating system, at least if you purchase the software legally.
Illegally, you could have downloaded the "release-to-manufacturing" (RTM) version via various P2P networks. If you've missed that chance or if you don't trust such a download, you can also pick up a RTM copy during your vacation in Thailand for a price that is just slightly higher than what you would pay for a blank rewriteable DL DVD.
We bought our Vista RTM copy in a regular store in an upscale mall in Bangkok. Vista, along with other expensive software, was prominently on display at several stores with prices ranging from $2.50 to $5.00 (US).
Photocopies of the front and back box covers are usually displayed along with a three digit number. Customers simply write down the numbers of the software they want to purchase and take them to the store's cashier. After paying in the store, it takes about ten minutes for a runner to bring a freshly burned copy of the software.
According to media reports, every few months the Thai police sends people to raid some of the stores, but the officers often end up empty handed. Since the DVDs are burned off-site, there is often no contraband at the store. In addition, stores appear to be well connected and are often told in advance when the police will raid the mall.
Back at home, we found that we had bought a fully functional RTM version and virus-free of Windows Vista that would allow us to install Vista Basic, Vista Premium, Vista Business or Vista Ultimate. We passed on installing the software, but the back cover paper claims that neither a product key nor activation is required to install the software.
In exchange for the savings, however, there is some inconvenience for the user of a pirated Vista RTM: Users are instructed to set their BIOS date to 2099 before installing the release. The date is set back to the regular time after installation. We were not able to confirm that this hack will pass Microsoft's Windows Genuine Advantage checks for software updates.
Back in March, Neil MacBride, vice president of legal affairs at the Business Software Alliance, told us that software piracy is a huge problem in Asia and that 79% of the software in use in Thailand is pirated. MacBride said his organization concentrates on the big-time pirates and likes going after businesses that use the software. BSA often publicly names companies if they are caught using pirated software.