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25/12: Windows XP activation woes and piracy in Pakistan

Some time back, I acquired a license key for Windows XP through my universities MSDN:AA program. Since my previous installation of Windows XP SP2 was getting sluggish, I thought of installing the new license on my PC (this was at the end of November). The installation went without a hitch. However, at the end, the activation screen popped up asking me to activate my copy of Windows. I proceeded with activation with the end result of getting an error that the copy had already been activated one time too many and to call customer support.

Now, the license I was using had only been used once before on a virtual machine (VMWare Server) on my own PC. I got the number for Pakistan from the drop down list. It was not a toll-free number. Anyhow, I dialled it but got no response except for an automated answering system telling me that the person at the receiving end wasn't picking it up and then terminating the call. I dialled multiple times during office hours but got no response from the activation number nor for talking to a technical support person.

After this, I looked at the Microsoft website (Middle East site) for any help but none was to be found. What I did find, were some numbers for the liaison office in Karachi. I tried dialling those three or four numbers a few times but there was no success. No body even picked up the phone to reply.




I then contacted the MSDN:AA program administrator at my university and told him about the situation while requesting that a new license key be issued to me. Thankfully, he accepted my request and sent me a new key immediately which activated without a hitch.

I had to go through all this trouble just for activating a single copy of Windows XP. My questions to Microsoft are simple:

1 - Why do you people cry so much about piracy in Pakistan when you folks aren't willing to help those who want to use licensed software?
2 - Why does Microsoft not have any proper representation in the whole country?
3 - Why isn't there anybody answering the activation number?

It's okay for Microsoft to bitch about piracy in Pakistan but as the facts stand today, they don't have anything more than a liaison office for the whole country in just one city. Availability of any licensed Microsoft software in the retail channel is absolutely nil. Microsoft has no representation in the country except for some odd partners, an office in Karachi and companies like Inbox who sell OEM computers. There is no basis for all the bad publicity when Microsoft itself does not wants to be in Pakistan. The only action Microsoft is known for in Pakistan is for sending BSA to threaten businesses to acquire genuine licenses while threatening them with heavy fines. A real life example, in front of me, is when BSA threatened one of my uncles for using non-licensed Windows XP in his office and he had to acquire genuine Windows licenses from Dubai. Microsoft is turning away prospective customers by giving them no support for their genuine software. Obviously, if it can't be activated, it can't be used after the activation period expires. As a result of this, an honest customer has no way to seek any help or support to get his installation of Windows working despite having a legitimate license key.

I can easily get the corporate version of Windows XP Professional from any computer shop here for Rs.40 (US$ 0.67) which would easily pass the Windows Genuine Advantage verification on Microsoft's site. If I am willing to go the extra foot to get genuine Microsoft software, why isn't Microsoft giving me proper support for it? Compare US$ 0.67 to US$ 300. Which one would be more beneficial and attractive to me? The costs of my calls to the various telephone numbers for activating my copy of Windows (which was unsuccessful) exceeded the cost of a pirated Windows XP CD!

What really amuses me is to see foreigners from virtually every country (chiefly USA, UK among others) visiting these computer shops and buying enough pirated CDs to fill multiple shopping bags. They start at one end and pick up all software, video and music CDs/DVDs they can and then dump them on the shop counters. Clearly, it is no longer an issue of ethics or respect for intellectual property when the residents of such countries where intellectual property laws are so heavily enforced are among the first asking for any new film/movie or software. Isn't this 'pot calling the kettle black' when they talk about piracy in Pakistan?

Khalid Omar has covered the causes and results of piracy in his blog post 'Software Piracy in Pakistan'. Khalid rightly states that the real cause of piracy is that there are no official channels through which the people in Pakistan can acquire genuine software. When anyone asks the BSA or any such similar organization about what and where one should go about to acquire genuine software, as Khalid did, their response is that 'we are in the business of stopping software piracy, not selling software'. I can do nothing else except raise my eyebrows and look at them as if they are vermin (which they really are).

The folks over at ChapatiMystery have posted an entry about the piracy issue and pointed out a solution which could actually work if implemented. They suggest:

"First, we need legal sale points for DVDs, games and software. Second, they need to be competitively priced. Dare I suggest a capitalist enterprise subsidize their product? Yes, I do. Apple’s iTunes has conclusively proved the feasibility of legal downloads of music for an attractive price. But how to produce a legal DVD that can sell in Pakistan? Move the production facilities for the region into the region. Have locally produced copies available in the market for a slight premium. I’d wager that a consumer in Pakistan will fork over Rs. 400-500 (~US$ 7)for an attractively packaged, blemish free product. In essence, we need legitimate venues both for capitalist enterprise and for building good little consumers."

I wholeheartedly agree with their suggestions. If, as Khalid points out, Microsoft Windows and Microsoft Office are available in Thailand for US$ 40 apiece, why can't the same be made available at an equal or an even lower price in Pakistan? I guess one of the problems here is the government of Pakistan who bend over backwards to appease Microsoft when they should instead be appeasing the people of Pakistan by forcing Microsoft to cut their product prices.

I posted about this activation issue on FFA forums. you can read my post here. Another forum member, hga, replied:

"Thanks a lot for your commentary and the link to "KO :: Software Piracy in Pakistan" which I highly recommend, with the caveat that the author doesn't seem to entirely understand the difference between Retail and OEM versions of Windows. (Retail is full price and can be moved from machine to machine. OEM is heavily discounted and is limited to living on only one machine. I build my own machines and due to the style in which I use them over their lifetime I buy OEM copies of Windows; similarly, all those old machines that end up in Pakistan plus new machines with bundled Windows have non-transferable OEM licenses.)

It echoes Asad's frustrations with Microsoft's severe failure to service the market of Pakistan, which I find very curious. Pakistan is a technologically advanced country (I remember getting my first dissecting kit when I was in grade school around 1970, and marvelling at the instruments that were all marked "Made in Pakistan"), it has 167 million people, and with a purchasing power parity per-capita GDP of 2,800 US$ it has crossed the critical threshold for development. Notably, only 20% of it's GDP is agriculture.

There is simply no economic reason for Microsoft to be all but completely ignoring the country, except that in the short term their office would probably not make a profit. But if honest people can't buy a legitimate copy of Windows (Retail or OEM) for love or money, and the company's only visible presence is in "enforcement" actions, how is Microsoft ever going to change the "culture of piracy"? In the long term, Pakistanis and other developing Third World countries will be able to afford world prices for software, and even in the most optimistic scenarios I don't see FOSS completely displacing proprietary software by then (will there be a free equivalent of MATLAB by then???)."


There was recently a controversy over the issue of Windows Vista license. If I were to use Windows Vista and encountered the same problem as above, I would have only one legal option. I would have to get a new retail copy which would set me back a hefty sum. The other option would be to walk/drive a few hundred meters to the market and pick up a Windows Vista Ultimate edition DVD for Rs. 100 (US$ 1.67). So long as the activation problems remain, I have no other but one feasible option in such a scenario.

The alternative, open source software, is a viable solution. However, the problem with it is that it is difficult to download hefty ISO files over 56K dial-up connections which are most commonly found in Pakistan. I myself am able to acquire the newest distros of Linux (like SUSE, Ubuntu, Fedora, etc) using the internet resources I have available and have sent them to people in other cities of Pakistan who show an interest in them (the only cost they incur is the media and shipping costs - ~ Rs.70-100 (US$ 1.67) for DVD media and Rs.100 (US$ 1-1.67) for shipping). PLUC (Pakistan Linux Users Community) is a dud as far as getting new distros is concerned. I offered them the latest Linux distributions once but never got any response. They don't even have DVD versions of the Linux distributions. In my opinion, it is a useless community. They have the ridiculous policy that the distributions can only be sent from their contact in USA. They don't accept any distributions contributed by any community member. So much for community effort and participation...

So what is a normal Pakistani to do until these problems are solved? The only solutions that I see are to either keep using pirated software or else shift over to open source software; whichever makes you happy and brings you more satisfaction.
Asad  Computers 
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Comments made

A well written article, and I agree if the hassel of running around to get the correct license takes this long then its far easier for us to walk to the computer shop and buy a CD. To me honest its too tempting to buy a free version as we KNOW that no one in Pakistan will ever give us 'decent' support let alone after sales service.

I on the other hand confess that I have lived with a 90% piracy dominated computer system (probably the only Official version was the OS that came pre0installed with my laptop). To be very honest, it is the piracy market that made XP so popular in our region, otherwise the free OS like linux would have caught on much sooner, Windows is NOTHING too remarkable the only thing is 'everyone' uses it. I braved the winds and moved myself to Ubuntu (Linux) and strongly recommend people to start taking the plunge.

The upcoming Vista release will FORCE you to upgrade your hardware. Don't get stuck in that viscous cycle. Adopt a Free Operating System and Live free
25/12 20:11:20
I have discussed this problem a number of times with Asad, online and in person. A number of people tried this but always failed.Alas, there seems to be no solution.Linux is and was always the only solution.
25/12 22:21:08
@ Teeth Maestro:

Good for you to have braved the wild sea named Linux and reaching your destination safely.I have thought of shifting over but the investment of time required is currently too much for me. I will probably need a kick start in the form of Microsoft pulling support for the 'Microsoft sponsored piracy' by using stricter activation criteria. Then again, I can use my licensed copy of Windows XP as long as I want. Since Microsoft has started sending Windows Vista to its MSDN subscribers, I expect I will have a genuine license for Windows Vista soon enough.

As far as the hardware requirements for Windows Vista are concerned, I think my PC can easily handle it even if I throw the Aero interface and a few of the DirectX 10 games at it.
25/12 22:41:16
Nice Post there AsadAsif :) ... we need some attention, you 'ear me M$!!
26/12 00:23:45
Great article, I really like being able to hear about the piracy issues from a Pakistani viewpoint. You made some great points but sadly the system will never change.

Responding to the part where you pointed out that Americans are the pot calling the kettle black, I can definitely see where you are coming from. I'll not deny the accusations. Yes, a great many Americans have no respect at all for intellectual property rights and piracy laws, but thats because the companies have no respect for us either. There was a time not too long ago when a man trained himself in one trade and took pride in it. We respected our companies and they respected us. Heck, capatalism flourished so well here because people were proud of their company and worked hard to make it the best. Microsoft was a few geeks in a garage who loved computers and programming when they started. It grew because people put their hearts and souls into that company.

When a few more dollars in the pockets of the executives became more important than the people doing the actual work, the workers lost respect. Individual programmers (the artists doing the creating) give up all rights to their creations yet have no say to anything that happens down the line and rarely if ever see a percentage (no matter how small proportionally to their contribution) of the profits, just a set fee. The music and movie industries are especially guilty of this kind of thing. The artists making "hit records" get pennies per album, while customers pay US$15 in a store. It's gotten to the point where several musicians and (independant) film makers actively encourage piracy of their works. They basically see no money from the works and so give them away hoping to make it up in concert sales or donations.

It's present in every industry, though we pay the most attention to software and digital media. When I worked retail jobs to put myself through college, the taint was there too. My managers (who's in charge of making sure nothing like this happened) or coworkers sought me out immediately and filled me in on how things worked in *this* store... There were "missing" shipments, shoplifters we "couldn't catch", spoilage, accidental breakage, or any other euphamism you can think of for product that was unofficially allowed to disappear. Customers, employees, deliverymen, everybody stole. Heck, when I worked at a gas station/24 hour food store even the police stole from us, with our permission no less. Yet the store made a profit. That's what spurred it on worse, in spite of the rampant theft we still made a profit!

Banks charge fees for keeping an account open, closing an account, having too little money, spending too much, taking money out at the counter, taking money out of an ATM, check cashing checks, paying bills online, getting money orders to pay bills offline, "account maintenance fees", and a hundred others. Checks going out to pay bills are processed immediately, but paychecks or account transfers suffer three day holds, causing late payment fees or bounced check fees. Credit card companies literally ruin people's lives, yet they've become almost essential. They take so many tiny amounts from us in so many ways that it's hard to keep track. And it's all legal. The banks get richer, the poor get poorer and have no means of recourse. Without a bank account, it's impossible to get housing or transportation, yet with the bank account their money is taken from them.

In my opinion, piracy is a symptom not the problem. The rampant lack of respect for laws and property is only a warning sign. People no longer respect the companies producing goods, the companies don't respect their employees, and the laws are not enforced. When everyone is guilty, the system fails. It may just be that I live and work in a particularly corrupt area, or I may just be paranoid, but I believe a class war or widespread riot is not so far off. The poor are restless and the rich complain, an uprising of some sort is unavoidable.
26/12 15:17:01
@ the_caitiff:

Thank you for the comments.

That is an interesting perspective on piracy which I hadn't considered fully before today. Thanks for bringing it to attention. With the prolonged 'crusade of the media and software companies against piracy, one gets used to thinking in the same perspective.

Your argument certainly holds weight. If I respect some company and am loyal to them, I would definitely buy their products but would stop doing so once I lose my respect. It is a common enough phenomena and is not limited to piracy alone. People go to different shopping areas depending on where they get the best deal and value for their money. A business executive may just go to a more expensive store and get his stuff from there if it is less hassle and it saves him time even if he/she has to pay more. A clerk, on the other hand, will go to the store which offers the same stuff at the lowest prices. Think WalMart vs Target here.

The effect of employees (or the creators) getting the minimum advantage from the profits can be seen in every industry. In Islamabad, this has been seen in the education sector where highly qualified teachers have left the educational institutions (like City School and Beaconhouse) in which they worked for over a decade when they didn't get a decent salary and benefits for their hard work. The riff raff they call teachers these days in these schools is not qualified at all to teach. For me, this is a clear cut example of the point you make.

The reason the software and film/media industry seems to be so up in arms over piracy is because they have the monetary resources to show their point of view on the internet and other media. They can't do anything more than sue teenagers and 80 year old grandparents.

One thing I have seen is how underground music bands are using the internet to promote themselves by giving out free copies of their songs. This is a brilliant tactic and it is getting them huge promotion which is not possible using conventional media in the same amount of money.

The problem with piracy, especially when it is at too high a level, is that it hurts the software industry of the country. Numerous software houses have closed down here due to high expenses with no profits on their products which were pirated.
26/12 19:07:01
@ AbbasJin:

Thank for the comment. Yeah, Microsoft definitely needs to pay attention or even their honest customers will lose interest in acquiring genuine software products. After all, who doesn't likes to save (quite a few) bucks which could be better spent elsewhere.
26/12 19:13:06
"Register within 30 days or the lights might go out on your career if you don't have a valid version ............ "

For a career limiting move make sure that you don't let staff install Vista in your office hacked and cracked. If you do then see how long you survive in the IT industry!"

See Hasta La Vista
27/12 17:16:50
@ the_caitiff:

Interesting insight into the American system , they made us believe that only Pakistanis are crooks!
28/12 22:02:33
@ Usman:

And you really believe that? American media is adept at spreading rumours and lies as truths. But I digress from the topic...

As I mentioned in the post, foreigners are among the first in these shops which have pirated CDs/DVDs, asking for the latest releases.
28/12 22:11:17
I have seen them myself at it. They very happily buy pirated stuff, pretty much all. What I actually believed was and even you told me so, that majority of Americans use genuine stuff. And very little minority of people in Pakistan use genuine stuff. So if you make a comparison, the picture that comes is Pakistan is one of the places where software piracy thrives. And I used to think this way in the past. My view has shifted some what since.

Now one more thing if you are cognizant of all these rumours you should have done some post on it. Many people in Pakistan still believe what i belief and given no ray of light, it is not unreasonable. The thing is if its common abroad, a position you didn't previously hold, you should tell people about it, not keep it secret or keep away from the discussion of it.
29/12 10:08:02
@ Usman:

It is naive to think all American consumers use genuinely licensed software. If that were so, the multitude of torrent and crack site wouldn't be flourishing so much. Corporations have to get genuine software. I am not so sure about home users who can easily get a copy off the internet.

What specific rumours are you referring to? I have tried to dispel the mistaken belief that piracy is prevalent in Pakistan without any just cause. As I state in the article, the anti-piracy group has the money to use the media. Since we often watch this same media, we drift to their point of view without giving it any thought ourself.
29/12 13:17:32
Rumours about Pakistan of course and these are mostly rumours; that we have got no respect for intellectual property rights,this and that.That Pakistan has no proper enforcement of anti-piracy laws.

If I am not wrong, I think our country is one where M$ conducted their anti-piracy campaign effectively, hounding traders at the Hafeez Centre for using counterfeit windows.
29/12 14:31:10
@ Usman:

I would simply state that respect is earned, not given freely nor under threats.

I see a lot of positive potential for Microsoft in the country only and only if Microsoft actively works to become a part of the Pakistani market and invests in high tech research and development centres. Microsoft is already active in academia but the level of activity/participation from Microsoft, as it seems to me, is negligeable when compared to some other countries.

Sometimes, I think what we need to do is to get rid of family planning, increase our population to over a billion people and then see how many companies jump into the market just on the basis of market size. Perhaps we can take some guidance from our neighbour in this matter. ;)

And yes, that was just a joke to lighten the mood... Don't even think of starting on the target of increasing the population to a billion people. :D
29/12 19:03:02
I've tried every single Microsoft operation system since the IBM XT, and have now given up on them. Vista doesn't interest me - despite some obvious improvements over XP, and even Linux, it's a dead end proposition. The built in DRM is enough to make me never even want to try it out, let alone use it. The tactics used by the BSA in Pakistan - well I've written about that earlier here.

I still have never seen a legal copy of Windows for sale in Pakistan. I don't see Vista legally available in the market any time soon either. I'd rather not pirate my OS, so Linux is the only viable option.
30/12 13:36:12
MY PANDA SOFTWARE IS NOT WORKING
31/01 12:56:56
@ Kabeer:

And how is that related to this article in any way?
22/02 23:23:35
very good
20/03 13:40:50
i have tried my best to search legal copy of operating system of windows XP prpfessional in the market of Pakistan if any body knows how to purchase Windows XP in Pakistan and also send me the price of Windows XP Professinal in Pakistani Rupees
27/02 15:14:32
Try Ubuntu !
26/01 20:36:36
http://www.shophive.com/shophive/Microsoft-Windows-XP-Home-SP2b-CD-p-5324.pakistan.html

check this link for possible price and availability of Original Windows

If someone has problems in windows intallations or so, try to locate a microsoft or Intel representative. These guys really help
04/07 23:43:39
good article but not perfect. There should be no piracy in PAKISTAN. Are you guys willing to help me in stopping piracy.
30/06 16:04:14

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