With Windows XP, antipiracy measures were a bit of an afterthought. But with Windows Vista, Microsoft had pirates in its sights from the get-go.
Even the unique Vista retail packaging--a plastic box with one round corner--was designed, in part, to thwart counterfeiters. And the packaging is just the start; most of Microsoft's antipiracy work is built-into the software itself, meaning that just copying the code and getting a product key isn't enough.
One such exploit was dubbed "Frankenbuild" because it merged bits of the beta versions of Windows Vista with the final product in an effort to defeat the validation checks built into the software. But, thanks to technology built into Vista, Microsoft was able to update its defenses and start flagging such systems--even those that initially passed activation--as illegitimate.
The antipiracy effort has been building slowly inside Microsoft. Microsoft began quietly testing a Windows Genuine Advantage program in 2004 with an optional check that offered no benefits for taking part, nor penalties for machines that didn't pass. The company quickly expanded the program, adding some incentives for those machines that were verified. The company later made the checks mandatory to download most Windows updates and add-ons.
Microsoft has seen reducing piracy rates as a way to boost its sales, particularly given that the fastest PC sales growth is coming in emerging markets where piracy rates tend to be higher.