Good news! Microsoft is going to flip the kill switch on versions of the OS that aren’t—or, more importantly don’t appear to be—properly licensed. Given how well WGA doesn’t work, I’m sure that this will lead to a lot of inconvenienced users.

Me? I think it’s a great idea. Stupid, but great. I can’t think of a better way to disrupt their monopoly than to make it difficult or impossible to use their software. After all, Windows’s ubiquity is due in no small part to the number of dodgy copies installed all over the world. If it starts getting painful to acquire or install Windows, the alternatives might benefit. In fact, according to the press release cited below, 35 percent of software worldwide is unlicensed—that’s a big potential market for alternatives.

You can read the newspeaky explanation in full straight from the horse’s mouth, but here are some excerpts (emphasis mine):

Product keys can be blocked for a number of reasons, including if the product key is abused, stolen, pirated or seized as a result of anti-piracy enforcement efforts. Product keys can also be blocked if they are beta or test keys and have been disabled, if there were manufacturing errors in the keys or if the keys have been returned.

In alignment with our anti-piracy policies we have been continually improving the experience for our genuine customers, while restricting access to ongoing Windows capabilities for those who choose to use counterfeit software. Reduced functionality mode has been a part of the initial Windows XP product activation process for retail and OEM (original equipment manufacturer) installations since its launch, and, similarly, Windows Vista will have a reduced functionality mode but one that is enhanced. Reduced functionality mode in Windows Vista will allow the user to use the browser after the reduced functionality mode has begun. Reduced functionality mode can occur as a result of failed product activation or of that copy being identified as counterfeit or non-genuine. In most cases customers will be able to correct this situation quickly with the options provided. With the tools in place for OEMs, and small to large customers, we expect that most customers should never be affected by having a non-genuine installation.

There’s an explanation translated into English at Ars Technica.

Don’t you love the concept of enhanced reduced functionality? The assertion that most customers should be unaffected also strikes me as wishful thinking considering their past form.

Microsoft won’t be going anywhere any time soon—they are just too big for that—but their monopoly might be on the wane. At RailsConf Europe, I saw a lot of Macs and PCs running Linux (mostly Ubuntu). By contrast, I only saw a couple of people using Windows. Microsoft might still have the mass market sewn up, but they are losing mindshare among the trendsetters and early adopters.

The Microsoft monopoly has stagnated desktop computing, but I don’t want to see Microsoft destroyed: I just want it to lose its monopoly position, and to be forced to compete on quality once again. That’s all. With the delays, setbacks, and failures that have characterised the development of Vista, and with this latest bullet-foot interface situation, I’m feeling optimistic.