September 13, 2006

Microsoft Redefines "Genuine"

Microsoft has a new advertising campaign focussing on their efforts to reduce "piracy" of their software, that is, the sale of their software in violation of license agreements. You can read about it here. They call this campaign the "Microsoft Genuine Software Initiative" and use the term "genuine" in contexts such as this:

In the month of May, 38,000 customers purchased genuine Windows software after being notified that they had been sold non-genuine software. Customers recognize that the value of genuine is greater than ever.

I find this use of "genuine" to be most peculiar. An unlicensed copy of Microsoft Windows is perfectly genuine. It has exactly the same functionality as a licensed copy and was made by the same company. In contrast, if you buy a "Rorex" watch, it is not genuine because it is not made by the Rolex company and does not have the aesthetics, functionality, and resale value of a real Rolex. What Microsoft is concerned about is the software equivalent of buying a refrigerator that fell off the truck. The problem is not that you are not getting the real thing - the problem is that the transaction is not legal.

I suspect that Microsoft is attempting to redefine "genuine" because it has had a hard time getting sympathy for its actual complaint, namely unlicensed distribution. Rightly or wrongly, many people consider Microsoft's software overpriced, or dislike its license conditions or business practices, or are just cheap and dishonest. Whatever the reasons may be, a great many people have little sympathy for a campaign based on Microsoft's legal or moral rights. I suspect that Microsoft is trying to reframe the issue in terms of genuiness in the hope of persuading consumers that Microsoft is looking after their interests rather than its own.

P.S. Some reader will likely respond that a licensed copy has greater functionality than an unlicensed copy because the user may be unable to install or use the unlicensed copy. That is true to some extent, but it is true only by virtue of Microsoft's efforts to block the use of unlicensed software, not due to any intrinsic property of the software. It is therefore not an argument for the superiority of the genuine article of the same sort as Rolex might make for its watches.

Addendum 2006-09-16 20:22 PST. A note to Slashdot readers. Quite a few people seem to think that I am lamenting how the language is going to the dogs because Microsoft is using the word "genuine" in a way that deviates from what I consider to be the correct meaning. Relax, that is not the point. All of us here at Language Log think that linguistic variation and change is normal and nothing to get upset about. (Some of us do occasionally pretend to complain about it, but it is always tongue-in-cheek.) The point I am making here is that rather that Microsoft is using "genuine" in a way that deviates from the way it is commnly used and that this evidently for the purpose of putting a deceptive slant on things.

Posted by Bill Poser at September 13, 2006 03:53 PM