I've recently built a new PC and needed a copy of Windows XP Professional to load onto it. I found an advert on Gumtree for a copy of XP Pro OEM, exactly what I needed, so I emailed the seller who confirmed he had one available. I sent the cheque and waited for weeks for it to arrrive; finally I became fed up with waiting and found a copy on eBay, the listing stated it was genuine (no less than 48 times) so I bid on and won it. The copy bought on eBay arrived within the week and the copy bought via the Gumtree adverts arrived several days after that.
As I already had a copy of XP Pro SP2, I didn't bother opening the package but decided to use my original disk and the COA key number from the package I'd just won on eBay; the installer wouldn't accept the key number which was odd as both copies were XP SP2 OEM versions. I contacted the seller who told me that I would have to use the disk from the package, so I used that and the installation went well but did not ask me to activate Windows at the end of the process (OEM and retail versions must always be activated, VLM versions do not need activating). When I ran windows update, I was shocked to see that the installation had failed the Windows Genuine validation process (see below).
I decided to investigate the COA key number and by Googling, found many references to the file SETUPP.INI which resides in the i386 directory of the XP CD, so I decided to compare what was on this CD and compare it to my original CD:
eBay copy SETUPP.INI file:
Genuine copy SETUPP.INI file:
According to the information that I found, the OEM section in the 2nd line of the genuine copy's SETUPP.INI file points to this being an OEM version (no surprise there) but the 270 in the same place in the file from the eBay CD indicates it's a Volume License version; at this point I was certain that I'd been sold a fake copy of XP as all the markings indicate that this should be an OEM version. I then started to compare the CDs, packaging and the handbook to confirm my suspicions that this was indeed a counterfeit copy. Below are a series of images comparing various aspects of the counterfeit copy against the genuine item:
The fake COA, clearly showing the OEM marking (click image for larger view)
Compare this to a genuine COA on Microsoft's How to tell webpages. This COA passes most of the tests including the hologram strip being embedded into the COA.
Close up view of the fake COA, notice the creases where it's stuck to the back of the wrapper because there is no plastic backing behind it (click image for larger view)
View of the fake package, note the red star stuck on the wrapper may be present on genuine versions although the one I have does not have this (click image for larger view)
The CD sleeve (click image for larger view).
Note the SP2 sticker; my genuine copy has this printed on the sleeve as below:
Genuine XP SP2 OEM CD sleeve (click image for larger view)
The fake inner hologram label is a sticker stuck onto the CD (click image for larger view).
Notice how a piece of card catches the edge of the sticker as you run it across, the ridge is thick enough to detect with a fingernail through the CD sleeve and the package wrapper. This is about the best test that you can make to detect a fake copy whilst it's still in its wrapper. The main CD hologram label is also a sticker but it's much more difficult to detect and I couldn't feel the edge with the CD in its sleeve. See below for a genuine CD:
The genuine CD label (click image for larger view).
Notice how the inner holgram appears to be a part of the main hologram with a much less pronounced edge than the fake one above.
The fake CD label (click image for larger view).
Notice the creases in the label indicating that it is stuck onto the CD. On a genuine Windows CD, the hologram label is part of the top surface of the disk and not stuck on.
The fake CD showing the Windows flag hologram (click image for larger view)
Notice how the panel containing the flag hologram appears to stand out from the rest of the surrounding hologram and also that the edges of the earth image inside the panel are misaligned with the earth image in the surrounding hologram. Another feature you may notice is the 'GENUINE' text above the flag panel with 'XP' at right angles; these 2 hologram details should never be visible at the same time. Compare this to the genuine CD below:
The genuine CD showing the Windows flag hologram (click image for larger view)
The genuine CD showing the text 'GENUINE' (click image for larger view)
Notice that the 'GENUINE' text is visible without the 'XP', the 'XP' text is only visible by tilting the CD and is never visible at the same time as the 'GENUINE' text.
1st view of the Windows flag hologram (click image for larger view)
2nd view of Windows flag hologram from a different angle (click image for larger view).
The flag and surrounding image should be a 3D image, so the clouds and the TM mark should move relative to the flag as the disk is tilted; in this case there is no apparent movement.
Partial view of the fake handbook's front cover (click image for larger view).
Compare the quality of the printing to the genuine handbook below:
Partial view of the genuine handbook's front cover (click image for larger view).
Notice how much sharper the text is, especially in the 'start' button.
View of the Microsoft logo on the front of the fake handbook (click image for larger view).
Compare this to the genuine handbook below:
View of the Microsoft logo on the genuine handbook (click image for larger view).
Again, notice how much sharper the text appears compared to the fake one.
View of the microtype on the back cover of the fake handbook (click image for larger view).
According to Microsft's website, most fakes have a solid line instead of microtype here; obviously the fakes are improving. Compare this to the genuine handbook below:
View of the microtype on the back cover of the genuine handbook (click image for larger view).
It's difficult to tell because my camera doesn't do good close up shots, but the microtype is sharper on the genuine handbook.
Pictures of the inside front and rear covers of the fake handbook (click images for larger view).
Compare the printing quality to the genuine handbook below:
Pictures of the inside front and rear covers of the genuine handbook (click images for larger view).
Notice the much better print quality, especially in the shadow underneath the window; the fake handbook shows a significant amount of noise (graininess) in this area whereas
the shadows are smooth in the genuine handbook. Also, you'll notice how much sharper the text is on the genuine handbook.
Finally, guess which is the genuine handbook (click images for larger view).
Do you really think Microsoft would allow glaring printing errors like the one on the right to leave the printers? Again, you will notice
how much clearer the text is in the genuine handbook.
Printing is an expensive process, high quality printing is even more so (I know because I work in the pre-press industry). The genuine Microsoft handbooks are printed using
at least 6 colours that I can identify, the fake is printed using what appears to be a conventional 4 colour (CMYK) process. The registration of the printing (accurate alignment
of the various coloured dots make up the image) is excellent on the genuine article but is poor on the counterfeit copy; good registration takes time and good quality equipment
to achieve, clearly the counterfeiters do not have access to or do not want to spend the money to use good equipment and a skilled press operator.
If you think you have been sold a counterfeit copy, feel free to if you want some help identifying whether it's genuine or not.
I cannot publicly name the fraudsters who sold me these items but, if you feel that you may have had dealings with the same people, tell me and I'll confirm whether or not they are
the people I dealt with.
Also, consider submitting a report to Microsoft via their 'Is it genuine' pages; if you can provide a receipt from the seller and are willing to send in the counterfeit item, you may be
entitled to a reduced price or even free copy of Windows.
Last updated 28 February, 2008.