Microsoft Corp. said it is tracing a key piece of code from its Windows Server 2003 software that was leaked onto the Internet, triggering concerns about piracy problems ahead of the company's scheduled product release later this month.

The volume-licensing key in question allows for unlimited installations of Microsoft's Windows Server 2003 server operating system, the next upgrade from Windows NT that is slated for release on April 24.

"We are investigating the situation. Microsoft can conduct a trace on the leak, and is looking into the specifics at this time," a spokesperson told internetnews.com

Reports say the leaked code may be from a Microsoft corporate customer, which could be a subscriber to one of the company's volume-licensing programs. Microsoft would not confirm any details of its ongoing investigation, other than to say its legal department is looking into the source of the leak, which could reportedly work with three different versions of Windows Server 2003.

But whether Microsoft can put the genie back in the bottle remains to be seen, given how easily the pilfered code could be spread and swapped on Web sites, newsgroups or through Internet Relay Chat(IRC), for example.

The news comes just over a week after Microsoft released its Windows Server 2003 code to manufacturers. As internetnews.com reported, the new server operating system, previously known as Windows .NET Server, is one of the cornerstones of Microsoft's .NET strategy -- together with Microsoft's Office 2003 and Visual Studio .NET 2003 products -- and paves the way for XML Web services and tightly integrated collaborative technologies. Just last month, it unveiled a pricing guide for the server operating system.

With a suggested retail price of $399, the Web Edition is a bare bones version of the Standard Edition geared to serving Web pages. The edition does not require client access licenses (CALs) and features a 2G limit on memory and 2-way symmetric multiprocessing (SMP).

The latest code leak is the second in less than a week, following news that a beta version of MSN 8.5 slipped out ahead of its release and without any official sanction by Microsoft.

Separately, Microsoft has detailed the latest version of its SharePoint Portal Server, which is currently being tested and could be available by this summer. The company calls the product a collaboration hub, which is part of wider suite of applications, middleware and servers, now being referred to as the Office System. The product will be known as Office SharePoint Portal Server 2003.