In a move that raised a few eyebrows yesterday at the WinHEC event in Shezhen, China, Microsoft announced that they will be giving Windows 10 for free to all users, including those who are running illegal versions of Windows 7 and Windows 8.1. Piracy has always been a challenge for Microsoft and has known no borders although it is worse in parts of the world over others. Interestingly, this announcement was made in China where it is estimated that upwards of 70% of all Windows installs are illegal. With this move, Microsoft is effectively eliminating the desire or need to get Windows illegally which will cut down on support and spyware issues.
This change of tactic on piracy is nothing short of historic. By giving away Windows 10 for free, Microsoft is killing the need to pirate the software in the first place. Often people get illegal copies of Windows because they cannot afford or are unwilling to pay for the upgrades. Keep in mind that the upgrade to Windows 8 from Windows 7 was $99. That isn’t a lot of money for most people but in a world of $100 tablets, it becomes a barrier for many. Further, there are many people who have Windows 7 or Windows 8.1 running on their PC illegally and legitimately do not know it is illegal. They simply think they got a great deal. These latter cases are often worse as the bootlegged versions have spyware or other malicious software on them which compromises security for users and enterprises.
Does this mean that we have seen the end of days for pirated software, particularly Windows? Unlikely but it should significantly impact it. Users will be able to upgrade their PCs to Windows 10 without having to go find a deal on the software, thus killing the demand in the market. However, there will always been “special” versions of Windows that users will think they are getting a better version when in reality they are getting an illegal copy with spyware. Hopefully we will see less of it but I don’t see it being completely eradicated.
How Microsoft plans to do this is still a bit of a mystery but the assumption is that the Windows 10 upgrade will be offered through the Windows Update mechanism. That mechanism today is wrapped up in the Genuine Windows process to a degree which would have to be dealt with by Microsoft.
You can read the full discussion on this topic from Microsoft’s Terry Myerson over at Reuters