In a highly unusual move by any tech company in the United States, Microsoft has decided to offer those who have pirated copies of Windows 7 and 8 a chance to freely upgrade to Windows 10 later this year.
According to Bill Rigby and Paul Carsten of Reuters, Microsoft is attempting to break into the Chinese consumer computer market, which mostly relies on pirated copies of Windows and other software. A recent study indicated that three-quarters of all PC software lack proper licenses in that country.
"We are upgrading all qualified PCs, genuine and non-genuine, to Windows 10," Terry Myerson of Microsoft's operating systems unit said.
Myerson added that Windows 10 will be available to the public sometime "this summer," the first time Microsoft has placed a date on the release. Reuters speculated that it may actually come out in the autumn, based on Microsoft's release history.
"Microsoft said in January it would offer free upgrades to Windows 10 for users of Windows 7 or later in an attempt to hold onto users and make up for lost revenue by selling services such as Office over the Internet," Rigby and Carsten wrote.
According to Tom Warren of The Verge, Microsoft first attempted to tackle the problem of software piracy by introducing license key verification for Windows XP; many pirates were able to get around this in 2001 thanks to a shared corporate license key. However, Microsoft released a statement explaining why the company is making Windows 10 free to all users regardless of license status.
"Anyone with a qualified device can upgrade to Windows 10, including those with pirated copies of Windows," a Microsoft spokesperson said. "We believe customers over time will realize the value of properly licensing Windows and we will make it easy for them to move to legitimate copies."
Warren cited studies that found many of the cases involving pirated Windows licenses end up on new machines "without customers even knowing they have an illegal copy." He also noted that can be a "headache" for customers to search for a legal copy of Windows, despite Microsoft trying various methods to reach them.
"Former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer revealed in 2011 that only one customer in every 10 is actually paying for Microsoft software in China, and he joined President Obama and other business leaders to highlight the issues," Warren wrote. "Microsoft has also continually highlighted the financial impact of software piracy, but it continues to be a problem in Brazil, Russia, India, and China."
Myerson told Reuters that Microsoft plans to work with Lenovo, the world's largest PC maker, to roll out Windows 10 in China to current Windows users.