Microsoft will upgrade your OS for free, but won’t give you a free license

windows 10 on surface pro 3

Last week, a report from Reuters announced that Microsoft was going to upgrade Windows 7 and 8/8.1 users to Windows 10 free of charge. We’ve already heard that before, but this time the announcement came with some new information from a Microsoft executive. The report quoted Microsoft executive vice president Terry Myerson as saying, “We are upgrading all qualified PCs, genuine and non-genuine, to Windows 10,” in a telephonic interview. But while that does sound great to the ears of people currently running non-genuine Windows, that’s not what is happening here.

In a follow-up interview with Ars Technica after the initial announcement (and once the internet was thoroughly in a tizzy about pirates apparently getting the upgrade for free anyway), A Microsoft spokesperson contacted the website and confirmed, through a press release, that the wording used in their announcement was ambiguous, but also reiterated that the upgrade itself was free to pirates – turning the license from a non-genuine one to a genuine license is another thing altogether.

“With Windows 10, although non-Genuine PCs may be able to upgrade to Windows 10, the upgrade will not change the genuine state of the license,” the press release states. “If a device was considered non-genuine or mislicensed prior to the upgrade, that device will continue to be considered non-genuine or mislicensed after the upgrade.”

To give some context to what’s going on here, step back a bit in time with me. In early 2010, when Windows 7 was only six months or so old, the company issued a patch through Windows Update that would block some new cracks that were in use by people installing Windows on their computers and activating them using activation software. If you installed this update (KB971033), it would block any of the 70 known methods of bypassing Windows’ activation schemes and getting the license to register as genuine. However, if you unticked the update and hid it, you would continue to receive all the same security updates that a regular, licensed machine would – but Microsoft would now know that your license isn’t genuine because your machine doesn’t have it installed.

At the time, that was seen as goodwill by the company desperate at that point in time to get as many people off Windows XP and Vista as possible. The end result was pirates worldwide adopting Windows 7 because of this “turning a blind eye” behaviour, and it immediately solved the problem of market share – Windows 7 is, by far and away, more successful and popular than Windows XP in terms of market share. Most people were now on a new OS that wasn’t tied to decades-old thinking.

Back in today’s world, though, just allowing non-genuine Windows machines to upgrade to Windows 10 still doesn’t help Microsoft’s bottom line. Those licenses will remain non-genuine and Microsoft won’t have solved the piracy problem at all in the market they’re currently concentrating on the most – China. According to recent studies, about 74% of Windows installs in China used for personal or commercial use are non-genuine. Despite the free upgrades to the latest OS, those copies of Windows will still be cracked, they will still be non-genuine and they will continue to be excluded from Microsoft’s revenue pool.

However, this may be a result of new thinking at Microsoft that it might not even matter how much Windows is pirated – if they can give everyone access to the Windows Store and allow them to buy apps from it, that will keep the money coming in. There are a number of countries where a Windows license costs almost a quarter of your monthly pay and in these areas, piracy is invariably the order of the day because the people want Windows. If Microsoft is beginning to target the long-term revenue from users rather than setting a large asking price from the get-go, upgrading genuine and non-genuine licenses with Windows 10 might not be a bad way of going about it.

Source: Reuters, Ars Technica