Over the course of summer 2015, Microsoft has been rolling out its latest version of the world’s most popular operating system. And, for anyone running Windows 7 or 8, Windows 10 is absolutely free.
Microsoft has never been known for handing out its operating systems gratis, but those paying attention will have noticed that the company decided to skip a Windows 9 release. Perhaps the free upgrade is part-apology, part-distraction: it sure helps to distance the new product from the ill-fated touch-based Windows 8 release (and, coincidentally, brings the company up to date with Apple’s rival OS X).
Whatever the reason, Windows 10 is here – and what’s more, it looks like it’s here to stay. That’s because the company has been billing this latest version as more of a service than a product. In layman’s terms, this means that updates will occur automatically and continuously over time – as and when they’re needed (unless they’re pro actively switched off) – in contrast to the status quo, in which users updated their OS in one go.
Along with this announcement of a continuous update approach, came the news that Windows 10 will also be freely available to anyone running a pirated or ‘non-genuine’ version of Windows 7 or 8. Microsoft has been criticised in the past for its heavy handed approach to piracy – with the much-feared ‘kill switch’ pushing many towards an alternative OS for their home computing. The amnesty announcement came in early March, when Windows chief Terry Myerson explained: “We are upgrading all qualified PCs, genuine and non-genuine, to Windows 10.”
When the news first broke, there was a lot of speculation about why the company was adopting this new approach. As you’d expect, this Forbes article takes a business-minded stance, pointing that “even though Microsoft has long struggled with piracy issues, licensing is becoming an increasingly less important part of their revenue model. It’s dropped from 23 percent of revenue to 16 percent, year over year, between Windows and Office licenses.” The upshot of this is that even pirates – with their illegal copies of Windows 10 – are more likely to spend money on other Microsoft products, such as Skype and Office 365.
Another argument is that Microsoft is trying to consolidate its user base and build loyalty among its millions and millions of fans. Much like a library might hold an amnesty to encourage people to return books with large late-fines attached to them, Microsoft wants to bring as many of its users on side as possible – and to reduce the risk of losing yet more of the market to Apple and Android platforms. As Forbes puts it: “In one clean sweep, Microsoft can convert millions of pirates into legitimate users. Rather than spending a fortune trying to develop anti-piracy measures that pirates will inevitably crack within a week of release, Microsoft is giving everyone a clean slate, and making it much easier to become a legitimate customer of their other products if they so choose.”
But all this speculation was turned on its head with a second announcement that, although non genuine copies of Windows 7 and 8 will be able to update to Windows 10, they’ll still be labelled as non genuine. Here’s how the clarification was worded: “Although non-genuine PCs might be able to upgrade to Windows 10, the upgrade will not change the genuine state of the license. This applies across geographies. Customers that are improperly licensed before the upgrade will be improperly licensed after the upgrade. We will provide a mechanism for non-genuine Windows 10 PC devices to “get genuine” via the new Windows Store, whether they are upgraded versions of Windows or purchased. We will have details on this as we get closer to launch.”
So a slightly less surprising approach than initially understood, but still newsworthy given Windows’ hard-line attitude in the past. Since the upgrade has been made available, those with pirated copies of Windows 7 and 8 have been reporting a smooth and successful upgrade process. As you’d expect (and as Microsoft promised), once these users have made the update, they are encouraged to ‘make the switch’ to a legitimate copy. We can imagine that this offer will be particularly attractive to anyone running an non-genuine copy of the operating system by mistake – either because they bought a second hand computer with an illegitimate version already installed, or because they were conned into buying a ‘knock off’ at some point along the way.
But for other non-genuine users – operating fully in the knowledge that they’re doing something illegal and potentially quite risky – we are left wondering how long it will take for the techy pirates to find a way to flick the switch from a non genuine to a fully legal-looking version of Windows 10.