Free upgrades for 'millions' of Windows users in China, but pirates may still have to pay

PUBLISHED : Friday, 20 March, 2015, 2:42pm
UPDATED : Friday, 20 March, 2015, 3:49pm

Chinese users of Microsoft Windows were delighted to find out this week that the tech giant will offer free upgrades to its latest operating system, even if users were previously using pirated software.

Microsoft, which announced this week that it was discontinuing its widely-used browser Internet Explorer, said it will partner with Chinese firms Qihoo 360, Tencent, and Lenovo to offer free upgrades of Windows 7, 8 and 8.1 to Windows 10 this summer. Windows 10 will also support the company's new web browser, codenamed Project Spartan.

The upgrade will be offered to all eligible users, even those currently running pirated software.

"We are upgrading all qualified PCs, genuine and non-genuine, to Windows 10," Terry Myerson, Microsoft’s Windows chief, said this week. He added that Microsoft wants to "re-engage" with the hundreds of millions of users of Windows in China

"Anyone with a qualified device can upgrade to Windows 10, including those with pirated copies of Windows," a Microsoft official confirmed to The Verge.

"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."

This would be a first for Microsoft, which has long struggled with piracy, particularly in China. On an online discussion forum, commenters said that when they attempted to upgrade from a pirated copy of Windows 7 to a Windows 10 technical preview, released before this week's announcement, they were greated with a black screen saying "This copy of Windows is not genuine".

Even this problem was not too great for resourceful hackers, who quickly posted tips on how to get past the black screen, including disabling automatic upgrades and certain plugins.

It remains to be seen whether any restrictions will be placed on upgrades from pirated software. According to The Verge, "it's quite possible that Microsoft will include some restrictions on unofficial copies that have yet to be mentioned. It could be a limited offer, include a trial period, or have some other promotion around acquiring a genuine license."

An estimated 74 per cent of commercial software used in China is pirated, compared to a global average of 43 per cent, according to industry group BSA, which tracks the use of unlicensed software.

China is a major market for Microsoft, with Internet Explorer remaining the country's web browser with a 36 to 47 per cent market share, according to China Internet Watch.

Lenovo, the world's largest PC manufacturer, said this week that all Lenovo computers, laptops and tablets will ship with Windows 10 from this summer. More than 2,500 Lenovo retail and customer service offices will also provide free upgrades to the latest OS for customers. Qihoo 360 and Tencent Computer Manager are also working on a simple "one click" upgrade method to help users update to Windows 10.

Xiaomi said this week that the Mi 4, its latest smartphone, will also run Windows 10.