Speaking at the WinHEC (Windows Hardware Engineering Community) technology conference in Shenzhen, Microsoft Executive Vice President of Operating Systems Terry Myerson told Reuters, "We are upgrading all qualified PCs, genuine and non-genuine, to Windows 10." He went on to offer the first glimpse of a release date for Windows 10, sharing the news that the latest version of Microsoft's OS will release this summer in 190 countries and in 111 languages, jumping the company's usual autumn release pattern.
Considering Microsoft's decades-long history of fighting off those who might use its software without paying for the privilege, the move by the company to bring the tens of thousands (more likely millions) of outlying fugitive Windows installations into no-cost compliance is somewhat surprising. After all, Microsoft was the first to bring the practice of software activation into play, forcing purchasers of Windows XP back in 2001 to not only enter license keys to install the OS but also to jump through yet another hoop to activate those keys. So much has changed since those heady shrink-wrapped-box-insert-CD/DVD days, however, and with Apple making their operating system a free distribution with the introduction of OS X Mavericks in 2013, a free (well, sorta) Windows was really just a matter of time.
Though Myerson's remarks were targeted specifically to China, a market notorious for software piracy and one for which Reuters cites studies showing that no less than 75% of all PC software is unlicensed (or not "genuine", to borrow MSFT parlance), the effects of Microsoft's new approach to licensing Windows 10 are sure to cause a sea change worldwide.
Update: In a statement to Polygon Microsoft clarified that the upgrade to Windows 10 will "not change the genuine state of the license.", and thus non-genuine copies of the Windows 7 and Windows 8/8.1 will not taken on "Genuine" status as a result of their free ascension to Windows 10.
The consumer free upgrade offer for Windows 10 applies to qualified new and existing devices running Windows 7, Windows 8.1 and Windows Phone 8.1. Some editions are excluded from the consumer free upgrade — including Windows 7 Enterprise, Windows 8/8.1 Enterprise, and Windows RT/RT 8.1. Active Software Assurance customers in volume licensing have the benefit to upgrade to other Windows 10 enterprise offerings.
We have always been committed to ensuring that customers have the best Windows experience possible. 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. Non-Genuine Windows is not published by Microsoft. It is not properly licensed, or supported by Microsoft or a trusted partner. 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. According to industry experts, use of pirated software, including Non-Genuine Windows, results in a higher risk of malware, fraud (identity theft, credit card theft, etc), public exposure of your personal information, and a higher risk for poor performance or feature malfunctions.