Windows 10 to launch 'this summer' with free upgrades even for pirated copies

Windows 10 is officially in the home stretch, with Microsoft's top Windows executive committing to a summer launch date and, in a surprise announcement, offering free upgrades on PCs running pirated editions of earlier Windows versions.

Microsoft has inched closer to announcing an official release date for Windows 10. The new operating system, which is currently in a public preview release, "will launch in 190 countries and 111 languages around the world this summer," according to the company.

Executive Vice President Terry Myerson, who runs the Windows division, made the announcement at the WinHEC conference in Shenzhen, China, yesterday.

In a separate interview, Meyerson told Reuters that the company plans to deliver free Windows 10 upgrades to all customers, even those running pirated versions of Windows. "We are upgrading all qualified PCs, genuine and non-genuine, to Windows 10," Myerson told Reuters.

Update, 19-March: Microsoft has issued the following statement in regard to upgrades for "non-genuine" PCs:

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.

A launch in summer shouldn't come as a surprise. That schedule would square with the one Meyerson projected at the Windows 10 unveiling in San Francisco last fall, when he told reporters the company was aiming to deliver the completed version of Windows 10 by mid-2015.

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The additional detail about free upgrades for "non-genuine" (i.e., pirated) copies of Windows was a surprise. Earlier, Microsoft said that consumer PCs running Windows 7 and Windows 8.1 would be entitled to free upgrades to Windows 10 for the first year after the product is released. A Microsoft spokesperson confirmed via email that the plan to allow upgrades for non-genuine copies of Windows applies to all markets and is not limited to China.

Meanwhile, the scheduling announcement leaves multiple unanswered questions. Because Windows 10 is designed to support continuous, rolling updates, it's possible to "launch" the product as an upgrade while still continuing to develop the core code and accompanying apps. Will the summer launch date also allow OEMs to deliver new Windows 10 PCs to customers, or will they have to wait until a later "General Availability" release? A Microsoft spokesperson was unable to answer that question for me.

In the Northern Hemisphere, summer ends on September 21. The newly announced launch date gives Microsoft only six months to complete development of Windows 10 and deliver it as a free upgrade to hundreds of millions of customers worldwide. That's an ambitious schedule, given that current preview releases are still missing key features such as the new Spartan browser and the just-announced Windows Hello and Microsoft Passport biometric framework.

In a separate technical track for Chinese OEMs, Microsoft disclosed supported upgrade paths for PCs and phones. Any PC running Windows 7 Service Pack 1 or the most recent release of Windows 8.1 can upgrade using the Windows Update path, as can phones running Windows 8.1. All other devices will need to be upgraded manually, using disk image (ISO) files. As previously announced, Windows RT devices will not be upgradable to Windows 10, although a future update will provide some features of the new OS.

upgrade-matrix-windows10.png

(Thanks to Brad Sams at Neowin for discovering that presentation.)

This post has been updated since its original publication to include details from a Microsoft spokesperson about worldwide availability of free upgrades.

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