Free Windows 8 upgrades? Not so fast (or easy)...

Free Windows 8 upgrades? Not so fast (or easy)...

Summary: You might have heard reports that Microsoft has accidentally been giving away free licenses to Windows 8 Pro. Sorry, but that's not true. It's just another move in the long cat-and-mouse game between Microsoft and the pirates.

TOPICS: Windows

Everyone wants something for nothing. But contrary to reports published earlier today, Microsoft hasn't accidentally begun dispensing free copies of Windows 8 Pro.

The story, which appeared in ZDNet earlier today, originated at an enthusiast site and has since been widely reported.

Anyone who writes that these are 'legitimate activations' or 'free activation keys' needs to go back to Software Piracy 101.

Here's the whole story.

As a promotion, beginning with the General Availability of Windows 8 on October 25, 2012, Microsoft is allowing anyone with a copy of Windows 8 Pro to install the Windows Media Center Pack for free. The offer ends on January 31, 2013, and on February 1, the Media Center add-in will be a $9.99 update.

To get a free Media Center update, all you have to do is visit this online form and enter your email address. You'll get a license key for free. On a PC running Windows 8 Pro, you can enter that license key and unlock the Media Center features, including the ability to play back DVDs.

If you enter this key on a PC running Windows 8 Pro, you get exactly the effect you were expecting. You're entitled to the upgrade - enjoy it in good health.

If you enter this key on a new PC running the Core edition of Windows 8 (not Pro), you get an error message:


"This key won't work." So where's my free copy of Windows 8 Pro?

If you want that, you need to step far outside of normal retail channels and start hanging with actual software pirates.

Those jolly pirates (most of them enthusiasts who play the piracy game for sport) have figured out that they can use product keys intended for use by Volume License customers and then activate those keys using a Key Management Service (KMS) server. Several semi-underground Windows-oriented websites have published details on how to find 'open' KMS servers on the Internet.

Normally, a PC that is activated using a KMS key has to check in with the KMS server every week and renew its license every 180 days. But if you have already installed a pirated copy of Windows 8 Pro and used an unauthorized KMS server to activate it, you can use the free Media Center Pack product key to "add features" to your installation. When you do that, the license information stored on your PC is replaced with new details that use the new product key. The result is that your system appears to have a legitimate Windows 8 Pro license.

Let me repeat the key part of that sentence: If you have already installed a pirated copy of Windows 8 Pro and used an unauthorized KMS server to activate it...

In order to take advantage of this loophole, you need to have acquired a volume license product key from an unauthorized source, downloaded the VL installer files from a pirate site (or tampered with legitimate installer files for Windows 8 so they appear to be Volume License media), and then deliberately activated the resulting installation using a server you're not authorized to use.

You are not going to do any of those things by accident.

In other words, the only people doing this are already confirmed pirates. And the resulting installation, although it is indeed properly activated, does not have a valid license. Go ahead, try doing this on 25 PCs at your business and see what happens when you're audited.

This is all part of the cat-and-mouse game that has been going on between Microsoft and pirates for... well, forever.

At the beginning of the Windows 7 era, I looked at similar tactics that pirates were using to similarly hack their way into Windows installations that look legitimate but aren't. (See, Confessions of a reluctant Windows pirate.) Many of the techniques that I documented at that time have since been blocked or disabled. This is just the latest attempt.

Meanwhile, if you're that determined to get a Windows 8 update cheap, why not just pay the $40 and get a perfectly legal copy?

Microsoft declined an opportunity to comment on this story.

Topic: Windows

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.


Log in or register to join the discussion
  • True, it's not easy

    But at least. But of course it's kind of sad to not be able to afford a $40 upgrade. If you're too poor to spend $40, then why on earth do you have a computer?!
    • Honestly...

      I don't think this has anything to do with whether people can afford the upgrade or not. It's a game of cat and mouse.
      Ed Bott
      • Ed Bott So which is it Loverock Davidson

        the cat or the mouse?

        Have a happy turkey day and save a leg for Lovie
        Over and Out
      • My mistake

        I made a typo. I meant to say "But at least it's possible".
    • Scrape the sand out of your va-...

      Obviously people have $40 if they have a computer. You're just butthurt, because you were dumb enough to buy something that others get for free.
      Street Pharmacist
      • Yawn.

        Hey, SC...
        William Farrel
      • Poor people

        to Street Pharmacist
        Hey man dont mess with poor people, i used to be poor and i know what its like. I think you might be typing without thinking again fool.
        since when is it so bad for poor people to have a pc. i think its great. poor people need pc's probably more than you do you stuck up pos.
        they need it to find jobs housing especially if they are trying to turn their life around and be a functioning member of society.
        they need it to pay bills, comuinacate with and maybe mentor others that are in their situation. and many many more reasons.

        youre just a stuck up prick who probably has no idea what its like to be broke as F***
        I hope you end up in a situation where you might need assistance and cant get it and find out what its like to only get a limited amount of funds just to get further and further behind you judgmental B***

        p.s. if i cared about spelling and gramer i would have typed this in word 1st. and i just made this account to tell u to have some consideration for poor people and get off your high horse and i will never visit this blog again so talk all the crap you want.
        • oops

          sorry Street Pharmacist that was for Jabe124 i got the name mixed up my bad

          im not returning to this site anyway im out
    • Gift

      Maybe because my computer was a gift from friends?
    • Wrong question

      Instead of asking why should they have one, why don´t you realize that it´s better that they do (even for you).

      It´s so childish when people go on and on about piracy without looking at sizes of things. The losses reported by big business is overestimated. Just for starters, can you estimate how much economic development is directly linked to windows being pirated everywhere? That show up in, say, the clothes that you buy from China. Well. It´s simply foolish try to imagine a world where Microsoft had actually avoided any piracy. Now that the mirage is gone, try to think outside the 100% legal box (any historian will prove easily that laws have always changed and very probably will keep doing so)

      It´s even more staggering when people sit around TVs, radios, and don´t pay attention to how widespread that technology had to become, in it´s dawn, generally with the help of the state, and still don´t fully ponder the growing importance of computers, cellphones, the internet and all else that´s not even around yet...

      It´s a world where Negroponte comes up with the Netbook and gets stranded on an island. It´s the Iphone fashion world.
      Felipe Hoenen
      • spot on

        to Felipe Hoenen
        at least there are some people with sympathy for poor people, and understand how the world really works.
    • yea..

      im not poor, im just not stupid and would rather get it free then waste money on something i may not even like.
      Jerry Robles
      • Not stupid?

        If you aren't stupid, then why would you steal Windows 8 THEN waste money on something you may not even like?
    • How About Fair

      We've already spent thousands of dollars on hardware and software, I'd imagine most of us feel entitled.
      Kyle Moore
      • good piont

        to Kyle Moore

        good piont. even i havent thought of that.
        for exapmle, take the rapper 50cent should i feel bad that he only made say 500mil instead of 550mil?

        not me

        (i know those arent real figures of the currency that he hasa made, its just an example).
  • Is stealing garbage really a crime?

    Wow -- well good luck to them!

    Here's a better issue that MS should be concerned with: How many people who pirate W8 eventually choose to go back to 7!

    Perhaps this is all a big set up by MS. Like 'Fast and Furious' -- give hard core PC enthusiasts a way to get 8 for free then track to see how many of them hate it and go back.... Give back their ill gotten goods as it were.
    • To answer your question

      If you snatch a bag of garbage from a trash can, that is considered theft.
      If you take items left on the curb for the garbage collector, that too, is considered theft.

      In most cases, no one will press charges, but the option is there. However, if it's Microsoft's garbage, we know they will press charges.

      So the answer to your question is YES!
      • actually

        If it is on the public curb, your trash is no longer your property.
        • If you drop your phone

          does that then cease to be your property if it lands on a public curb?
          Little Old Man
          • thanks for asking

            No, the phone is yours. If you place that phone in your trash container at the curb though, all bets are off and in most places it is considered abandoned property in the public domain.