Microsoft's on-again-off-again relationship with the Chinese government is on again

In Beijing, Microsoft and the Chinese government sign a deal that could bring Windows 10 to government-owned computers.

At a press conference today in Beijing, Microsoft announced a joint venture designed to bring it back into the good graces of the Chinese government.

The new joint venture is the next step in a partnership with China Electronics Technology Group (CETC) announced last September, to provide "world-class operating system technology and services for Chinese users in specialized fields in government institutions and critical infrastructure state-owned enterprises."

Today's announcement fleshes out details in the rapprochement between Microsoft and the government in Beijing. Things haven't been so good in recent years, with the Chinese banning Windows 8 use on government computers in May 2014 and then raiding the company's offices a few months later in an antitrust investigation.

Today's announcement is filled with qualifiers but is also cautiously optimistic. In a blog post signed by Microsoft executive Yusuf Mehdi, the company says:

Today, we're pleased to share another new development in China. We're announcing a new joint venture that will license, deploy, manage and optimize Windows 10 for China's government agencies and certain state owned enterprises and provide ongoing support and services for these customers.
The new joint venture which is subject to regulatory approval in China and is provisionally called C&M Information Technologies, will be based in Beijing and will serve government agencies, as well as state owned enterprises in key infrastructure fields such as energy, telecommunications, and transportation. C&M is being established in partnership with China Electronics Technology Group building on our previously-announced agreement.

The new joint venture is designed to create a "government-approved Windows 10 image," with "product activation, patch management, deployment services and product support" provided locally.

The announcement concludes on this slightly defensive note:

Importantly, we will maintain ownership of the core Windows 10 technology while working, as we've always done, to allow customers and partners to build components that plug into our platform. We'll continue to keep Windows 10 secure and sustain our strong privacy standards, while recognizing that public sector solutions may differ from technology offered to private sector enterprises and consumers around the world.

China is notorious as a hub of global piracy, with some analysts estimating that hundreds of millions of Chinese PCs are still running pirated copies of the now-unsupported Windows XP. Today's announcement adds some momentum to the move to an officially supported upgrade path to Windows 10.