Microsoft has retreated from earlier statements that owners of counterfeit copies of Windows 7 and 8.1 will receive a free upgrade to Windows 10 this summer.
Now the company says they won't.
"Our free offer to upgrade to Windows 10 will not apply to non-genuine Windows devices," said Terry Myerson, the head of Windows, in a May 15 post on a company blog that was as definitive as Microsoft has been thus far.
"Non-genuine" is Microsoft-speak for illegal copies, whether pirated or otherwise illegitimate licenses.
Myerson's post, which was dedicated to the topic of Windows 10 and non-genuine licenses, was the latest in a series of statements by Microsoft since March, when Reuters reported Myerson said pirated copies could be upgraded to the new OS using the free deal.
At the time, Microsoft backed Myerson's quote. "I can confirm Terry Myerson's statement to Reuters that Microsoft is upgrading 'all qualified PCS, genuine and non-genuine, to Windows 10,'" a company spokeswoman said in a March 18 email to Computerworld.
Within hours, however, Microsoft clarified what pirates would get, saying that although they could upgrade to Windows 10, the OS would still be stamped illegal.
"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," a Microsoft spokesperson said in a reply to questions on March 19. "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," the spokesperson added (emphasis added).
Myerson's Friday statement put an end to the short-lived belief in March that Microsoft would offer a one-time amnesty to pirates, and then later, that it would let them upgrade but still tag the OS as bogus, giving them a pseudo pardon.
At first glance, the most recent stance seemed unambiguous and final: Non-genuine Windows 7 and 8.1 will not get the upgrade Microsoft announced in January, which lets consumers and some businesses running Windows 7 or Windows 8.1 upgrade free of charge to Windows 10 for the 12 months following the OS's debut.
But on Friday when Myerson laid down the law about upgrades for pirates, he also said, "As we've always done, we will continue to offer Windows 10 to customers running devices in a non-genuine state."
Because of other comments Myerson made in the blog post -- including "We are planning very attractive Windows 10 upgrade offers for ... customers running one of their older devices in a non-genuine state" -- his mention of continuing to "offer Windows 10" to non-genuine copies may have been referencing some kind of discounted, but not free, upgrade.
Alternately, because Myerson spent time in the post talking about how Microsoft will identify a non-genuine copy -- "When we can't verify that Windows is properly installed, licensed, and not tampered with, we create a desktop watermark to notify the user" -- it's possible that Microsoft has not changed its position at all. In that scenario, Myerson was simply reiterating what the company said on March 19: Pirated copies could get Windows 10 free of charge, but would still be marked as pirated.
Such gymnastics are virtually required when parsing Microsoft's statements. Like many companies, technology and otherwise, Microsoft chooses its words carefully, and when it does disclose information, often does so in parcels that are by turns opaque, ambiguous and confusing to customers. That frequently forces it to retract or modify earlier comments.
It's more than likely that Myerson's reference to "very attractive Windows 10 upgrade offers" was the correct interpretation.
Why? Because in March, Myerson touted new partnerships with several Chinese companies to distribute Windows 10 upgrades, including computer maker Lenovo; China's biggest social network, Tencent; and Qihu 360, a Chinese security firm also known for its 360 Secure Browser.
Lenovo will provide upgrade services at its 2,500 service centers in China, while Tencent and Qihu 360 will each directly offer the Windows 10 upgrade to their users. Both Tencent and Qihu 360 have huge numbers of customers in the People's Republic: 800 million and over 500 million, respectively, according to Myerson.
Side note: Both Tencent and Qihu, which also distribute their own security software to Chinese users, were recently accused of cheating on tests conducted by a trio of antivirus evaluation labs.
The upgrade partnerships hint at an effort to get China's Windows users -- many of whom run illegal copies of the OS -- to go legit with Windows 10, as does Myerson's pledge of attractive offers, aka discounts. "We would like all of our customers to move forward with us together [to Windows 10]," Myerson said Friday, even as he denied that non-genuine copies of Windows 7 and 8.1 were eligible for the upgrade.
Also on Friday, he repeated a long-standing promise that once users are on Windows 10, they will receive "ongoing Windows innovation and security updates for free, for the supported lifetime of that device." Microsoft has yet to define the length of the "supported lifetime," but it will segregate devices by form factor for support.
Windows 10 will launch this summer.