Microsoft will make it somewhat easier for people running counterfeit copies of Windows to get legal as they upgrade to the newest edition, Windows 10, the company's top OS executive said Thursday.
"We'll offer a one-click opportunity to get Genuine via the Windows Store or by entering an activation code purchased elsewhere," said Terry Myerson, who heads Microsoft's Windows and devices teams, which were recently reorganized under the "More Personal Computing" umbrella.
"Genuine" is Microsoft's nomenclature for a legal license to its software.
Myerson said that the move, which he called experimental, would debut "soon" in the U.S. and would be expanded to other markets if it works here. "We'd like to welcome as many of these customers as possible to the legitimate Windows ecosystem," he added in a post to a Microsoft blog.
The company will not give away Windows 10 to those whose PCs are powered by a pirated version, sticking with the decision it made earlier this year after some considerable back and forth.
In March, Myerson was quoted by Reuters as saying that pirated copies of Windows 7 and Windows 8.1 could be upgraded to Windows 10 under a just-announced free upgrade program that Microsoft later kicked off in July. At the time, Microsoft confirmed that Myerson's comments to the wire service were accurate, leading to conclusions that the company was offering an unprecedented amnesty.
But within hours, the Redmond, Wash.-based company took back that confirmation, saying that although pirates could upgrade to Windows 10, the operating system would still be stamped as counterfeit.
Two months later, Microsoft retreated further. "Our free offer to upgrade to Windows 10 will not apply to non-genuine Windows devices," Myerson wrote in a May 15 blog post [emphasis added].
Speculation then and later that Microsoft would offer pirates a discount on Windows 10 to bring them into the legitimate fold turned out to be off base. Windows 10 Home lists for $120; the business-grade Windows 10 Pro costs $200.
Microsoft is able to streamline a get-legal move by pirates because of a recent change to the way Windows 10 activates, a process that pairs a device with a legitimate copy of the operating system. Two weeks ago, Myerson announced that build 10565 of the Insider preview program included the ability to activate using a product key -- a long alphanumeric code -- from an existing Windows 7, 8 or 8.1 license. Previously, Windows 10 only self-activated after extracting the earlier edition's key and storing it on Microsoft's servers.
The same mechanism will be used to activate a non-Genuine copy of an older version upgraded to Windows 10. Users will purchase a license, and thus a product key code, from Microsoft or third-party retailers like Amazon and Newegg.com, then enter it into Windows 10 to make their software legit.