Windows 10 Is Free Only for 'Insiders,' but There May Be a Loophole

Microsoft backtracked from earlier plans to make pirated versions of Windows eligible for an upgrade. Now, however, a potential new loophole appears.

Windows 10

Microsoft caused a stir earlier this year when it said it was breaking from tradition and making Windows 10 available as a free upgrade even for Windows users running pirated copies. In May, the software giant backtracked, revealing that only legitimate Windows installs were eligible for the free update.

"While our free offer to upgrade to Windows 10 will not apply to Non-Genuine Windows devices, and as we've always done, we will continue to offer Windows 10 to customers running devices in a Non-Genuine state," Terry Myerson, then head of Microsoft's Operating Systems group, said in a blog posting at the time.

Now, courtesy of a change to the Windows Insider early software testing program, there appears a new way for users to go legit. That is, if they join Microsoft's software testing community and remain a part of it.

Ahead of the weekend, Microsoft general manager Gabriel Aul announced on June 19 that Windows Insider members who link their free Microsoft Account (MSA) to their PCs are essentially entitled to a copy of Windows 10 when it officially launches on July 29. Microsoft is requiring Insiders to link their MSA accounts to improve the program, Aul said in a statement.

"We're introducing new infrastructure in Windows Update to help us deliver new builds more effectively to Windows Insiders, and ensure that we're flighting builds to people who have registered and opted in to the program," Aul revealed. Microsoft pushes out pre-release Windows code in 'flights' denoted by build numbers. "Connecting your MSA also allows seamless access to Windows Insider-only functionality in the Windows Feedback app and Insider Hub too," he added.

After an MSA account is properly linked, the final Windows 10 will arrive like previous updates, Aul explained.

"Windows Insiders running the Windows 10 Insider Preview (Home and Pro editions) with their registered MSA connected to their PC will receive the final release build of Windows 10 starting on July 29th," he said. "As long as you are running an Insider Preview build and connected with the MSA you used to register, you will receive the Windows 10 final release build."

'Genuine' Windows Only

After a buzz-filled weekend, Aul returned on June 22 to clarify Microsoft's stance.

"Let me start by restating very clearly that Windows 10, whether you get it on 7/29 or whether you got it in a preview form through the Windows Insider Program, is intended to be installed on Genuine Windows devices," he wrote. Those who remain with the program can keep Windows 10, along with upcoming OS updates. Opting out will invalidate upgrades on pre-Windows 7 machines.

"This is not a path to attain a license for Windows XP or Windows Vista systems," Aul said. "If your system upgraded from a Genuine Windows 7 or Windows 8.1 license, it will remain activated, but if not, you will be required to roll back to your previous OS version or acquire a new Windows 10 license."

Users wanting to start off with a clean slate will have that option. "Once you have successfully installed this build, you will also be able to clean install on that PC from final media if you want to start over fresh," said Aul. Naturally, those running legitimate, non-pirated versions Windows 7 and Windows 8.1 are subject to Microsoft's free upgrade offer, he reminded.

There's no free ride for some business users, either. "If you are running the Enterprise edition of the Windows 10 Insider Preview, to upgrade to the final release of Windows 10 Enterprise, you will need to download and activate it from Volume Licensing Service Center," Aul said.

Finally, Aul pleaded with Insiders to stick around after Windows 10 is released for an early peek at the direction Microsoft envisions for Windows.

"Windows Insiders will continue to receive future flights as we begin to work on the next release immediately after Windows 10 ships. You'll get to see the latest Windows fixes, features and updates, and give us feedback," Aul said.

Pedro Hernandez

Pedro Hernandez

Pedro Hernandez is a contributor to eWEEK and the IT Business Edge Network, the network for technology professionals. Previously, he served as a managing editor for the network of...