In January, we learned that for one year, Microsoft would offer free Windows 10 upgrades to those running Windows 7, Windows 8.1, and Windows Phone 8.1. Today, at its Windows Hardware Engineering Community (WinHEC) event in Shenzen, the company revealed that this deal will be available to pirates worldwide.

Update: Microsoft says free Windows 10 upgrades for pirates will be ‘non-genuine’ and unsupported, stays mum on security

Reuters first broke the news by quoting Terry Myerson, Microsoft’s Windows chief: “We are upgrading all qualified PCs, genuine and non-genuine, to Windows 10.” Yet the article’s headline and body focused on China, where Windows piracy rates are particularly high, so we reached out to Microsoft to confirm the scope.

“Anyone with a qualified device can upgrade to Windows 10, including those with pirated copies of Windows,” a Microsoft spokesperson told VentureBeat. “We believe customers over time will realize the value of properly licensing Windows, and we will make it easy for them to move to legitimate copies.”

We further asked to make sure that the announcement means the following is technically possible: During this one-year period after Windows 10’s launch, anyone can pirate Windows 7 or Windows 8.x and then upgrade to Windows 10 for free. “Correct; anyone in the world with a qualified device can upgrade a pirated copy of Windows to Windows 10,” the Microsoft spokesperson confirmed to VentureBeat.

This is huge. It shows just how dedicated Microsoft is to getting as many users as possible onto its latest and greatest operating system. The move also underlines the company is ready to move away from generating revenue from its Windows business.

The decision will likely translate into the fastest market share growth for a new operating system. We’re willing to bet Windows 10 will become the most popular operating system before 2015 is over.

Microsoft today also announced Windows 10 will launch “this summer” in 190 countries as well as disclosed hardware requirements and upgrade paths for the operating system. Still, these are all expected developments.

The fact Microsoft wants to fight piracy with free upgrades is by far the biggest news. Regardless of when a new version of Windows will be available, and what is necessary to run it, pirates tend to be the first to upgrade. This time around, though, Microsoft is giving them its blessing.

VentureBeat's mission is to be a digital town square for technical decision-makers to gain knowledge about transformative enterprise technology and transact. Discover our Briefings.