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Even pirates will get a free upgrade to Windows 10, Microsoft says (+video)

People running Windows 7, Windows 8, or Windows 8.1 -- even illegal copies of the software -- will be able to upgrade to Windows 10 for free, Microsoft said at a conference in China. Three-quarters of all software in China is unlicensed.

Microsoft has already promised that people currently running Windows 7, Windows 8, and Windows 8.1 on their devices will be able to upgrade to Windows 10 for free when the software is released later this year. Now the company has clarified that that generosity extends even to those running pirated copies of Windows software.

If you’re running a recent Windows operating system -- legally or illegally -- you’ll be able to upgrade to a legitimate copy of Windows 10 for free.

Microsoft is likely making this move in order to bring as many people as possible into the legal-software fold. It’s easier for the company to support as many licensed copies of Windows 10 as possible than it is to deal with millions of pirated versions of Microsoft software. Microsoft will try to make up any lost revenue by selling Microsoft Office and other software to newly-licensed Windows 10 users.

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The announcement came from Microsoft executive Terry Myerson, who spoke on Wednesday at the Windows Hardware Engineering Community summit in Shenzen, China. Three-quarters of all computer software in China is pirated or not properly licensed, Reuters’ Bill Rigby reports. Microsoft will partner with hardware maker Lenovo, Chinese security company Qihoo 360, and social networking company Tencent to distribute Windows 10 in China.

Mr. Myerson also gave a better idea of the release date and scope for Windows 10. The software will be available globally sometime “this summer,” he said at the summit, and will launch in 190 countries.

Windows 10 will be able to run on laptop and desktop computers, tablets, and smart phones -- including some Android devices. Chinese phone giant Xiaomi, which has been making headlines as it considers expanding into American and European markets, will work with Microsoft to offer some users a test version of Windows on smart phones currently running Android. Several popular smart phone systems-on-chips, including some built by Qualcomm, AMD, and Intel, will support Windows 10.

If you’re planning to run the new operating system on a computer, you’ll need at least 1 GB of RAM and 16 GB of hard drive space (or double that if you want to run the 64-bit version of Windows 10). Mobile devices will need at least 512 MB of RAM (or more if you have a high-definition screen) and a minimum of 4 GB of storage space.

Those systems requirements are pretty light -- and in fact, ever since Windows 7, Microsoft has tried to make sure its operating systems don’t tax users’ hardware too much. After all, the more computers that support the new OS, the more people will consider upgrading to Windows 10 and purchasing other software from Microsoft.

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