Microsoft has stopped just a millimetre short of giving royal consent for users to download pirated copies of Windows 7 that have hit the trackers.
Microsoft is apparently resigned to torrent copies of Windows 7 spreading across the Internet, with a company executive acknowledging there's little than can be done in practice about pirate versions of the pre-beta versions of the new operating system.
In its ideal world, Microsoft would be unleashing Windows 7 in a carefully controlled process. Internal staff on the Windows team have been using Windows 7 builds for a year, but until the past month only a tiny group of selected partners had also been given access to the code. As APC noted in an earlier story today, the current M3 pre-beta release has been distributed to developers, hardware manufacturers and journalists at the PDC and WinHEC conferences, with a broader public beta scheduled for early 2009.
At least, that was the official plan. However, as soon as DVDs of the M3 build were released at PDC, copies quickly began appear on P2P networks across the globe. The PDC and WinHEC copies don't require a serial number, so there's nothing stopping people who download them from installing and testing them. (Microsoft often tends to leave copy protection systems like the dreaded Genuine Advantage off early betas, since it can create problems in testing other new system elements.)
In a press roundtable today, Microsoft executive Gary Schare, director of hardware ecosystem product management for the Windows client, acknowledged that the problem of online distribution was hard to escape.
"Certainly when we went into an event saying 'OK, you have to come to an event to get the bits', you kind of know that someone is going to find a way to put that out there," Schare told APC, though he declined to comment on any specific legal actions Microsoft might take against downloaders: "I can't speak to what our legal team or anyone else has done."
Unauthorised distribution is a mixed blessing for Microsoft. More users gives it extra telemetry for measuring Windows performance, and most online reviews of the M3 release have been broadly positive. Had Microsoft really wanted to rein in piracy, it could have forced the use of a serial number with the pre-release code. The torrent copies precede any official release via its online MSDN and Connect channels, which could annoy some paying subscribers. But if the overriding goal is to get Windows 7 out the door next year, that might have represented too much work.