The Windows piracy problem. Has anything changed in the last 20 years?

Every software company has to deal with one of the most essential issues of modern technology – piracy. In its various, often very inventive forms, it has been always present in the lives of countless ordinary technology users.

Many years ago, installing an illegal copy of Microsoft Windows was a piece of cake, generally coming down to entering a Windows license key. Has anything changed since then? And is it actually in any way better to use a pirated OS copy? Let’s find out.

Piracy issue among various PC operating systems

The three most successful and popular systems are, of course, Microsoft Windows, Apple’s MacOS and Linux. Only two of them are subjects to online piracy because of the open-source nature of Linux. There is no such thing as an illegal copy of this system, and users are free to publish, distribute and modify its source code in any way they see fit.

One of the core elements of Apple’s policy is very strong integration between software and hardware. The company has developed a complicated set of security measures which render installation of its system impossible on hardware not produced by it. Although it is possible to carry this process out anyway, means of doing so are quite demanding for an everyday user. The project which allows installing MacOS on non-Apple computers is called Hackintosh, and it’s not very popular due to technical reasons – only up to 10% of active PCs today are capable of running illegal copies of MacOS. In the laptop market this number is much smaller, 1-2% at most.

Microsoft’s OS is, unfortunately, at the most disadvantageous position with regard to piracy compared to above-mentioned software. Not only for many years the company’s policy has been Software as a Product (SaaP), which makes its operating system an easy prey for pirates and hackers – moreover, Microsoft in a way chose to turn a blind eye to this problem. Illegal Windows activation keys, keygens and cracked. ISO images are notoriously easy to find online. This poses a challenge not only to the company and its revenue, but also for users’ privacy and security.

Main cons of using a pirated Windows copy

While most users enjoy a legal Windows 10 key to activate the system, there is always a group of more frugal consumers who prefer to keep a couple of bucks in their pockets by installing counterfeit copies of the OS. You might think that there are no bigger consequences for doing so. In reality, there are – and not only “moral” or legal. Let’s examine this issue in more detail.

The first and most obvious point – you’re breaking the law

Using an illegal copy of Microsoft Windows is violating Microsoft’s EULA (End-User License Agreement) and various regulations regarding intellectual property rights. It’s also the main case during trials of online pirates. In some areas of the world (e.g. India, Russia or China) law enforcement in this case is not very strict due to the amount of illegal copies circulating in the aftermarket. Nevertheless, in some countries (like Germany) intellectual property rights are very strictly enforced and respected.

Second point – you’re reducing Microsoft’s profits

Although it’s not a popular point to make, it has some value. The company’s revenue from selling hardware and software (nowadays primarily Windows 10 keys, Office 365 and other services) is spent on research, proper customer support and further development of Windows. It may seem that one person avoiding payment for their OS does not have a significant financial impact on an international, big company such as Microsoft. But as we take a look at the bigger picture, it stands out that the percentage of pirated Windows copies on the market is very significant. We’ll get back to that soon.

Third point – you’re losing updates

Yes, Windows updates used to be sluggish and clunky, but many things have changed since the Windows XP or Windows Vista era. Today, the updates have a new purpose, which is to introduce changes on a scale of entirely new OS version release. This is due to the shift from Software as a Product (SaaP) to the company’s own form of Software as a Service (SaaS).

Updates are released with purpose to improve user experience, fix bugs and implement new functions. They’re also meant to enhance security and data protection. Pirated Windows copies have limited possibility of taking advantage of them – usually, downloading system updates in these cases ends with crack deletion. Then, the system is no longer activated – and you may utilize it without activation for only a month. And to think that all you need to avoid this is a cheap Windows key

Counterfeit Windows 10 license keys – statistics

More than 90% of all personal computers in India are running pirated copies of this OS. Shocking? Maybe, but not as much as the fact that 85% of them have various malware inside. Now let’s look at China. 90% of all companies running in that country are using Windows, but less than 1% is actually paying for it. The case looks a lot better in the US, where only 30% active PCs run the pirated version. In Europe this problem is less severe because of more strict intellectual property rights enforcement.

Is it worth losing your privacy and updates for saving the money you could spend for a genuine Windows 10 activation key? You decide. But it’s worth noting that using a legal copy is objectively safer, more responsible and socially conscious.