Is Your Windows 7 Install Illegal?

Microsoft issued a friendly reminder in a blog post earlier this week that if you installed Windows 7 on a blank hard drive using an upgrade disc, your Windows installation is illegal. Well, maybe... but I'll get to that in a second.

Redmond's post was a response to a host of blogs and other Web sites that explain how you can perform a clean install of the new OS on any hard drive using the Windows 7 upgrade disc instead of purchasing a full version of the new operating system. That's a tricky move since it will save you at least eighty bucks, but Microsoft says it's a no-no.

How to Be a Pirate Customer

When you use a piece of software on your computer you are required to abide by its end-user license agreement (EULA). You know what the EULA is don't you? It's that big chunk of text you see above the "I Accept" button you see when you're installing new software.

Anyway, part of Microsoft's EULA for upgrade discs says that you must own a full version of a previous version of Windows if you want to use the Windows 7 upgrade disc. So, if you do a fresh install of Windows 7 using the upgrade disc, and you don't own a previous version of Windows, congratulations: you're a pirate customer.

Who doesn't have a copy of Windows?

But do you really need to hack Windows 7? If you've owned a computer in the last 8 years, then chances are you've got a copy of Windows XP or Vista lying around somewhere. Not to mention that computers typically come with the OS pre-installed, so how did you end up with a blank hard drive in the first place?

But let's say you built your own computer, picked up a Linux-based system on the cheap or your first attempt at a Windows 7 upgrade failed and your hard drive is now blank. You still may not be eligible to use the upgrade disc.

Imagine, for example, you've got a two-year old Sony Vaio that came with Windows Vista preinstalled, but you just picked up a brand new laptop running Ubuntu. If your plan is to use your old Vista discs from Sony as a way to upgrade your laptop to Windows 7 on the Linux system, you're on your way to piracy. Not to mention the fact that most manufacturers tweak the included Windows discs to work only with the computer brand they were intended for.

The funny thing is, as I understand it, you can't just own a previous copy of Windows. You also have to have that older copy of Windows installed on the computer you're upgrading to Windows 7. So if you wiped your hard drive by accident while trying to upgrade to Windows 7, technically you have to install XP or Vista first, before upgrading. It's so easy to end up a pirate isn't it?

Piracy or not, I'd be surprised if the upgrade disc hack becomes a particularly widespread problem. It's just so much simpler--not to mention more common--to pick up a computer with Windows already installed on it.

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