Microsoft knows that China has an XP problem. In the Redmond, Wash. company's Internet Explorer 6 (IE6) tracker, China accounted for two-thirds of all IE6 users last month. (IE6 is a useful proxy for XP because it was the browser originally bundled with the operating system.)
Microsoft also has a piracy problem in China. It's attempted to stem the flood of counterfeit copies of Windows with a variety of initiatives over the years, including lawsuits against Chinese vendors for allegedly installing bootlegs on PCs, running ad campaigns that tout the merits of legitimate software; stopping sales of Windows 8 boxed copies; and a 2012 project where it purchased 169 PCs in Chinese shops only to find that every one of the machines ran pirated Windows.
Windows XP in China has long been identified with piracy. If Microsoft could get those 200-million-plus PCs that use Baidu onto a legitimate copy of Windows 10, it might be able to eek out some revenue from their owners, perhaps through app sales from its Windows Store market.
If Microsoft and Baidu do come up with a solution to China's XP problem, it might repudiate Microsoft's assertion that it will not give pirates a free Windows 10 ride.
In March, Microsoft said that customers running ersatz Windows would get a pardon, and be allowed to upgrade to Windows 10. But it quickly backtracked, first saying counterfeit copies would be watermarked, then two months later issuing what has been its most definitive statement: No Windows 10 for pirates.
But even then Microsoft left itself wiggle room.
Terry Myerson, Microsoft's top Windows executive, said in mid-May, "We are planning very attractive Windows 10 upgrade offers for ... customers running one of their older devices in a non-genuine state." Non-genuine is Microsoft-speak for pirated software.
It's certainly possible that when Baidu talked about working with its new partner on getting XP PCs on Windows 10, it was referring to Myerson's offer, of a discounted Windows 10, not a free upgrade.
Microsoft has never said it was impossible to upgrade from XP to 10, although it would admittedly be a technical precedent, since Microsoft has never offered an upgrade from N-4, where N is the newest version. But it could sidestep the problem by providing Chinese XP users a discounted upgrade to Windows 7, something that is supported. Once on Windows 7, users could be prompted to take advantage of the free Windows 10 upgrade. With an even more sophisticated setup, it might be possible to sequence the two steps -- XP to 7, then 7 to 10 -- automatically.
Microsoft did not immediately reply to questions and a request to clarify how it plans to address Windows XP in China.
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