Windows 8 Leaked to File-Sharing Sites - Does It Matter?

A version of Microsoft’s upcoming Windows 8 operating system has been published to the Web, but there are several reasons that potential pirates may not be able take full advantage of the leak.

A “non-boot” version of Windows 8 Enterprise-N appeared on The Pirate Bay, a notorious site for sharing copyrighted software and other works, as well as other sites on the Web.

Members or supporters of The Pirate Bay also posted instructions on how to get the uploaded software into an .ISO format, which could be burned to optical media.

Windows 8 - Two Weeks Early

Microsoft representatives didn’t immediately confirm the leak, which occurred a day after Windows 8 was released to manufacturing (RTM). The first day that users - in this case, developers - should have had access to it was Aug. 15, when the final “RTM” builds become available to Microsoft Developer Network (MSDN) or Technet subscribers. The Enterprise-N version lacks Windows Media Player, a concession to the European Union which ordered Microsoft to strip out the utility to allow other media player vendors to compete fairly.

Commenters to The Pirate Bay confirmed that they could get the software up and running, although various error messages were reported and the software was reportedly “slow as hell to download,” in the words of one.

A Semi-Legitimate Use?

Although the version of Windows 8 on the file-sharing seems clearly intended for software pirates, there might be one semi-legitimate use for it: as “backup media” in case of a problem with a user’s machine. Although Microsoft provides the option for users to buy Windows 8 on a physical disc, the days of “recovery discs” are long gone. So far, Microsoft hasn’t published (or widely published, at least) the locations for .ISO versions of Windows 8. With Windows 7, those files and how to find legitimate copies of them are more widely known.

But the Windows 8 (and Windows 7) .ISO file is just one piece of the puzzle. Without a corresponding license key, Windows 8 may just run in trial mode. Eventually - exactly how long isn’t yet clear - that trial mode should expire, and the pirate will likely be back to square one.

With Windows 7, Microsoft allowed users of the Windows 7 consumer versions 30 days to enter a valid license key. But enterprise users were offered a < href=“http://technet.microsoft.com/en-us/evalcenter/cc442495.aspx”>90-day trial. However, enterprise users still were forced to enter a valid license key before a 10-day period had expired. At the end of the 10 days, Windows 7 would automatically reboot every hour. The same thing would happen at the end of the 90-day trial.

Microsoft hasn’t said how long the RTM version of Windows 8 will operate without a valid license key, however.

Microsoft Fights Piracy

Microsoft has worked diligently to cut back on piracy, including suing Chinese resellers and engaging in various technical methods to block pirates. For example, ExtremeTech noted last year that generic volume license keys that pirates exploited wouldn’t be so easily accessible; instead, the installer will ping a Microsoft Web page for the unique key. (The preview version of Windows 8 used a standard, published key, but that’s different.)

The bottom line? Owning a valid copy of the software is one thing, but holding a valid license is quite another. That’s not to say a working “keygen” license key generator to create those licenses won’t be eventually be developed and released; a Google search of The Pirate Bay site finds several files that at least claim to be working Windows 7 keygens. But until then, all a potential Windows 8 pirate can claim is access to a potentially dodgy piece of software. They’d probably be better off running the free preview version.