Updated You could get a free (and illegal) copy of Windows 7 Ultimate if reports of a leaked OEM product activation key are accurate.
According to MyDigitalLife, a leaked OEM copy of Windows 7 was posted to a Chinese forum, with the OEM's key then identified and snatched.
An OEM activation key will unlock multiple copies, and it's reported this particular key will work on machines from Dell, Hewlett-Packard, Lenovo, and MSI.
The key appears to provide the last piece in a puzzle needed to activate copies of Windows 7 Ultimate on PCs. MyDigitalLife said the crack would pass Microsoft's Windows Genuine Advantage (WGA) validation process.
If the reports are correct, this would not be the first time that the activation keys needed for a planned new version of Windows have been cracked. But it would the first time in quite a while.
The product activation keys for Windows XP, launched in October 2001, were cracked in the period before that operating system's release.
This time, the key enabler appears to be a Windows 7 Ultimate OEM-SLP product key. This key appears to have been retrieved from a leaked copy of Windows 7 Ultimate DVD ISO for PC maker Lenovo posted to a Chinese forum.
MyDigitalLife reported: "The ISO was quickly grabbed to retrieve boot.wim, which was then used to retrieve the OEM-SLP product key and OEM certificate for Windows 7 Ultimate."
The crack came before Windows 7s official release to OEMs. PC makers are due to get their copies of Windows 7 two days after downloads are made available to TechNet and MSDN subscribers on August 6.
Microsoft in a statement strongly advised customers not to download Windows 7 from unauthorized sources.
"Downloading Windows 7 from peer-to-peer Web sites is piracy, and exposes users to increased risks - such as viruses, Trojans and other malware and malicious code - that usually accompany counterfeit software. These risks can seriously harm or permanently destroy data and often expose users to identity theft and other criminal schemes," the company said.®
This article has been updated to include comment from Microsoft.