Which retailer is first on the street with Windows 7?

At shops in the bustling Xinyang market in Shanghai, fake Apple iPhones and Bose speakers were displayed alongside bootleg copies of Microsoft’s Windows 7 operating system, a week before it officially was to go on sale.

Which version do you want? Ultimate? Normal? English or Chinese?” one shopkeeper asked, proudly pointing out her ample supply of discs packed in unmarked white boxes.

People in mainland China have been able to buy pirated copies of the newest version of Microsoft’s Windows franchise this month for just 20 yuan, or $2.93, each — a fraction of list prices, which are as high as $320…

“The big issue that is driving piracy in China today is price,” said Matthew Cheung, an analyst at the research firm Gartner. “If you’re trying to sell a program that costs 2,000 yuan to a student living on 400 yuan a month, that’s simply not going to work out for most consumers…”

Violation of intellectual property rights has been a sore spot in China’s relations with its major trading partners, even as it has cracked down on rampant piracy of everything from Gucci bags to software.

Comparative incomes, cost of living, always make a difference. I grew up in a neighborhood with folks poor enough to steal shoes for the winter. And that wasn’t out of the ordinary.

Times change.

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