Pirated copies of Windows 7 have hit the shelves at China's electronics bazaars, months before the operating system officially goes on sale.

A stall owner at one of the multistory PC markets in Beijing sold a copy of the program for 40 yuan (US$5.86) on Monday. It was not clear from the thin, DVD-shaped box or the contents of the disc what version of Windows 7 it purported to carry, but a 1.8GB file named Win7.gho was on the disc. A .gho file is an image of a system that can be copied onto a new hard drive, potentially letting a user bypass the activation key step for programs like Windows.

Both legal and cracked copies of Windows 7 were already available online. A release candidate version of the operating system is publicly available, and subscribers to the Microsoft Developer Network can download the RTM (release to manufacturing) version on the network's Web site.

A cracked version of Windows 7 has also appeared online in recent weeks. An image file containing Windows 7 Ultimate RTM and a manufacturer product key was stolen from Lenovo and placed on a Chinese hacker forum, the company said in a statement.

Full story: Computerworld