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Microsoft’s free upgrade offer for Windows 10 ended more than five years ago, but no one told the people who run the Windows activation servers. As a result, you can still upgrade to Windows 10 from Windows 7 or Windows 8. That upgrade became more important than ever when support for Windows 7 officially ended in January And it turned out to be a great relief to household budgets when the pandemic made working from home or going to school via remote sessions suddenly popular.
In the past two years, millions of people have taken old PCs out of storage and gotten up to speed quickly, thanks to these free upgrades.
You can also still upgrade Windows 10 Home to Windows 10 Pro by using a product key from a previous business edition of Windows 7, 8, or 8. For details, see “How to upgrade from Windows 10 Home to Pro without hassles. Every technique I describe in this article works the same for Windows 11 as well, although most older PCs will be blocked from upgrading to Microsoft’s newest operating system by the stringent Windows 11 hardware compatibility requirements. For those PCs, Windows 10 remains a viable option until at least October In this post, I’ll cover the basics of how to install Windows 10 as an upgrade on older hardware.
I’ll also talk about the licensing issues involved, which are as always confusing. I wrote and published the first version of this post in early , several months after Microsoft’s initial free upgrade offer ended. The free upgrade offer had just ended, and when I downloaded the Windows 10 upgrade tool and ran it on an old Windows 7 PC, I fully expected that the upgrade would fail activation and I’d be asked for a product key. Over the next four-plus years, I repeated those steps on test PCs at regular intervals and confirmed that the free upgrade tool still works.
I continue to receive email messages regularly from readers offering firsthand reports that their free upgrades were successful, with no purchase or product key required. A small number of readers have reported that the upgrade fails because of a Setup error or a compatibility block.
For details on how to troubleshoot these errors, see “This free Windows 10 upgrade offer still works. Here’s why – and how to get it. Whether you’re looking for a tablet to stream videos or to replace your laptop, here are some compelling options.
Before getting started, I recommend a few preliminary tasks that can head off potential problems:. With those preliminaries out of the way, go to the Download Windows 10 webpage and click the Download tool now button. After the download completes, double-click the executable file to run the Media Creation Tool. That option installs the most recent version of Windows It typically takes about an hour, depending on your hardware.
Having an SSD as your system drive is the best way to speed up the process. If you know you’ll want to upgrade to Windows 10 on more than one PC, or if you just want more flexibility in the event that the instant upgrade fails, choose the second option and save the installation files to a USB drive or as an ISO file. The download takes a little time but when it’s complete, you can run the Windows Setup program manually to install Windows 10 on any PC running any supported Windows version sorry, this won’t work with PCs running Windows Vista or Windows XP.
The exact steps depend on which download option you chose:. Then just follow the prompts to complete the upgrade to Windows All your apps and data files will be available. The digital license is associated with that specific device, which means you can reformat the disk and perform a clean installation of the same edition of Windows 10 anytime. If you’re thinking of upgrading your old system drive to an SSD, perform the upgrade to Windows 10 on the old hardware; after confirming that the new Windows 10 version is properly activated, install the SSD and then either restore from a backup image or boot from the USB flash drive to do a clean install.
You won’t need a product key, and activation is automatic. And now the big question: If you avail yourself of this upgrade to Windows 10, is the resulting license valid? The entire “free upgrade” offer was always accompanied by language that was, to put it politely, a bit squishy. And the language around the end of that offer was similarly vague. That’s very odd language. The free upgrade through the Get Windows 10 app ended on July 29, Likewise, the discussion of product keys says a key will be necessary “for this tool to work” not true but doesn’t say a word about licensing.
And unlike the weaselly “Genuine Windows” label on older upgrades, the activation screens for a Windows 10 upgrade specifically confirm the existence of a “digital license. Anyway, the free upgrade offer was extended briefly, at least for people who use assistive technologies.
The FAQ on a separate page even called it a “free upgrade offer extension” and pointedly noted that it was not limited to specific assistive technologies. I regularly use the Magnifier utility in Windows, which is indisputably an assistive technology. Of course, I’m not a lawyer, and this column isn’t legal advice. But I will say that I am personally confident in the activation status of any PC upgraded using the tool on that page during the eligibility period.
This extension was, I think, a very large nod and a wink, designed to make it easy for those who wanted a Windows 10 upgrade to still get it while placating the OEM partners who were none too happy about the year-long emphasis on upgrades rather than new PC sales. Alas, I say “was,” because the extension which was itself extended officially ended on Jan.
The page that formerly ran an Upgrade Assistant now returns an error message. The big question now is whether Microsoft will ever turn off the code on its activation servers that dispenses digital licenses after an upgrade from an earlier Windows version. I’ve continued to test that scenario, and I can confirm, long after the end of support for Windows 7, that it still works.
I continue to hear from readers sharing their experiences. If you’ve used this technique on a PC, click my name at the top of this post and use the contact form to let me know how it went for you. Note: This article was originally published in January It has been updated multiple times since then to reflect the most current information.
Home Business Enterprise Software. Microsoft’s much-hyped free upgrade offer for Windows 10 ended years ago, right? Not exactly. ZDNet Recommends. One digital license, no product key required. You can upgrade directly using this tool, or create separate media. Ed Bott’s 10 most popular Windows 10 tips. The wording here is remarkably vague. Show Comments.
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