How to get the free upgrade to Windows 10

Unfortunately, Microsoft hasn’t made a great fist of explaining how the free Windows 10 upgrade will work and given the emails we’ve received from readers, it seems there are still more questions than answers. So, here’s what we know so far:

Windows XP, Vista

There is no upgrade path from XP or Vista to Windows 10.

But, sign up to Microsoft’s Insider Program with a valid Microsoft account, clean-install the latest Windows 10 Preview Build from an ISO image and — most importantly — continue in the Insider Program after July 29 and it seems Microsoft will for all intents and purposes allow you an on-going Windows 10 install.

You’ll, of course, have to put up with bugs, fixes and, in all likelihood, Microsoft monitoring, but it’s one way to get ongoing pre-release beta-grade Windows 10 for free.

Windows 7, 8.1

pathIf you have a genuine-licensed Windows 7 SP1 or 8.1 install that isn’t Enterprise edition, you should qualify for a free final-release upgrade.

Aside from any hardware incompatibilities preventing upgrading, it’ll work like this — users with Windows 7 Starter, Home Basic or Home Premium or Windows 8.1 will get Windows 10 Home; those on Windows 7 Professional or Ultimate or Windows 8.1 Pro, Pro Student or Pro WMC will upgrade to Windows 10 Pro.

However, all upgrades will need the following:

  • 3GB of download bandwidth
  • Windows 7 SP1 or Windows 8.1 updates preinstalled.
  • Windows Update enabled
  • You must upgrade within one year.

Is the upgrade free or not?

This last point has caused some to think after one year, the free upgrade will become a subscription fee.

It’s not to say Microsoft won’t have Windows-as-a-Service sometime in the future, but on current info, if you have what Microsoft considers a ‘genuine’ licensed install of Windows 7 SP1 or 8.1, the upgrade will be freely available to download for one year, but the upgraded installation will remain free to use for the life of the device.

While the Preview Builds have been made available as ISO images, we have no word that the free final-release upgrade will be available this way — but it’s possible.

Update before you upgrade

As we’ve noted, if you haven’t updated to the latest versions of Windows 7 SP1 or 8.1, you must do so before the Windows 10 upgrade can begin.

We’ve been asked if you can install Windows 8.1 fresh from install media and use a Windows 8 key. The answer is typically ‘no’ — you need a Windows 8.1 key. However, there may be (complicated) ways around this — we don’t have space to cover it here, but check out this HowToGeek tutorial.

Get Windows 10 icon

getFinally, noticed the new ‘Get Windows 10’ icon in your system notification tray? One reader feared accidently clicking on it would lock-in the upgrade.

It doesn’t — it just launches the upgrade offer app. You have to click the ‘Reserve your free upgrade’ button, then enter your email address in the app window before anything happens.