When Microsoft announced last year that Windows 7, 8.1 and Windows Phone 8.1 users would all be getting free upgrades to Windows 10 during its first year of availability, it seemed very straightforward to me. But there are a lot of questions about this offer, and some misunderstandings. We don’t know all of the details yet. But here’s what we know so far.
Frankly, the confusion started immediately. I just didn’t see it.
On January 21, 2015, Microsoft executive vice president Terry Myerson announced the upgrade offer like so.
“I’m very excited to announce that for the first year after Windows 10 is available, we’ll be making available a free upgrade to Windows 10 to all devices running Windows 8.1. And we will also be making available a free upgrade to Windows 10 to all devices running Windows Phone 8.1. And last but not least, for the first year after Windows 10 is available, we will be making available a free upgrade to all of our customers still running Windows 7.”
Straightforward, right? But as Mary Jo Foley and I were ushered through back alleyways in the Microsoft campus in Redmond after the event at which Mr. Myerson made this announcement, a PR representative noted some feedback they had gotten, that some people thought that Windows 10 would only be free during that first one year period and that, after that, the expectation was that customers would then need to start paying, perhaps an annual subscription fee similar to that with Office 365. Was that our understanding as well?
We both said no, but confronted by this misunderstanding, I sort of understood where it came from. And since then, Microsoft has tried to be clearer.
“We are offering the full versions of Windows 10 Home, Windows 10 Mobile and Windows 10 Pro as a free and easy upgrade for qualifying Windows 7, Windows 8.1 and Windows Phone 8.1 devices that upgrade in the first year after launch,” a Microsoft statement issued today notes. “Once you upgrade, you have Windows 10 for free on that device.”
But this isn’t clear enough. So let’s step through this.
Obviously, Windows Phone 8.1 devices will receive a free upgrade to Windows 10 Mobile. But I don’t expect that offer to end after one year, as Windows Phone devices typically just get upgraded when upgrades are available. No one has ever been charged for a Windows Phone OS software update.
If you are using a consumer SKU of Windows 7—Windows 7 Starter, Home Basic, or Home Premium—or Windows 8.1 “Core,” you will get an upgrade to Windows 10 Home for free.
If you are using a “pro” or “business” SKU of Windows 7—Windows 7 Professional or Ultimate—or Windows 8.1 Pro, you will get an upgrade to Windows 10 Pro for free.
What about Windows 8? You will apparently need to upgrade to Windows 8.1 first. That is also free.
What about Windows Insiders? Microsoft has said that the people testing Windows 10 will get the final version of the product for free. But there are no details about what that means, and since most testers are using eligible products (devices running Windows 7, 8.1 or Windows Phone 8.1) to test Windows 10, obviously they are already eligible for this free offer.
How will the upgrade be delivered? We don’t know this either, but it will have to be an ISO download or an in-place upgrade, or both. If it is the former, you should be able to do a clean install of the OS at any time, but you may need to follow my Clean PC guides to make it happen. (That is, you might not get a product key with the upgrade. We just don’t know.)
What happens after the first year is over? We don’t yet know what will happen if you upgrade a device to Windows 10 and then want to reinstall Windows 10 after that first year is over. It can only go one of two ways: It will be explicitly supported. Or it will not be. We don’t know.
What about pirates? After some miscommunications from Microsoft, rumors spread that Microsoft would let those with pirated Windows versions upgrade to Windows 10 for free. That is not true.
Will we be able to upgrade inside the product to more expensive/better versions? We don’t know. This capability exists in Windows 8.1, but it is not present in the Windows Insider builds we see now.
As you can see, there are still many questions. There are probably more I haven’t raised too. But I’m hoping more clarity soon.