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It’s official: No more free Windows 10 upgrades

Joan Cros/NurPhoto via Getty Images

For more than seven years, it’s been one of the worst-kept secrets in personal computing. Officially, Microsoft’s free upgrade offer ended in 2016, but no one in Redmond bothered to reset the activation servers. The result? If you had a PC running Windows 7 or Windows 8/8.1, you could upgrade to Windows 10 for free.

The loophole was even bigger than it appeared. The 25-character product keys from Windows 7 and Windows 8.1 were still good for activating a new installation of Windows 10 or upgrading to the Pro edition from Windows 10 Home.

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I first wrote about the topic in January 2017 (“Yes, you can still get a free Windows 10 upgrade. Here’s how”) and have updated it regularly in the intervening years. That post has been read millions of times, and I’ve received thousands of emails from readers reporting their successful upgrades.

As recently as September 18, I was still receiving emails like this one:

A quick note – with thanks – to confirm that the free Windows 10 download is still working.  Just switched an old laptop over from Windows 7.   Thank you!!

Well, it was fun while it lasted.

An unsigned notice posted on the Microsoft Device Partner Center on September 20 made it official:

Windows Ends Installation Path for Free Windows 7/8 Upgrade

Microsoft’s free upgrade offer for Windows 10 / 11 ended July 29, 2016. The installation path to obtain the Windows 7 / 8 free upgrade is now removed as well. Upgrades to Windows 11 from Windows 10 are still free.

It’s noteworthy that this announcement appears on a site that targets Microsoft’s OEM partners, who bring in the lion’s share of Windows revenue thanks to their purchases of OEM licenses for new PCs. The company had been pointedly silent on the free-upgrade loophole for seven years, while publicly encouraging customers to buy new PCs rather than upgrading old ones.

With the end of support for Windows 10 a mere two years away and PC sales slowing dramatically after a pandemic-fueled resurgence, Redmond’s attention is focusing on the future. Specifically, on a future fueled by Windows 11 and its successors, running on shiny new PCs that meet Windows 11’s minimum system requirements.

As the post notes, upgrades from Windows 10 to Windows 11 are still free, and keys for the two versions should still be interchangeable.

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It’s unclear how many people will be affected by this change in policy. Arguably, most PCs still running an outdated, unsupported version of Windows after all these years are probably owned by people who are firmly in the “Not gonna upgrade, ever” camp.

Over the next few weeks, I’ll be burning through my collection of ancient Windows product keys, testing upgrade scenarios to see if Microsoft is really serious with its new policy. If you’ve got old hardware that you’re trying to upgrade, I’m interested in hearing about your experience. Send your reports to: edbott (at) realworldwindows (dot) com.

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