Sunday, August 9, 2015

Is Windows 10 Really Free?

My latest article is now live at

Microsoft made headlines when they announced that Windows 10 would be a free upgrade to all users of Windows 7, 8, and 8.1.  They even said that pirated and unlicensed versions would also be eligible for the free upgrade.  Really?  While it is an ambitious goal to get the world to upgrade to Windows 10 how is it that it can be free to everyone, even those running the software illegally?  Granted many other operating systems are free but this is Microsoft.  Is this one of those situations where if it sounds too good to be true it probably is?

In a word, yes.  Microsoft has several times had to clarify what they actually meant.  In other words, they didn’t mention all the catches to the announcement that Windows 10 would be a free upgrade to all users of Windows 7, 8, and 8.1.  Knowing the complexity of Microsoft licensing, including educational and charity options, I was surprised that Microsoft would make the upgrade process harder by not clearly communicating how you get the free upgrade.

So how do you get your free upgrade if you are running Windows 7, 8, or 8.1?  In order to answer that we have to know how you got the copy of Windows 7, 8, or 8.1 you are running now.  Let’s start with an easy one.  You bought a computer from a big box store or online and it came with a copy of Windows 7, 8, or 8.1 on it and you activated that.  Congratulation!  You quality for the free upgrade and you should have already received a notice via Windows Update that your computer is ready to upgrade on or after July 29.  Microsoft got this one right.  Pushing Windows 10 out via Windows Update and notifying users in advance is brilliant and the way it should be done.  It also shows the future as Windows 10 is the final version of Windows and will be further updated via Windows Update.

But what if you are running Windows 7, 8, or 8.1 and you didn’t get the update notification from Windows Update?  This is where things get complicated.  There can be several reasons for this.  One is that your copy of Windows is non-genuine.  That means the activation code you used to activate Windows is no longer valid or was never valid.  Microsoft said originally that all non-genuine copies would be upgraded but later clarified that only certain types of non-genuine software would be upgraded.  You can avoid this issue completely if you make sure your copy of Windows is genuine and running with a valid, genuine, single-use activation key.

Another reason you may not have received the update notification is if you are running Windows under a licensing agreement.  Microsoft has numerous licensing agreements for school, charities, and enterprises that are essentially software leasing programs.  This allows the organization to lease the software as opposed to purchasing each installation individually.  For organizations with hundreds of computers, this can save a lot of money over an operating system’s life cycle.  Leased software will not automatically upgrade but rather must be upgraded when the organization renews their lease.  Since the organization doesn’t actually own the software, it won’t upgrade unless the lease is kept current.

As opposed to a computer you purchased at home, you own the software outright and qualify for the free upgrade because you paid full price for Windows with your computer hardware purchase.  An organization leasing Windows didn’t do that and as such must pay for another lease term before they can upgrade.  For an organization on some sort of agreement, this shouldn’t come as a surprise.  It isn’t as if the organization is not going to renew their Windows lease when it comes up.  It just means they will have to push out the upgrade to Windows 10, as users using leased software won’t receive an upgrade notification.

Organizations using this type of licensing will receive a new activation key to use when upgrading and activating Windows 10.  This gives organizations control over the upgrade process and avoids an IT nightmare of users upgrading their computers on their own and potentially breaking links to applications within the organization.

Admittedly Microsoft licensing isn’t’ all that clear to begin with and Microsoft didn’t do themselves any favors with the way they announced and then continued to re-explain that Windows 10 was free for everyone.  If you are an individual user using Windows, on a computer you bought and activated then you should have received your upgrade announcement by now.  If you didn’t, then check to see what kind of Windows activation key you have.  If you are a user on a machine with a copy of Windows that is owned by an organization then check with your organization’s IT department to see if you can upgrade.  The sooner you start checking the better.  Windows 10 will be worth it.