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Just upgraded from Windows 8 to Windows 8 Pro. These are simple steps yet I would never have been able to discover them on my own. There was nothing in the package or on the CD installation to indicate that I should go to the control panel and settings to apply this upgrade.
Microsoft's free upgrade offer for Windows 10 ended more than six 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 8.1 and claim a free digital license for the latest Windows 10 version, without being forced to jump through any hoops.
That upgrade is more important than ever with support for previous Windows versions officially ending in January 2023. 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 three 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 8.1 (Pro/Ultimate). That can save you as much as $100 in OEM upgrade charges if you buy a new PC with Windows 10 Home preinstalled. (For details, see "How to upgrade from Windows 10 Home to Pro without hassles.")
I wrote and published the first version of this post in early 2017, shortly after Microsoft's initial free upgrade offer ended. 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.
For the past five-plus years, I have 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." For help decoding setup errors, see "Windows 10: Use setup log files to troubleshoot installation problems."
If you have a PC running a "genuine" copy of Windows 7/8/8.1 (Windows 7 Home, Pro, or Ultimate edition, or Windows 8.x Home or Business, properly licensed and activated), you can follow the same steps I did to install Windows 10 as an upgrade.
If you've downloaded the Media Creation Tool on the machine you plan to upgrade, and you plan to upgrade that PC and only that PC, you can choose the Upgrade This PC Now option. That option installs the most recent version of Windows 10. 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 10. You will not be asked for a product key, and when the upgrade is complete and you've connected to the internet, you'll have a digital license that is valid for the most recent Windows 10 version, which you can confirm by going to Settings > Update & Security > Activation. 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.)
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. For example, see the answers I've highlighted here on Microsoft's Windows 10 Upgrade FAQ:
That's very odd language. The free upgrade through the Get Windows 10 app ended on July 29, 2016. 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.
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.
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 and Windows 8.1, that it still works.
This article provides a summary of available upgrade paths to Windows 10. You can upgrade to Windows 10 from Windows 7 or a later operating system. This includes upgrading from one release of Windows 10 to later release of Windows 10. Migrating from one edition of Windows 10 to a different edition of the same release is also supported.
If you're also migrating to a different edition of Windows, see Windows 10 edition upgrade. Methods and supported paths are described on this page to change the edition of Windows. These methods require that you input a license or product key for the new Windows edition prior to starting the upgrade process. Edition downgrade is also supported for some paths. However, applications and settings aren't maintained when the Windows edition is downgraded.
Windows 10 version upgrade: You can directly upgrade any General Availability Channel version of Windows 10 to a newer, supported General Availability Channel version of Windows 10, even if it involves skipping versions. Work with your account representative if your current version of Windows is out of support. See the Windows lifecycle fact sheet for availability and service information.
In-place upgrade from Windows 7, Windows 8.1, or Windows 10 General Availability Channel to Windows 10 LTSC isn't supported. Windows 10 LTSC 2015 didn't block this in-place upgrade path. This issue was corrected in the Windows 10 LTSC 2016 release, which only allows data-only and clean install options.
You can upgrade from Windows 10 LTSC to Windows 10 General Availability Channel if you upgrade to the same or a newer build version. For example, Windows 10 Enterprise 2016 LTSB can be upgraded to Windows 10 Enterprise version 1607 or later. Upgrade is supported using the in-place upgrade process (using Windows setup). You'll need to use the Product Key switch if you want to keep your apps. If you don't use the switch, the option Keep personal files and apps option is grayed out. The command line would be setup.exe /pkey xxxxx-xxxxx-xxxxx-xxxxx-xxxxx, using your relevant Windows 10 GA Channel product key. For example, if using a KMS, the command line would be setup.exe /pkey NPPR9-FWDCX-D2C8J-H872K-2YT43.
Windows N/KN: Windows "N" and "KN" SKUs (editions without media-related functionality) follow the same upgrade paths shown below. If the pre-upgrade and post-upgrade editions aren't the same type (for example, Windows 8.1 Pro N to Windows 10 Pro), personal data will be kept but applications and settings will be removed during the upgrade process.
There are the minimum system requirements for installing Windows 11. Devices that don't meet these requirements might not be able to install Windows 11. Go here for Windows 11 requirements. Note that devices must be running Windows 10, version 2004 or later, to upgrade via Windows Update.
Windows 7 and 8.1 Devices.Supported Skylake devices will receive applicable Windows security updates through the end of support. These systems should be upgraded to Windows 10 to continue receiving support after the period ends. Search here to see your product's end of support dates.
Windows Embedded 7, 8, and 8.1.Skylake devices running Windows Embedded 7, 8, and 8.1 will be supported according to the lifecycle support policy for those products. During this supported period, these systems should be upgraded to Windows 10 to continue receiving support after the period ends. There is no supported device list for Windows Embedded.
Do you have an old product key from Windows 7 Pro, Windows 7 Ultimate, or Windows 8/8.1 Pro lying around? Those keys can be reused to enable an upgrade from Windows 10 Home to Windows 10 Pro, potentially saving you the upgrade fee. In fact, you can use a product key from any of these older Windows versions to perform a clean install or to upgrade to Pro. 2b1af7f3a8