Microsoft is launching Windows 10 on July 29th. But the company’s been inviting users to test preview versions of the operating system since last October.
So what happens to your computer on July 29th if you’ve been running a preview for almost a year? You can either opt to stay in the “Windows Insider” program and continue to get access to upcoming features. Or you can do nothing… and get a free update to the stable version of Windows 10… maybe.
Update: Everything below this paragraph is going to be kind of confusing now that the situation has been better explained. But I’m leaving it in place as a historical record. For the full story, check out our update. But in a nutshell, if you upgraded from Windows 7 or Windows 8.1 to Windows 10 Preview, you’re good to go. You can upgrade to Windows 10 final on July 29th and your copy of Windows will be activated. If you performed a clean install from an ISO, then you’ll need to roll back to Windows 7 or 8.1 before upgrading… or stay in the Insider Preview program to continue getting test builds of upcoming software releases before they’re more widely available.
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Microsoft’s Gabe Aul says even if you did a clean install of a Windows 10 Insider Preview build from a downloaded ISO disc image, you’ll received a free update to the final build of Windows 10 once the operating system is released… and it’ll remain activated.
That’s good news for folks that had performed a clean install rather than performing an upgrade from Windows 7 or Windows 8.1 operating systems.
It also means that you might be able to score a free Windows 10 license on July 29th even if you’re not currently running an operating system that’s eligible for a free upgrade.
Microsoft has already said Windows 10 will be a free upgrade for Windows 7 and Windows 8.1 users for the first year after it’s released. But if you’re building a PC from scratch or want to move from a different operating system (such as Windows XP or Ubuntu), you’ll have to pay $110 or more for a licensed copy of Windows 10.
Or you can join the Windows Insider program between now and July 28th, download and install Windows 10, and get a free update.
Update: Note that you’ll need to associate your Windows 10 Insider Preview build with Microsoft Account to get the upgrade or any future Insider updates. While you won’t need a Microsoft Account to perform a normal upgrade from Windows 7 or Windows 8.1 or to use Windows 10 generally, you will need one to upgrade from Windows 10 Insider Preview to Windows 10 final.
It’s also worth noting that when Aul’s blog post was first published on Friday, it said users that had performed a clean install of the Windows 10 Insider Preview would be able to upgrade to Windows 10 final and their version of Windows would remain activated. Now it doesn’t say that anymore.
The post has been changed to say that only users with “Genuine Windows 7 or Windows 8.1” can upgrade to Windows 10 for free. In other words if you haven’t already paid for Windows in one way or another (by buying a boxed or downloaded copy, or by purchasing a PC with the OS pre-loaded), then there’s officially no free upgrade to Windows 10 for you. Whether you’ll be able to do it unofficially remains to be seen… but you may need to buy a valid Windows license key if you don’t already have one associated with your computer.
It’s hard to parse Microsoft semantics though. Gabe Aul has responded to several questions on Twitter in a way that suggests you can essentially get a licensed and activated Windows 10 for free by signing up for the Windows Insider Program, installing a Windows 10 Preview before July 29th, and linking it to your Microsoft Account. But as mentioned above, the amended blog post specifically says users only get to upgrade for free from licensed, activated Windows 7 or 8.1 systems.
So the company seems to be sending mixed messages: while it’s clear that anyone who is running Windows 7 or Windows 8.1 can upgrade to Windows 10 for free… and that anyone running a Windows 10 Preview build will also be able to upgrade, it’s not entirely clear if you’ll have a genuine, activated windows license after the upgrade if you performed a clean install on a system that had never been running Windows 7 or 8.1 to begin with. It’s possible that you will be able to, but Microsoft is discouraging it (which would explain the change in language). It’s also possible you won’t be able to unless you can enter a valid Windows license key (there’s a good chance that one was affixed to the side of your computer when you bought it).