The Windows Insider program lets members test new versions of Windows before they’re available to the general public, and many people have been participating in the program to test Windows 10 ahead of its July 29th launch date.

But what happens to those testers on July 29th? Well, it depends.

A few days ago Microsoft’s Gabe Aul posted an article online that was designed to explain things… but that didn’t work out so well. So now Aul is trying again with an updated version of the article.

win10 desk

So here’s the deal. Say you installed the Windows 10 Preview by upgrading from Windows 7 or Windows 8.1. In that case, as long as you were using a “Genuine” version of Windows to start with (which means you had a valid, activated Windows license), then you’re good to go. You can leave opt to stop receiving Windows 10 Insider Preview builds and just update to Windows 10 final when it’s released on July 29th.

What if you downloaded a Windows 10 Preview ISO, burned it to a disc, and then performed a clean install? In that case, you basically wiped all evidence that you had a Genuine Windows license on your PC and in order to get the free upgrade to Windows 10, you’re going to have to roll back to Windows 7 or Windows 8.1… and I hope you’ve still got that little sticker with your Windows license key in case you’re doing a clean install rather than restoring from a backup.

It’s kind of a pain… especially because if I recall correctly, when the first previews of Windows 10 were made available, there was no option to upgrade… at least not from Windows 7. That’s why I performed a clean install on the old laptop I’ve been using to test the OS. But it makes sense, because while Microsoft is giving away Windows 10 as a free upgrade to everyone who’s running a licensed version of Windows 7 or later, the company never intended to give away Windows 10 to everyone.

And that’s pretty much what Microsoft would have to do if the company were to allow anyone running the Windows 10 Preview to update to Windows 10 and remain activated.

This probably won’t affect all that many people. There are millions of people using Windows, and most of them probably never bought boxed copies of the operating system. They bought computers that came with Windows pre-installed. If they’re still running Windows 7 or Windows 8.1, they can upgrade to Windows 10 for free anytime between July 29th, 2015 and July 28th, 2016.

If they’ve decided to upgrade their OS to the Windows 10 Preview, they can also get a free upgrade to Windows 10 final… as long as they used the upgrade process rather than a clean install.

Those of us who did clean installs, on the other hand, are going to have to either fish around for our backup media, remain in the Windows Insider program to continue testing preview builds of upcoming software, or just choose another operating system altogether. There are plenty of options for folks who don’t want to worry about whether their OS is “genuine” or not.

One option you don’t have is to download and install the free Windows 10 Preview on a system that’s running Windows XP, Windows Vista, or no operating system at all and then magically get a fully licensed version of Windows 10 final on July 29th.

Despite what you may have heard earlier this year, Microsoft isn’t giving pirates a way to upgrade to “genuine” Windows for free (The company just has a way with words… and it’s not a good way).

And Microsoft’s also not letting you get Windows 10 for free if you haven’t already paid for Windows 7 or Windows 8.1 (or at least paid for a PC that already had the software on it when you bought it).

But… there is kind of a way to keep using Windows 10 for free. Just stay in the Windows Insider program. Microsoft provides you with an activated prerelease license key. It’s just that you’ll be using prerelease versions of Windows which are set to expire after a certain period of time. So in order to keep using/testing Windows, you’ll need to continue updating to future prerelease builds.

It sounds like you can do this for as long as Microsoft continues to offer its Windows Insider program… which may not be forever. But it does provide an alternative to rolling back your software before upgrading to Windows 10.

Update: Still confused about your options for upgrading to Windows 10 final? The folks at Lifehacker put together this handy flow chart:

win10 flow chart

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25 replies on “Windows 10 isn’t free (unless you’ve already paid for Windows 7 or 8.1)”

  1. No doubt, Windows 7 Professional 64bit is a Pro version of Microsoft, Which has all recommended functions, So you can install it with low specs of your system, As you can see; 1GB Processor, 512mb Ram and 8Gb HDD is needed to install Windows 7 Professional, But with these low specs, Your system will not slow, If you’re not using any apps, which required high specs.
    Microsoft released many new OS, But Still I’m using it and suggest for others to install with its legal license, Which you can buy cheap at ODosta Store.
    Using Boot into UEFI mode or legacy BIOS-compatibility mode when installing Windows from your USB, DVD, or network location, You’ll have full command to use it after having a legal version.
    Legal OS will be full & functional with Microsoft updates and make your data safe and sound. Hope to understand.

  2. COA stickers and reformatted hard dives are pretty cheap on ebay right now. THose of you who already made the mistake should get in on that before those COA stickers get hot or hard to find!

  3. I think part of the problem is blogger language! So many bloggers, many not friendly to anything Microsoft, write in such a way as to produce a confused interpretation of what Microsoft says or intends to do. Not that MS is an angel in this either mind you. But I have read dozens of articles on this “free windows” issues since they began blogging or reporting on it. There are some sites that are clearly anti-Microsoft/pro Apple, ahem cough cough BGR, cough cough Forbes, cough, cough _____<(place blog or newsite here), that write such negative articles about Windows in general that you would think no device running windows is actually doing any computing work!! So you actually have to teach yourself to read between the BullShiete they write to get a nugget here and a nugget there of what MS is actually saying or doing! I'll give credit to liliputing and Android Police sites and a few others for doing the right thing and tryin to clarify all that BS and leaving it up to the fandom in the post replies to fight it out about what is going on. This piece right here is as clear an explanation, so far, as I have read on the issue. Mind you, I think I pretty much understood the MS message from the begining of this issue surfacing in the bloggosphere, but kept on reading just in case something changed or I plain understood wrong!
    Thank you Brad, for your continued filtering of the BS. We owe you a kickstarter campaing for new hip-boots as you continue throlling for the facts from within the bs stew!

  4. This Gabe guy flip flops more than any policitian does during an election campaign. Hope Windows 10 is not as flaky as Gabe Aul appears to be.

  5. Oh nuts, and I upgraded all my machines to the preview upon hearing that it’d become full licensed win10 (I should say one of my five machines was running genuine windows 7 or 8 before then, and one of the five was running an old broken ubuntu installation). Oh well, time to poke around the MSDN for a key or something.

  6. Somehow I feel that Microsoft will again reverse directions by the end of July. Gabe Aul will end up looking like a goat if something isn’t done to appease all of us that performed the dump and load. MS could at LEAST offer up a significant discount to the Previewers in the program in the interest of good will. Otherwise I might end up going back to Debian 8 Gnome and leave all the waffling behind.

  7. THIS is why i held back doing anything,,i just knew MS wasn’t going to give pirates or owners of XP.vista ANYTHING,,,he doesn’t live in a 500 million dollar home by giving people anything…..so i will plod on with Vista….

  8. I have Windows 10 preview installed (clean install) on an old laptop that originally ran Vista. No Key upgrade for this machine. I guess I will just let it run to see what happens. I only use it for testing anyway. I really want to install Classic Shell on it but have been holding off so I can see what the final version of “clean” Windows 10 looks like. The rest of my computers run either Linux Mint, Windows 7 or both. I don’t really see that changing any time soon.

  9. yep, it’s kind of a pain specially with all these win 8.1 devices that come WITHOUT the famous sticker. as always MS messing around heavily. but … did anybody expect something else? not really

    1. Never seen a windows device from the factory that did not come with that windows sticker of COA. If I ever received or bought one I would have returned it emmediately knowing how important that number is! In fact you can’t buy a used pc case on ebay without one! If you do see a pc skelleton it’s ususally dirt cheap and the sellers warns you multiple time that there is no COA

  10. Hey just wanted to point out that you misspelled Microsoft in this paragraph.

    And the Microsfot’s also not letting you get Windows 10 for free

    Thanks for the article. Have a good one!

  11. You got me Gabe, well done! Here’s some feedback:

    After 1-2 days of testing, I can’t believe it’ll be ready by July 29th. It’s an unstable mess and imo Classic Shell is still needed for a proper/classic desktop. I now realize I don’t care anymore about Windows 10 so I guess it wasn’t a total waste.

  12. Once more, just another reason to stick with Linux. Microslop is run by idiots.

    1. I’m a big Linux fan, but honestly, Windows is worth the price. You’re paying for an OS that supports far more software, and has far more hardware support too.

      You’re also paying for things like Toolkits and APIs that support developers in making software more seamless and compatible (something GTK struggles to accomplish). Not to mention DirectX, which has no (serious) Linux competitor.

      I use Xubuntu and Linux Mint on several PCs. If Microsoft made DirectX available on Linux, and all it costed the user was a Windows license, I would pay for a retail copy of Windows just to use it.

  13. Well isn’t this confusing. I guess we’ll just have to wait until the 29th to see what actually happens. I wouldn’t be too surprised if that “loophole” does work but only time will tell

  14. Thanks, Microsoft. I just used 2.66% of my monthly bandwidth allowance to download the Technical Preview ISO.

    Oh, well. It wasn’t all a wash. What I saw convinced me to stick to Windows 7 as long as I can.

  15. Brilliant. I performed a clean install after reading that previous article (without recording my license key) so I guess I’m screwed. Thanks microsoft.

    1. Depends on your system, key may be in the FW for OEM installs or it may be among the documentation from the OEM… You can also see if the OEM will help you get that information, which they should do as long as you can prove you actually own a system from them…

  16. In 2015.. People still have to pay for operating system .. I don’t believe it

    1. You always did, it was just a difference on how… either pay up front in the traditional manner or through ad or other alternative revenue method… Nothing is really free, at best you could have someone else pay for it…

    1. “Oh well. I imaged my previous Windows install. ” And that exactly what folks should be doing anyway!!!! Don’t blame Microsoft for you folks own idiocy. If you believe that MS is and will always be a screwed up company, then the fault does not lie with them when you make such a stupid mistake as to reformat your hardrive or fdlash a different ui on your pc without imaging or copying down you COA number in case something goes wrong. None of you would do that with an Android device …well maybe you would. My point is that you should have a back-up on disc, image or some other way to get back to your original ui! Me I( am waiting, but I have my coa numbers on paper, on a cloud account and a recovery disc for all my systems in case I need it.

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