Tech Talk: Last Week Guide: The free Windows 10 Upgrade

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Its only four days before Microsoft’s imposed deadline for Windows 7 and 8.1 users to upgrade to Windows 10 for free. For those of you on the fence about upgrading or unsure that will be happening as of midnight Friday, July 29 here’s a quick guide to what we know.

Is Microsoft serious about charging for Windows 10?
Absolutely. While there have been rumors for months suggesting that Microsoft might extend or change this deadline, the word from them is that it is still happening. The recent announcement that Microsoft will miss its previously stated goal of 1 billion systems running Windows 10 by mid-2018 only confirms their plans not to extend the free upgrade period. Once you have upgraded to Windows 10, further upgrades will be free for the life of the device.

Are there any exceptions to this?
Yes, there is … though the exceptions are pretty specific.

If you are upgrading a Windows Phone using Windows 8.1 … and your phone is supported by Windows 10 … and your service provider makes the upgrade available, your upgrade will continue to be free. Since Windows Phones that qualify make up a very small percentage of the current mobile phone market, this is a very select group.

If you are using a Windows 7 or 8.1 system with “assistive technologies.” you can upgrade for free after the July 29th deadline according to the Microsoft Accessibility Blog. Assistive technologies include software and hardware designed to help people who have a defined disability (low vision, mobility, hearing, etc.) that limits their computer activity. As we haven’t seen more detail as yet on this from Microsoft, I am assuming this means users of third-party assistive technologies, not Windows’ built-in accessibility tools. Upgrading systems with these specialized tools in place has always been more complicated because of how they integrate with the operating system, and, often, the costs of upgrading them to compatible versions.

So, if I download Windows 10 now, I will be able to install it for free anytime, right?
Wrong. In order for Windows 10 to be a free upgrade, it needs to be installed AND activated before the midnight Friday 29th deadline. Once Microsoft’s activation servers have information on the system, you have more flexibility. See option 2 under “What if I am not ready upgrade?” below for more details.

What if I am not ready to upgrade?
If you think you might upgrade at some point but aren’t ready to do it now, these are your options:

1. Pay for the upgrade
There is nothing wrong with this option, as long as you understand the costs. If you are running a Windows 7 or 8 Home version (check by using the Windows Key+R to display an entry area, typing winver and pressing Enter), your upgrade cost is about $120. If it is Windows 7 or 8.1 Professional, the cost jumps up to $200. While some discounts may available through individual retailers, those prices seem to be the standard. The key thing to know if that Windows 10 will only upgrade over its appropriate version (Home or Home Premium to Windows 10 Home, Pro or Professional to Windows 10 Pro).

2. Upgrade, then roll back to your previous OS.
According to the Windows 10 Upgrade FAQ:
“Once you’ve upgraded to Windows 10 using the free upgrade offer, you can reinstall or perform a clean installation on the same device. You won’t need a product key to re-activate Windows 10 on the same hardware. For more info on how to create your own Windows 10 installation media, go to the Microsoft software download website.”

What this means is that you can upgrade temporarily to Windows 10, then do into Settings, Update and Security, and Recovery to go back to your previous Windows version. This option is available to you up to 30 days after your upgrade. A post on The Windows Club shows the process. Once the Windows activation servers have a record of your system on Windows 10, you will be able upgrade or restore that system for free going forward.

I recommend if you chose to do this process to make a full backup of your computer before starting. While the upgrade and rollback processes work very well, anytime you make these kinds of major changes in a system, there can still be a chance for trouble to occur.

3. Wait and get a new system
Most new PCs are now running Windows 10. That is the traditional route most people have taken to get a new version of Windows … and it still works. Whether it this approach, or one of the other methods, you will be get free updates of Windows 10 as they become available.

What if I am not comfortable with the Windows 10 upgrade process?
You could have someone else install Windows 10 for you. There are individuals like me who do this for a fee. I frankly think that this personalized service is more worthwhile for you if you wish a system to be checked out prior to an upgrade or once the upgrade is completed. It’s at those times either problems can be addressed or you can be advised on screens being displayed or actions to take. Since most of upgrade time (20 minutes to an hour) is a hands-off operation, there is a lot of waiting around on your dime.

If you prefer the lesser expensive route of having a computer store install Windows 10, that is fine, providing you know the reputation of the place and have a relationship with them. Upgrade prices usually start at about $30 and is often a flat fee. The best deal I have seen lately is from Microsoft Stores. If you bring in your qualifying computer with Windows 7 or 8.1 to a nearby store (Check for a Microsoft Store near you), they will upgrade it to Windows 10 for free the same day. If they fail to upgrade it in time, you get a free Dell laptop.

When is the next version available?
Microsoft has announced that version 1607 of Windows 10 (also known as The Anniversary Update) will be available starting August 2nd as a free automatic upgrade for current Windows 10 users and a paid upgrade for Windows 7 and 8.1 users.

Why do we keeping getting all these new versions?
For those of you keeping track of versions, this will be the third major update for Windows 10 in the past year, not including the monthly “Cumulative Updates” that have been be occurring every month.” This is a big change from the once every-three-year cycle Microsoft has previously used for Windows.

This new approach challenges traditional notions of a software product. Products are usually considered static items and are typically replaced by newer or different products. Software with its malleability has never fit well into the paradigm of a product, especially as software update mechanisms have evolved. Microsoft is dealing with this by recasting Windows as a service. Services evolve and adjust to changing circumstances.

The advantage of having Windows as an updatable service is that changes can frequently occur in the background, tend to be incremental and need less orientation … once you accept the premise.

If you don’t accept the premise and continue to treat Windows as a product, then the process of frequent updates becomes an intrusion over which you have little control and a source of frustration.

Is there a compelling reason to just wait for the next version?
None that come to mind. The traditional reason (“Wait until the bugs are ironed out”) doesn’t really apply. While some features of Windows 10 (namely, the Microsoft Edge web browser and Cortana digital assistant) are more fully fleshed out in version 1607, the basic system has already been through a major update, version 1511, in November of last year and is functioning fine.

Since version 1511 is also a free upgrade for Windows 7 and 8.1, it is worth doing. As mentioned earlier, the upgrade to the current version will also let you upgrade to version 1607 for free, so there is little downside to doing. If you wait for 1607, you will pay for the upgrade.

One note – if you upgrade to version 1511 now, it will be 30 days before you are automatically prompted to upgrade 1607. Microsoft specifically does this to allow you time to “roll-back” to Windows 7 or 8.1, if necessary. A new upgrade clears out the previous Windows 7 or 8.1 operating system files that allow the capability to roll back. If you don't wish to wait for 30 days, you can still manually upgrade within the 30-day window through Microsoft’s Update Page.

What more can you tell me about Windows 10 Anniversary Update (version 1607) that is available on August 2nd?
There is a lot to say … so we will hold those thoughts to another post.

Boston LegacyWorks, LLC offers talks and individual help on technology topics, troubleshooting and tutoring on PC usage, and services so you can manage and maintain your computer, your network of computers, or how they connect with the world. Contact us for information on how we can help you.


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