/ Technology

Free at last – Microsoft gives away Windows 10

windows 10

If you’re one of those who was left frustrated with Windows 8, today’s your lucky day. An announcement from Microsoft introduces the new Windows 10. And better yet, it’s free.

‘We want to move people from needing Windows to loving Windows.’ So said Satya Nadella, Microsoft’s chief executive officer, at an event yesterday where Windows 10 was formally introduced to the world. Well, there’s one thing people will definitely love – the price.

Windows 10 is to be offered as a free upgrade to any customers currently running Windows 7, Windows 8.1 or Windows Phone 8.1, provided they install the upgrade in the first year after launch.

The move to offering its signature operating system free of charge feels long overdue, and some, myself included, would consider it a necessary apology gesture to those of us who endured the lamentable Windows 8 in the first place.

Free, that’s the magic number

No more, no less, that’s what consumers have been calling for. When we ran a poll here on Which? Conversation to ask your opinion on Windows 10, of 2,000 respondents, an overwhelming 92% felt Windows 10 should be free for Windows 8 users. A further 6% felt it should be offered at a discount.

Microsoft has gone one better by broadening the free offer to the huge Windows 7 user base. And that makes it a more tantalising proposition for millions of business owners the world over, and perhaps even Chris S who told us this on the last Convo:

‘Bought a new laptop with Win 8 when our old one died. It was so bad we put it in a cupboard and bought a Mac! Might dig out the laptop to try Win 10 if they give a free upgrade.’

A free upgrade is nothing all that novel in the modern tech landscape – Apple offers Mac users free upgrades to the latest version of OS X all the time, while iPad or iPhone users are offered a new version of iOS for free every year. Terfar pointed this out, and from the sound of things, it seems his fears aren’t that necessary:

‘Apple and Android get free updates. I think that Microsoft may have to join the bandwagon with free updates, but I fear that we may then only get a basic OS without all the standard features.’

Microsoft is finding its traditional revenue model increasingly turned on its head. It simply isn’t making much money out of selling operating systems these days. A free OS is a gateway to upselling further products, apps and services that may give Microsoft a profitable lifeline.

Free forever?

So Windows 10 is to be free – well that’s alright, now, but will it stay that way? I have some reservations over the fact it’s been stated as only being free for the first year after launch. It’s possible anyone dragging their feet to upgrade could end up still paying out for the operating system later down the line.

And who’d blame you for holding back on upgrading? When Windows 8 first debuted, it was met with dismay as Microsoft abandoned such staples as the Start menu, and shoe-horned in a tablet-style app experience into an operating system that was still predominantly used by laptop and desktop owners. Windows 8.1 fixed a number of gripes, but we had to wait the better part of a year for these to come along.

Microsoft hasn’t committed to a pricing plan for Windows 10 further down the line. It’s entirely plausible that it could yet remain free, though this is unconfirmed. For now, I’ll happily take the news of the free upgrade as a great, common-sense response from Microsoft to evident dissatisfaction from its core customers and a necessary shift in a changing market place.

So will you update to Windows 10 as soon as it’s out? Or has your loyalty already shifted to another brand? And do you think it’s right that operating systems are now being given away for free?

Bruce says:
22 January 2015

What about XP users?
What about all the bugs that seem to come as standard on new releases?
What about the cost of replacing the other software which is no longer compatible?


Hi Bruce, I suspect Microsoft’s response to that is that ‘there shouldn’t be any XP users left’ – not true, of course, but since support for that operating system ended last April, Microsoft was pushing many of them to upgrade to 8. Vista users is another question, of course.

Bugs there will still be, I’m sure. Microsoft is beta-testing Windows 10 at the moment. Around 1.5million users have signed up to try a preview and apparently 800,000 pieces of user feedback have been taken on board for the development of the full release version later this year.

Compatibility wise, I would hope that any software compatible with 7 or 8 will also work with 10. But time will tell and we’ll be keeping a close eye.


I expect there are plenty of XP users around still but I guess there needs are limited and it would not be unreasonable for Microsoft to disregard them now. Like having a vintage car – you have to join an owner’s club to get spare parts. I wonder if there is an owner’s club for Vista users – I think Microsoft pretend it’s nothing to do with them.


Would PCs that run XP up to running Windows 10? Will my old Windows 7 laptop be able to run Windows 10? Any system requirements out yet, Rich?


My guess is the system requirements will be equal to Windows 7 and upwards, but this will preclude plenty of more basic XP computers.

1GHz processor or above
At least 1GB Ram (2GB for 64-version)
20GB spare hard drive space


I have Win 10 trial running on a machine that originally had Win XP, then Vista (ghastly), then Win 7 and now resurrected for Win 10 testing.

I would guess that most desktop PCs running Vista forwards will be OK with Win 10. Laptops present a different problem, namely firmware drivers for the motherboard and peripherals (like touchpad, wireless, function keys, etc. There will be many that won’t take the upgrade, but that won’t be due to the OS.

As for XP to Win 10: again that is a firmware driver issue, not the OS. There’s a good chance that if the Motherboard manufacturer has drivers on their support sites for Win 8.1, then Win 10 won’t be a problem; probably not a problem if there are Win 7 drivers.

There will be a compatibility utility that users can download and run on their old PCs to test suitability. I’m guessing that most will be unfortunate.

But keep scanning the Internet support forums for your PC because there are many geeks who raise to a challenge and find workarounds for such problems. For example, I’ve got Chrome OS running on an old Samsung NC10 netbook: it runs better than the original Win 7 except for the wireless card and that can be resolved by using a USB wireless dongle!


I’m pleased with what I have seen and used on Win 10 – so far. But it’s far from a finished poduct. There’s a new release of Win 10 preview coming up shortly.

Although there’s no long-term pricing indications, but my guess that a free version or a complete repricing strategy is being considered. Perhaps it will become free with hardware, but a small annual fee introduced for major updates and upgrades. That will make new Window hardware a little cheaper (competing against the likes of Chromebooks), keep users invested in Windows and produce a steadier revenue stream for MS. Office 365 seems to be doing very well compared to Office 2013!

Ernie says:
22 January 2015

I bought windows 8 to upgrade from Vista but never used it because of the bad reviews. I am now holding back because I have a lot of e-mails on a currently ongoing legal issue and don’t want to risk losing them in the upgrade process. As my Windows 8 package is unopened will I be able to exchange it for windows 10? I live in hope – but not a lot!


Hi Ernie

My suspicion is you’ll need to install Windows 8, then you will be able to upgrade for free. I don’t think you’ll be able to take a boxed version into a shop and swap it. If you’ve been given a download code and product license number for 8, it’s possible you’ll be able to use this to download 10 directly and bypass 8, but I’m not certain. The installation process may notice you’re on Vista and create problems.

As for your emails, if they’re saved as files on your computer, back them up to an external hard drive for safe-keeping. You could also consider copying them over to Evernote or One Note for a free, safe way of storing the ones you want (I’ve been doing this with an on-going legal saga with my landlord!). If you use a webmail service such as Hotmail or Gmail, no need to worry as this won’t be affected by changing operating systems


I suggest that after backing up your email and any documents/photos, etc. you install Win 8 and then immediately use Windows Update to bring it up to Windows 8.1. (A tedious business with loads of files needing updates, so I hope your internet speed is good!) Download the free Classicshell utility which will bring back most of the familiarity of Windows 7. http://www.classicshell.net/


My elderly P.C. came with Vista and I’ve had no problem with it, or Vista over many years. When it finally goes to that great blue screen in the sky, I’ll replace it with what ever is current at the time. My laptop runs 8.1 and I’ll give Windows 10, six months or so to settle down and then change to that, having backed up everything first. As with Vista, 8.1 does everything I need it to do, but free is free, so it’s worth a punt.


Hi all, our sister site Which? Tech Daily has rounded up five key features of Windows 10 if you’re interested 🙂 http://blogs.which.co.uk/technology/windows-10/windows-10-five-key-features/


Thanks for that link Patrick. No mention of Vista on your sister site so I guess we’re doomed; I was expecting that anyway and I think it leaves the way clear for me to start again with a complete new desktop PC running Windows 10 and upgrade the other Windows 7 and 8 devices one at a time. I can’t see us cross-platforming everything however so there will be quite a bit of unaccessed functionality.

Something I might have missed: have they rung the bell yet for the start of the one-year window of Windows upgrade opportunity?