/ 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?

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?

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!

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!

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?

Thanks Rich. I’m sure there’ll be some big hype and some tempting offers on new kit at the time [in time for Autumn term I predict].

Does anyone know if it is possible to upgrade a Windows 10 trial to the full version when it comes out without losing the installed software?

Also does anyone know if Windows 10 has the compatibility mode that enables earlier software to run? We even have a 15 years old Corel Word Perfect running on 64 bit Windows 8 pro using this mode.

Win 10 has improved compatibility mode, which works for many older software. I have made an old scanner work in Win 10 that I couldn’t get to work in Win 8.1. But be warned that compatibility is probably only successful with some old software. It is not cure all! But you can always install Win 10 and then use a virtual PC (vPC) to run Windows 8.1 so that you can guarantee WP will work. But I am guessing that if it works with Win 8, it will work with Win 10.

I doubt that you will be able to update Win 10 trial to Win 10 retail: trials are usually time-bombed. Also, Win 10 trial regularly gets mandatory new releases and there’s no guarantee that these won’t wipe your computer. So don’t risk the trial on your main PC unless you use a vPC to install it.

John Simpson says:
24 January 2015

It is a pity that Microsoft were not as supportive to the millions of XP users worldwide that have felt abandoned and let down by Microsoft. My feelings towards Microsoft is that I hope that they go out of business because the have been a monopoly for far too long.

Katie Nash says:
24 January 2015

No way! That would let Apple take over the world!!

I’m surprised that few people mention open source software on Which? Conversation.

Vivid says:
24 January 2015

Talking of 0S, before I got my first PC, I had an Amiga. Now that was a brilliant 0S. I had a virtual Amiga on my pc for years. Nowadays I have a virtual XP on my Windows7 pc so I could still run the desktop utility for my palm pda. Now I have a Galaxy Note and I use that more than my pc.
(By the way, if you register a vPC with Dropbox you get extra free storage. It counts as another device.)

It’s amazing how many people are still using Windows XP, which was released in 2001, especially since many of the users will have the latest phone and operating system.

Perhaps this will change when free operating upgrades become standard.

I sometimes fire up a 2002 computer so that I can run obsolete software but prefer to use a recent machine for most purposes.

I don’t think this is all that amazing if you pause to reflect what XP can do and then ask – what, if anything, can other OSes do better?

My answer would be not a lot…

Katie Nash says:
24 January 2015

Does anyone know if you go out and buy a Windows 8.1 laptop NOW, would you still get the free upgrade. My Vista laptop is really TOO old, but I’ve been holding back from buying a new one cos I wanted to wait till Windows 10 appeared.

I can perhaps add that I am using a Celeron 1.6 ghz with 4gb of RAM. Although I am not a gamer it must be further encouragement that Windows 10 (10061) does not seem to require massive computing power.

The Laptop Fixers says:
24 January 2015

This is great news, especially for computer shops like ours as mean we will continue to sell computers knowing all consumers can upgrade to the very latest Windows10 free of charge.

Regarding Apple osx, this was not free until very recently (mountain lion was the first free version for snow leopard users) which then Microsoft released Windows 8 from just £14.99. Free is always better though.

Although Windows 8 has had a hard time, there is not actually much difference between Windows 8 and Windows 7. (Start menu changed to a full screen menu). This is no biggie and can actually enhance your experience. Windows 8.1 improved slightly by putting actual start button back (although it was still there but in the corner) and also allowed booting straight to desktop instead on the start menu.

Everything else pretty much the same.

Good news for the consumer, let’s hope free means continued high quality products from both Apple and Microsoft.

As you say, there’s not really that much differences between Windows 8 and Windows 7. The big step was moving from Windows XP. Free upgrades and incremental changes are the way to go. With OSX, Mountain Lion, Mavericks and Yosemite were all free upgrades.

Both Apple and Microsoft need to make it easy to go back to an older operating system if they find they have software or hardware compatibility issues following an upgrade.

Phil says:
26 January 2015

I’m still using XP on my ‘big’ pc. I have Win7 on a laptop and no-way I would downgrade my XP machine to Win7. XP just works, is not too resource hungry and has never given me any problems. I also love the fact you can set independent record levels on audio sources to playback levels. No idea why MS change this on Vista and later OS’s. Its such a basic thing to get wrong.

Rich Parris, this is computer related news. A high performance graphics card has been found to only let buyers use 3.5GB of video ram instead of the full advertised 4GB, and when it tries to use the last 0.5GB especially in SLI configuration, it leads to game stuttering and poor performance.



Can you please open a new Conversation topic about it?

Parris, you’re Which’s Editor for Computing. Where do you stand on the Nvidia GTX 970 issue with 3.5GB ram being sold as 4GB?

Themisive says:
29 January 2015

I have Windows 7 x64, whilst I could upgrade to Windows 8,, or even 8.1 I do not wish to as these systems were made for tablet PC’s not desktop ones – added to which I do NOT want a lot of finger-marks on my nice clean screens.

Will Windows 10 be available as a free upgrade for a 64 bit system? If so will it be available for an upgrade from Windows 7 x64 direct to Windows 10 64bit

Mrs Josie Levy says:
29 January 2015

I have just downloaded windows 8.1 from windows 8 and to be very honest haven’t seen much difference, I was able to use windows 8, but there are still problems with windows 8.1, Adobe Reader, cant update for some reason, I don’t understand. Also, a full scan on Windows Defender is very slow indeed, it takes hours and hours.


I’ve bought a custom PC with Win 7 just to avoid the nasty Win 8 (just as I avoided pathetic Vista)

However – free?

I’ll believe it when I see it on my desktop – “There’s no such thing as a free lunch”.

I have been using Windows 10 preview now as my main system for several months. So far it has been a mostly positive experience. Way better than Win8 or even 8.1. More like Win 7 but somewhat better. There have been some issues especially with the latest release (Build 9926), but they are slowly being fixed. I am in a situation which thanks to over enthusiastic system cleaning I no longer have access to the Windows 8 which came with the Laptop, so once Win 10 Preview dies in April, I’ll be back to Ubuntu until final release of Win 10. I expect the “Free” release will be a very basic version.

I agree. It is now nearly May and I have been using the latest Build 10061 for nearly a week. There are still quite a few rough edges but I do all of my emailing via the mail app and browsing via Project Spartan.
No doubt there will be complaints but it seems to me that Microsoft are making good progress. Although everything that I have seen so far is not earth shattering but, taken as a whole, is very encouraging.

I down loaded the Ubuntu linux operating system and installed it on all my 4 family PC and laptops to replace Windows operating system forever. The best thing i ever done. and you never get any viruses. That was 9 years ago.

…and you forgot to mention that you can have free upgrades forever 😀

Paul says:
23 April 2015

Don’t think that you cannot get viruses because you have Linux / Ubuntu? This is great news for Virus makers as they target people who think this (also Apple is linux based). Virus makers know you have little care for Internet security and make you easy pickings! Linux and Apple viruses are old news.. but if you search “Bash Bug” on google and “Linux Viruses” you will see that any system (Windows, Linux, Apple) are susceptible to viruses! Anything system that connects to the internet or a network is at risk and I advise at the minimum to take basic precautions (i.e. free antivirus software and firewall).