August 4, 2015
Windows 10 is available for free to most computers out there. Assuming your computer runs either Windows 7 Service Pack 1 or Windows 8.1, you’ll see a “Get Windows 10″ pop-up as long as you have Windows Update enabled. Even if you’re using Windows 7 without Service Pack 1 or the original version of Windows 8, you can upgrade to the latest versions of Windows 7 or 8 for free and then get your Windows 10 upgrade.
Microsoft has previously said this Windows 10 upgrade will be “free for the first year.” This means that this free offer lasts a year — from July 29, 2015 to July 29, 2016. You have a year to get your free upgrade. If you don’t upgrade by July 29, 2016 and try to upgrade on July 30, Microsoft won’t give you Windows 10 for free.
If you do upgrade within the first year, you get Windows 10 for free, permanently. You don’t have to pay anything. Even after it’s been a year, your Windows 10 installation will continue working and receiving updates as normal. You won’t have to pay for some sort of Windows 10 subscription or fee to continue using it, and you’ll even get any new features Microsft adds.
Boxed Windows 10 Copies and New Computers Are The Same. Free upgrade aside, this works the same across all Windows 10 licenses. If you buy a boxed copy of Windows 10 — for example, if you’re building your own PC and need a Windows license — it’ll cost $119 up-front and won’t ever require a subscription or another payment. If you buy a new computer that comes with Windows 10, it won’t ever require a subscription or fee either. Businesses may continue paying for volume licensing subscriptions, which is the only type of Windows subscription that really exists. This is only relevant for businesses doing large deployments of Windows systems.
Then What Exactly is “Windows 10 as a Service”? If Windows 10 is completely free, then what is all this talk about Windows being a “service” going forward? Well, to hear MIcrosoft tell it, they’re changing the way they develop and deliver Windows. This is tied together with Windows 10 being “the last version of Windows,” as some are saying.
Windows 10 will be updated and developed on an ongoing basis going foward. Microsoft won’t work for three years on a Windows 11 with new features and attempt to sell you an upgrade. Instead, they’ll continue adding features and improvements to Windows 10 itself on an ongoing basis. You won’t have to pay for these features. Windows 10 will just receive regular updates with the features that would otherwise have been held onto for Windows 11.
In this way, Windows 10 becomes more like Google Chrome — something that’s continually updated in the background. That’s why you can’t disable Windows Update on Windows 10 Home, and you can only delay updates on Windows 10 Professional. Microsoft wants to get all modern Windows computers on the same version of Windows and keep them updated, creating a single platform for developers to target and a single platform they have to support with security updates. Windows 10 is more like the operating systems on a Macbook, Chromebook, iPhone or iPad. You don’t have to worry about paying to upgrade to the next version of the operating system — you just get those improvements for free.
Free For “The Supported Lifetime of Your Device”(1) Microsoft doesn’t say that your PC will continue getting free updates forever. Instead, they say that those feature updates and security updates will continue “for the supported lifetime of your device.” Microsoft hasn’t actually explained what this phrase means, but it has a bit of an obvious explanation to it. Windows can’t continue to support old hardware forever — Windows 10 won’t run on PCs from 20 years ago. Whatever version of Windows exists twenty years from now probably won’t support today’s Windows 10 PCs. Microsoft gets to draw the line of when they want to stop supporting old hardware with future updates.
So How Does Microsoft Plan on Making Money? Microsoft still plans on charging for Windows licenses. When you buy a new PC, the manufacturer will still have to pay MIcrosoft for that license. If you build your own PC, you’ll need to pay $119 for a Windows license. Businesses will still need to pay for volume licenses — Enterprise versions of Windows 7 and 8.1 don’t get the free upgrade offer. Yes, Microsoft is losing upgrade revenue — people won’t pay to upgrade Windows 7 and 8.1 PCs to Windows 10. But very few people actually go out and buy a boxed copy of Windows to upgrade those old computers, anyway.
Microsoft benefits from pulling you into their Windows ecosystem. If you like Windows 10, you might get a Windows phone to run those same “universal apps” or even just choose Microsoft’s apps on your iPhone or Android phone. You might buy a Windows tablet or PC instead of a Mac, iPad, Android tablet, or Chromebook. You might choose an Xbox One over a PlayStation 4. If you don’t like your current Windows 8.1 system so much, Microsoft is betting you’ll like Windows 10 more and that will make you happy and more likely to continue purchasing Microsoft products in the future.
Of course, Microsoft could change tactics in the future, releasing WIndows 11 in five years and declaring that older devices are no longer within their “supported lifetime.” But this is clearly Microsoft’s plan right now — you shouldn’t worry about having to spend money for an existing Windows 10 install in the future. It’s free.