windows 10 default wallpaper remake

Microsoft’s Windows 10 message hasn’t always been clear. They’ve declared the Windows 10 upgrade will be free for the first year and that going forward they’ll be pushing “Windows 10 as a service.”

Some rumors going around say Windows 10 will require a paid subscription or a fee in the future if you want to continue using it or receiving updates. But Microsoft has said that won’t happen.

Yes, Windows 10 is Really Free For Most Computers, No Subscription Required

RELATED: Windows 10 Is Almost Here: Here's What You Need to Know

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. This allows you to reserve that free upgrade.

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.

RELATED: You Won’t Be Able to Disable (or Delay) Windows Updates on Windows 10 Home

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”

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.

Windows 10 includes many of Microsoft’s applications and services. Windows 10 itself isn’t a service, but it does encourage you to pay for other things, including:

  • Windows Store Apps: Windows 10 includes the Windows Store, which sells a variety of apps. Windows 10 will expand the Windows Store to include desktop apps and allow developers to easily port iPad apps and Android apps to Windows. Even new “universal apps” now run in windows on the desktop and are more appealing than they were on Windows 8.
  • In-App Purchases: Apps from the store can include microtransactions, also known as in-app purchases. Candy Crush Saga will even be automatically installed on Windows 10. Every time a Windows user pays for a Candy Crush microtransaction, Microsoft will get a cut.
  • Digital Music and Videos: The Windows Store also allows you to purchase digital copies of songs, movies, and TV shows — just like iTunes. Microsoft makes some money if you buy media through their store.

RELATED: What's the Difference Between Office 365 and Office 2016?

  • OneDrive Storage: OneDrive is integrated into File Explorer out of the box, and Microsoft sells more OneDrive space for a monthly fee. It’s like Dropbox, Google Drive, and other similar services — but integrated directly into Windows.
  • Xbox Music Streaming: Microsoft sells an “Xbox music pass” that allows you to listen to all the music you want for a monthly fee — it’s sort of like Spotify, Apple Music, Rdio, or Google Play Music. Despite the name, this works in the Music app on Windows 10 as well as other devices, from Android to iPhone. You don’t need an Xbox.
  • MIcrosoft Office: Windows 10 will have a shortcut to quickly get the desktop version of Microsoft Office, and Microsoft sells an Office 365 subscription as well as boxed copies of this.
  • Skype: Windows 10 will include a shortcut to quickly get the desktop version of Skype, and Microsoft will sell you Skype minutes so you can call landline phones and cell phones from your PC.

Microsoft will probably add other services over time, too. Reports suggest “Microsoft Wi-Fi” will be an expanded and rebranded version of Skype Wi-Fi, allowing you to get online at Wi-Fi hotspots around the world with a simple payment system. The free upgrade allows Microsoft to get these services in front of many, many more Windows users all at once.

Microsoft also 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.

Profile Photo for Chris Hoffman Chris Hoffman
Chris Hoffman is Editor-in-Chief of How-To Geek. He's written about technology for over a decade and was a PCWorld columnist for two years. Chris has written for The New York Times and Reader's Digest, been interviewed as a technology expert on TV stations like Miami's NBC 6, and had his work covered by news outlets like the BBC. Since 2011, Chris has written over 2,000 articles that have been read more than one billion times---and that's just here at How-To Geek.
Read Full Bio »