The Windows 10 FAQ: Everything You Need to Know

Now that Windows 10 is available for public download and installation people have more questions than ever about the new version of Windows. We’ve rounded up the questions we get most frequently here at How-To Geek and compiled them to help you get up to speed about Windows 10.

Every week we get hundreds of questions to our ask@howtogeek.com email inbox and we field dozens more from friends and family that know we work for a tech publication. People across the board are very curious about Windows 10. Further, because it’s a free upgrade for millions upon millions of users across the globe there is a huge amount of interest in everything from the upgrade process to changes in the operating system.

For all our curious readers, neighbors, and people searching for more information about Windows 10 we’ve rounded up to most frequently asked questions we’ve come across here for your convenience.

Is Windows 10 Really Free?

There has been significant confusion regarding the pricing (or lack there of) of Windows 10 over the last year. Don’t be ashamed if you’re confused, Microsoft themselves changed their story regarding the upgrade and pricing schedule more than a few times during the development and beta testing of Windows 10.

For a huge number of people Windows 10 is really, truly, free-as-in-beer free. If you are currently running any legitimate (non-pirated) version of Windows 7 or Windows 8.1 you will be upgraded for free to an equivalent version of Windows 10. Windows 7 Home/Basic/Premium users and Windows 8.1 users will be upgraded for free to Windows 10 Home. Windows 7 Professional/Ultimate users and Windows 8.1 Pro users will be upgraded to Windows 10 Pro.

You’ll note we didn’t say Windows 8; if you have a Windows 8 machine you first need to perform the free upgrade to Windows 8.1 before upgrading to Windows 10. The vast majority of current Windows users fall under the umbrella above. Your Windows 7 desktop, your Windows 8.1 laptop, as long as it has a legitimate Windows license it is eligible for upgrade. It’s also worth noting that the Windows 10 free upgrade key is tied to the hardware. You can’t upgrade a machine and roll back and keep the key to do a clean install on another computer.

There is a minor catch: the upgrade is only free for the first year Windows 10 is available. Windows 10 was officially released in 07/29/2015 and the upgrade will remain free for qualifying users until 07/28/2016.

If you’re building a new PC and need a brand new Windows license you can purchase Windows 10 for $119 (or Windows 10 Pro for $199). Practically speaking though, buying a full price Windows 10 key, of either flavor, is a bad deal considering that you can purchase a cheaper key for Windows 7 and upgrade (or just scrounge it off the bottom of an old laptop or computer). You could, for example, buy a horribly dated (and possibly broken) Windows laptop at a garage sale for next to nothing and use the key to upgrade.

Even if you don’t want to gamble on using a key off an old laptop that somebody else might have recorded for their own use, it’s still cheaper to buy an old version of Windows and upgrade it. You can buy a brand new copy of Windows 8.1 Pro for $131, for example, and upgrade it to Windows 10 Pro (saving yourself ~$70 in the process).

In short, even when Windows 10 isn’t free (as it is for nearly everyone) it’s still pretty economical because you can use old (and cheaper) Windows 7 and Windows 8 keys to perform the free upgrade to Windows 10.

How Do I Get Windows 10?

So Windows 10 is, for nearly everyone, free-as-in-beer. But how exactly do you get your hands on a copy? Things have changed more than a bit over the years (and quite a bit from the days of heading down to the old computer store to buy a shrink wrapped box with your new OS in it).

Fortunately, getting Windows 10 on your computer (whether you’re performing an upgrade or a clean installation) is a simple affair. You download the Windows 10 installer tool from Microsoft, you run the installer, and you work your way through the installation wizard with a reboot here or there, and boom, you’re running Windows 10. It’s really a surprisingly simple process and we’re impressed with how smooth upgrading is. You can go from running Windows 7 or 8.1 to running Windows 10 pretty much as fast as your connection will download the update.

If you’re the kind of person who wants a clear picture of exactly what you need to do and what steps are involved in the process, definitely check out our article How to Upgrade from Windows 7 or 8 to Windows 10 (Right Now) to see the upgrade steps outlined in detail.

Will My Computer Run Windows 10?

We’ve been asked this question quite a bit and we won’t lie, we’re not huge fans of the question because it’s so hard to give a good answer. Unlike other questions that have concrete answers like “Can I upgrade Windows 7 Home to Windows 10?” this particular question only has a concrete answer if we have detailed information about the computer in question and detailed information about the hardware therein.

If your computer is currently running Windows 7 or Windows 8 to your satisfaction, especially on newer hardware, there’s a very strong chance it will run Windows 10 just fine. On the other hand if the hardware you’re using was from your old Windows XP machine and it is barely running Windows 7 at a satisfactory level then the reality is jumping all the way to Windows 10 is probably going to yield a sluggish user experience you won’t be particularly happy with.

While we can’t give you a concrete answer about your particular hardware we can suggest that you read the Windows 10 system required here, and check the compatibility of your computer and hardware with the Get Windows 10 system tray app (which will report not just on whether or not you have enough memory and such but if your printers and other devices are compatible).

What we can say before leaving this particular subject is that we’ve been pleasantly surprised with how well Windows 10 has run on older hardware so don’t rule out an upgrade just because your computer is getting a little long in the tooth.

Do I Have To Upgrade?

Earlier this year when Microsoft pushed out the the “Get Windows 10” tray app to millions of users, many people who were, more or less, totally unaware of Windows 10 were suddenly very aware of it and very curious what the icon (and the resulting info-app that pops up when you click on the icon) meant.

The most frequently question we received regarding the Get Windows 10 app was, hands down, “How do I get rid of the Get Windows 10 app?” because people hate annoying in-your-face stuff they didn’t ask for. The second most frequent question is “Do I have to upgrade?”

The answer is, firmly, no. You do not have to upgrade to Windows 10. Although Microsoft is aggressively promoting Windows 10 (it’s free for most people after all) you are not required to upgrade unless you wish to do so.

Should I Upgrade?

Those who aren’t concerned about if they have to upgrade are usually wondering if they should upgrade. So should you upgrade to Windows 10? Barring some compelling reason for not doing so (like you can’t get drivers for a piece of hardware your job depends on) there’s very little reason to not upgrade to Windows 10. It’s a huge leap forward from Windows 7. It’s an excellent update to Windows 8 (and, in every way, an improvement from the total mess that was the forced Windows 8 no-desktop-tile-system).

Should you upgrade right this second though? If you’re reading this article at the time of publication, mere weeks after the official Windows 10 release date, you probably shouldn’t. We’ve updated several machines without any problems as part of our very write-about-Windows oriented tech writing jobs, but if you’re considering upgrading your primary machine it would be very wise to wait at least a few months for any hiccups to be ironed out. That window provides time for manufacturers to update drivers, unforeseen problems in Windows 10 to be patched, and for you to properly backup all your files and be really ready for the transition.

Ultimately it would be very foolish to stubbornly hold onto Windows 7 so long that you miss the Windows 10 upgrade period. Whether you wait a month or six months, Windows 10 is a solid and worthwhile upgrade.

Do I Have To Upgrade To Do A Clean Installation?

This is one of the more confusing and annoying things about upgrading: if you want to do a totally clean install (and many folks do) you can’t just run the installer and give it a legitimate Windows 7 or 8 key. You actually have to first upgrade your machine from Windows 7 or 8 to Windows 10 and then run the installer again to perform a clean install.

While this seems convoluted (and frankly it is) there’s a reason behind it. When you perform the upgrade your hardware configuration is registered with Microsoft and serves as the “fingerprint” if you will of system confirming that it is a legitimate Windows machine. That fingerprint is what authenticates your Windows 10 machine when you go to do the clean installation afterwards.

It’s a hassle but you only have to do it once and that machine is forever registered for use with Windows 10.

Can I Downgrade Back To Windows 7 or 8 If I Hate Windows 10?

You can absolutely downgrade from Windows 10 back to the previous version of Windows 7 or Windows 8.1. You can even totally wipe your machine and reinstall your old version of Windows with the old key. But, and this is a very big but, you can only do so within the first 30 days.

After 30 days two things happens. First, the rollback files stored on the PC are deleted (thus no downgrade is possible without totally reinstalling the previous version of Windows). Second, and less visible to the user, your previous Windows key is used as a golden ticket of sorts to approve your transition into Windows 10.

If you rollback your machine in that first month you get your entire old Windows installation back. If you rollback after the 30 days you aren’t as much rolling back anymore as you are just releasing your Windows 10 license and freeing up your old key to be used for your older version of Windows. You’ll still need to totally reinstall Windows and use your old key to get your old installation back up and running.

Now what’s interesting is that upgrading to Windows 10, even if you roll back to your previous version of Windows, secures you a permanent copy of Windows 10 linked to that license key. If you decide to upgrade two years from now, at least according to Microsoft at the time of this article, you’ll have a Windows 10 download waiting for you for free.

Will My Old Apps And Peripherals Still Work?

Like the question “Will my computer run Windows 10?” this one is subjective. The good news is that we haven’t run into a single app that hasn’t worked yet (included some very old but useful apps we’ve hung on to since as far back as Windows XP). The bad news is every case is different and maybe that photo print you like so much that worked perfect with Windows 7 doesn’t even have Windows 8 drivers, let alone Windows 10 support.

One subject we’ve heard more than a few inquiries about is the subject of automatic updating in Windows 10. The rumors you’ve heard are absolutely true: in the home edition, or just plain Windows 10, the updates are automatically downloaded and applied at the time of their release. You can trick Windows by modifying your internet connection type, but we don’t recommend purposely delaying updates.

If you’re running Windows 10 Pro you can delay updates for a period of time but they are still automatically applied once the delay in up (unless you take advantage of a group editor trick or registry hack to disable them).

Does Windows 10 Report Back To Microsoft?

Windows has, for ages, reported back to Microsoft in various forms. The most obvious and enduring reporting is the basic Windows authentication process. There’s also the equally as old error reporting service that phones home when your programs crash and things fall apart so Microsoft can, ostensibly, prevent such problems in the future.

Windows 10 takes all that a step further, moving beyond the simplicity of verifying installation and reporting software problems, to more intimately integrating the online experience with the local computer experience in a way that ensures Windows 10 has a higher degree of communication with Microsoft and Microsoft properties (like Bing) than any previous version of Windows.

The short of it is that, yes, Windows 10 is really chatty with ol’ Man Microsoft. The long of it is that nearly all of the privacy settings can be bent to your will if you’re willing to dig for them. We’d strongly suggest checking out our article Digging Into and Understanding Windows 10 Privacy Settings for more information.

Do I Really Have To Pay For Solitaire And DVD Playback?

You don’t really realize how many people really love old Solitaire until Microsoft messes with it. Back in Windows 8 Microsoft ditched the old school Solitaire and Minesweeper apps that had been with Windows for over twenty years, only to replace them with Xbox-integrated versions from the Windows Store. Because of the low adoption rate of Windows 8 the change went, more or less, unnoticed as most of the world was still using Windows 7 and happily playing their free games.

With the release of Windows 10 the scandal of the missing Solitaire game really came to the forefront, especially in light of the fact that the new model is subscription based. To say that people have a hard time swallowing paying a subscription to play Solitaire (after years of the app being free and included with Windows) would be a bit of an understatement. Don’t worry though, we’ve got you covered. Check out article You Don’t Have to Pay $20 a Year for Solitaire and Minesweeper on Windows 10 for information on how you can get your old-school game fix without playing the silly freemium subscription game racket.

Another surprise waiting for people making the jump from Windows 7 to Windows 10 is the lack of DVD playback support. You can still use data DVDs, of course, but Microsoft has (since Windows 8) opted to not include a license for DVD video playback in Windows. This means, by default, you can’t pop a regular DVD movie into your computer and watch it on your Windows machine. While they’d prefer you shell out money for the official Microsoft DVD for Windows App ($15) you can, in fact, get the upgrade for free if you’re upgrading from a qualifying previous edition of Windows. Anyone doing a clean installation, regardless of the Windows status of their computer before the clean installation, is not eligible.

We’d encourage you to just grab a copy of the very popular media software VLC and be done with the whole thing. You’ll get a great media player without having to jump through any silly hoops.

Where’s Windows 9?

The vast majority of Windows 10 questions we get are fairly serious questions about upgrade paths, whether or not we like the new changes, and so on, but at least a few times a week somebody inevitably asks us something along the lines of “Wait. I have Windows 7. I didn’t want Windows 8. Now it’s Windows 10? What happened to Windows 9?”

Personally, we think it was an extremely long con job to make the joke “Why was Windows 10 scared of Windows 7? Because seven ate nine!” Or not. Most like not that at all. Honestly? We have no idea and outside of a few tight lipped people at Microsoft, nobody else does either.

If we were to fathom a guess more dignified than the total dad-quality joke we just made, however, we’d say this: we think Microsoft wanted to break the pattern of people waiting for the next big thing (e.g. “I have 7 and I like it. I don’t want to gamble with 8 so I’ll wait for 9”). Between rolling it out for free to millions of people and breaking the sequential numbering we think Microsoft is trying jolt people out of their old habits (namely of being stubborn late-to-never-adopters and complaining about Windows on an odd-even schedule).

Whether that’s the strategy or out whether or hypothesis about it is right is another thing altogether, but it’s as good as any other assumption as to why there is no Windows 9 that we’ve heard.


While the questions outlined above cover the most popular questions commonly asked of us, we’re sure you have many more. Hop into the discussion forum via the link below and ask questions and help answer them for your fellow readers.

Jason Fitzpatrick is a warranty-voiding DIYer who spends his days cracking opening cases and wrestling with code so you don't have to. If it can be modded, optimized, repurposed, or torn apart for fun he's interested (and probably already at the workbench taking it apart). You can follow him on if you'd like.

  • Published 08/18/15
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