Windows 10’s free upgrade offer is over, according to Microsoft. But this isn’t completely true. There are a bunch of ways you can still upgrade to Windows 10 for free and get a legitimate license, or just install Windows 10 and use it for free.
There are a few ways you can still get Windows 10 for free, without using a pirated license: you can install Windows 10 with a 7 or 8 key, or install Windows without a key—it will work just fine, save for a small watermark reminding you to purchase a license.
Here’s how each of those methods work.
While you can no longer use the “Get Windows 10” tool to upgrade from within Windows 7, 8, or 8.1, it is still possible to download Windows 10 installation media from Microsoft and then provide a Windows 7, 8, or 8.1 key when you install it. We tested this method once again on January 5, 2018, and it still works.
Windows will contact Microsoft’s activation servers and confirm the key to the previous version of Windows is real. If it is, Windows 10 will be installed and activated on your PC. Your PC acquires a “digital license” and you can continue using and reinstalling Windows 10 on it in the future. If you head to Settings > Update & security > Activation after installing Windows in this way, you’ll see the words “Windows is activated with a digital license”.
Microsoft hasn’t communicated what’s going on here, or whether it will block this method in the future. But it still works right now. Even if Microsoft blocks this trick in the future, your PC will keep its digital license and Windows 10 will remain activated.
If you’ve taken advantage of any free upgrade offer–either the original free upgrade offer during the first year, the accessibility offer, or by installing Windows 10 and providing a key for an eligible previous version of Windows–you can continue to “get Windows 10 for free” on the same hardware.
To do this, just download the Windows 10 installation media and install it on that computer. Don’t provide any key during the installation process. It should automatically activate after it contacts Microsoft’s servers.
Sure, you can only do this if you’ve already upgraded to Windows 10, but you can continue to install Windows 10 for free on the same computer in the future–even if you replace its hard drive or other components. The new activation wizard in Windows 10’s Anniversary Update will even help you troubleshoot hardware changes and reassociate the digital license with the correct PC.
Here’s the real secret: You don’t need to provide a product key to install Windows 10. You can download Windows 10 installation media from Microsoft and install it on a PC, in Boot Camp on a Mac, or in a virtual machine without providing a product key. Windows will continue to work normally and you can do practically whatever you want.
Windows 10 will keep nagging you to activate it and won’t allow you to change any of the options under Settings > Personalization, but otherwise work just fine. It’s not something you’d necessarily want to do on your main computer, but it’s a very convenient way to set up a quick virtual machine, test Windows 10 on a PC, or install Windows 10 in Boot Camp. You can even pay to upgrade to a legal, activated version of Windows 10 from within your unactivated Windows 10 system after installing it.
This isn’t technically allowed by Microsoft’s guidelines, but they’ve specifically designed Windows to work this way. If Microsoft doesn’t want people doing this, it’s free to change Windows to block this in the future–and it might. But Windows has worked this way for years. This was even possible with Windows 7.
You can also head to Microsoft’s website and download a 90-day evaluation version of Windows 10 Enterprise. It will continue working for 90 days–about three months. It’s designed for organizations to evaluate Windows 10 Enterprise.
This evaluation copy comes with the extra features built into Windows 10 Enterprise, so it’s also a convenient way to test these Enterprise features. However, you can upgrade any edition of Windows 10 to the Enterprise edition if you have a key.
Unfortunately, other free offers—like the Accessibility offer from Microsoft—are now over. But these methods should cover you pretty well.
Of course, you can also just buy a new PC that comes with Windows 10. It’s not really free because the manufacturer has to pay for the Windows license. But, if you’re looking to upgrade from Windows 7, 8, or 8.1, it makes a lot more sense to buy a new computer that comes with Windows 10 for a few hundred bucks rather than spend $120 on a Windows 10 Home license to upgrade an old PC. PC manufacturers get a good deal and pay less than normal Windows users do for those licenses.