Following up on my article yesterday, and beating a dead horse, this is a reminder that the free upgrade to Windows 10 ends on July 29th. I’ll also share a couple options to lock in your rights, in case you aren’t quite ready to upgrade.
Based on the wording from Microsoft, it may not be possible to upgrade for free on the 29th itself:
The free upgrade is a full version of Windows (not a trial or introductory version) and is available until July 29, 2016. Once you upgrade, you’ll have Windows 10 for free on that device.
Hence, you want to make sure you lock in all your upgrades by the 28th, not the 29th… to be safe.
Not ready to upgrade? Remember that Windows 10 uses the same bootloader and filesystem as Windows 7 through 8.1. So, they offer a simple undo option. By upgrading in-place, and then reversing the installation (after it successfully activates, of course), you then have netted yourself the ability to reinstall Windows 10 at any time in the future – while keeping your old version of Windows intact.
I’ve done this on my Home Theater PC, which I rely on with Windows Media Center. Like many, I’m very disappointed that Microsoft has failed to deliver to customers that invested in the Media Center ecosystem. Windows Media Center was removed from Windows 10 – though Media Center users do get to keep DVD playback and MPEG codecs if upgraded in-place through the Windows 10 install app. We were originally told that our upgrade path, would be DVR services on Xbox One. That feature is now “on indefinite hold” (in Microsoft’s words), leaving Digital Cable (CableCARD) users, with no option, but to be bitter-clingers to Windows 7/8.1 with Media Center.
I did a momentary upgrade to Windows 10 on my 4th Generation Intel Core NUC, and then immediately downgraded once I confirmed that Windows 10 had activated successfully.
That step is important. If you don’t let Windows 10 fully activate, it won’t establish a Digital Entitlement (or digital license, as it will soon be called) for your machine.
To check if Windows 10 has been activated, go to Start Menu -> Settings -> Update & Recovery -> Activation tab. It will say “Windows 10 is activated with a Digital Entitlement” if your upgrade rights are successfully stored in the cloud.
From there, you can format or replace your hard drive in the future, and Windows 10 will activate properly – sans the need for a product key. A product key will be beamed down after the reinstall completes, from Microsoft’s cloud. It does this using your MAC address of your Ethernet port, amongst other checks, similar to iTunes copy protection.
A Different Way
Here’s a path that I used for my mother’s aging laptop. I said laptop! There’s no way I’m making her re-learn another version of Windows, at least until Windows 7 ends Extended Support.
So, for her machine, I took a blank hard drive, and booted it off of a USB drive that I built using the Windows 10 Media Creation Tool.
Since Windows 10 Build 1511, install flash drives built using the Media Creation Tool will accept BIOS-embedded Windows product keys for Windows 7, 8, and 8.1. So, I had Windows 10 install itself onto the bare drive. Then, I made sure it had activated successfully. Finally, I simply wiped the hard drive… and put back in the original hard drive that had Windows 7 still on it.
There were never any two Windows installs in use at the same time, so that path doesn’t violate Windows license rights.
If you’re nervous about a Windows downgrade failing for some reason, it’s a sure-fire way to lock in Windows 10 upgrade rights on the machine… without having to touch your current installation.