Microsoft made Windows 10 a free upgrade for Windows 7 or 8.1 users until 29 June 2016. However, canny users can still get Windows 10 for free thanks to a loophole that Microsoft has made no effort to close down.
If you want to buy a new Windows 10 licence for an older PC, you're looking at a fee of around £100. But, you can avoid this cost and install Windows 10 without paying a dime.
In our guide below, we explain:
- Why this free Windows 10 offer exists
- How to get Windows 10 for free
- How to check if your PC can run Windows 10
- How to roll back if you don't like Windows 10
Why is Windows 10 still free?
Although the deadline has passed for Microsoft's original free upgrade offer (to Windows 7 and 8.1 users), there's a widely-known loophole that you can exploit to bag yourself a free copy of the new OS.
Microsoft is continuing to make Windows 10 available for free to anyone who needs 'assistive technologies'. That's to say, software or hardware that's designed to help people with disabilities. This could be something as simple as a screen magnifying program, for instance.
However, Microsoft isn't actively checking whether you use such software or hardware when downloading the Windows 10 upgrade file. So, in practice, it's available for anyone, for free.
While this may sound like pulling a fast one over Microsoft, it's widely suspected that the software giant would prefer users to take the Windows 10 upgrade for free rather than stay on older operating systems. In the long run, it will cost Microsoft more money to have to maintain support for Windows 7 or 8.1 users, after all.
On Microsoft's official advice page, where you can install the operating system for free, the company states it has made no plans yet to rescind the offer.
Before you install Windows 10
To install Windows 10 for free, you'll need to be a Windows 7 Home or Home Premium user (Service Pack 1 and over), or a Windows 8.1 user. Windows Vista users will miss out, as will Enterprise users of Windows 7/8.1 and Windows RT users.
Before you start, it's important to check if your computer has the necessary specs to run Windows 10 smoothly. An older PC could struggle to run the new OS - see our guide to Windows 10's system requirements.
Back up before you begin
Before you get started with something as significant as a new operating system installation, it's essential to back up your files and create a system restore point. The Windows 10 installation shouldn't harm your files or wipe your programs, but it pays to be cautious.
Create a backup of your files to an external hard drive, plus note down any licence keys for paid-for software you have running on your PC. Next, create a system restore point by following our guide.
How to install Windows 10 for free
Once you're backed up and ready to go, put aside a few hours for the Windows 10 installation process. You'll need to keep your laptop plugged in throughout, and be sure that you won't need your PC for a while - you can expect a lot of system restarts and slow-moving progress bars along the way.
Log into your PC with an administrator account. Open a web browser and head to Microsoft's official Windows 10 installation page.
You'll need at least 3GB of free space on your hard drive for the installation files. Click the prominent Upgrade Now link - this will install a small EXE file. Double-click on this to run it, and it will initiate the installation process, downloading further files.
The download process alone could take up to an hour. Keep an eye on your computer to click any Next or Agree prompts as required. The Windows 10 installation will get underway.
Once Windows 10 is running on your PC, it will encourage you to log in with a Microsoft account (such as a Hotmail or Outlook.com email address). If you don't have one, you'll need to create one, or else you can log in with a Local Account (look for the small link at the bottom of the page that's asking you to log in with a Microsoft account. A Local Account will feel similar to the way you logged in on a Windows 7 PC, for instance.
Be warned - even when your PC boots up with Windows 10, it will almost immediately find a deluge of system updates to install, so it's back to the downloads and progress bars straight away!
How to roll back to Windows 7 or 8.1
If you decide quickly that you don't like the look and feel of Windows 10 - or if your PC can't handle it smoothly - then you can roll back to your former operating system within 30 days of installing Windows 10.
There's a relatively simple Windows 10 rollback process that you can follow. Failing that, you should still have the system restore point you created before upgrading to Windows 10.