Microsoft's Free Windows 10 Upgrade: 10 Things Partners Need To Know

Windows 10 'Free' Upgrade Breakdown

Microsoft's free upgrade options for Windows 10 have been garnering increasing attention as the July 29 release date for the operating system fast approaches. Partners said there are still unanswered questions about licensing terms, clean installs versus in-place upgrades, and whether once you upgrade to Windows 10 is it possible to downgrade back to Windows 8.1 or 7.

"Nothing is ever as clear as we'd like it to be with Microsoft," said Bob Nitrio, president of Ranvest Associates, Sacramento, Calif. "When Windows 10 is popular in the press, it initiates a lot of discussion with our customers. The good news is, we are in no rush to upgrade to Windows 10. But we still need more answers."

Beta Blues: Not All Windows 10 Testers Get A Free Upgrade

Microsoft broke some hearts of early testers of Windows 10 when it clarified via its Windows Insider Program that not all beta testers of Windows 10 would receive a free upgrade to Windows 10. In a blog post it stated that only hardware that had previously run a Genuine Windows 7 or Windows 8.1 versions of Microsoft's operating system before being upgraded to Windows 10 would receive a free Windows 10 upgrade.

That meant anyone who installed an early test version of Windows 10 on hardware that had not previously had an operating system would not get the free RTM version of Windows 10. Neither would testers running unregistered versions of Windows 7 or 8.1.

Windows Enterprise

Microsoft said users of Windows 7 Enterprise and 8/8.1 Enterprise will not be eligible for a free upgrade.

But Microsoft said its Active Software Assurance (ASA) customers -- which typically buy enterprise licenses -- can upgrade to Windows 10 outside of the free program. However, some partners don't view ASA as a free upgrade path because the program costs money. Typically, an ASA license costs an additional 80 percent on top of the base OS licensing fee.

To make matters more confusing, in order for a partner to hold a Windows 7, 8 or 8.1 Enterprise license, it needs to be an ASA paying customer.

"In typical fashion, consumers get a free pass with Windows 10 and Microsoft enterprise customers end up paying more," said Paul DeGroot, principal analyst at Pica Communications, a Microsoft licensing consultancy in Camano Island, Wash.

Definitely Not Getting An Update

These versions of Windows will not be eligible for Microsoft's free Windows 10 upgrade:

-- Windows 7 RTM

-- Windows 8 (you'll need to upgrade to Windows 8.1 to move to Windows 10)

-- Windows 8.1 RTM

-- Windows RT

-- Windows Phone 8.0

Definite Maybe Update

Microsoft said its various Surface RT models won't get Windows 10 -- for free or otherwise. But that doesn't mean that Microsoft doesn't have Windows 10 makeover ideas for operating systems that can't run its new OS.

"We are working on an update for Surface, which will have some of the functionality of Windows 10. More information to come," said a Microsoft spokesperson earlier this year. Microsoft did not respond to requests for more information on its plans for Surface RT and other hardware devices that can't run Windows 10.

What Microsoft has hinted at is bringing some core Windows 10 features to those incompatible hardware devices. Features such as Cortana search assistant, Spartan browser and even some design tweaks have a strong likelihood of making it to tablets and other PCs that can't run Windows 10.

System Specs And Pricing

Maybe Windows 10 is not free for your Windows Vista or (gulp!) Windows XP machine. In that case, you'll need to consider the specs for your old hardware to see if they match Windows 10's minimum system requirements. And in order to install Windows 10, you'll need to choose from a clean install verses an upgrade.

Here are Microsoft Windows 10's system requirements:

-- Processor: 1 gigahertz (GHz) or faster processor or SoC

-- RAM: 1 gigabyte (GB) for 32-bit or 2 GB for 64-bit

-- Hard disk space: 16 GB for 32-bit OS 20 GB for 64-bit OS

-- Graphics card: DirectX 9 or later with WDDM 1.0 driver

-- Display: 800x600

The retail prices for Windows 10 are: Windows 10 Home, $120; Windows 10 Pro, $200; Windows 10 Pro Pack, which enables you to upgrade from Windows 10 Home to Windows 10 Pro, $100.

Matching Windows To Windows

The upgrade path for specific qualified versions of Windows is:

-- Windows 7 Starter, Windows 7 Home Basic and Windows Home Premium are eligible for a free upgrade to Window 10 Home.

-- Windows 7 Professional and Windows 7 Ultimate are eligible for a free upgrade to Windows 10 Pro.

-- Windows Phone 8.1 is eligible for an upgrade to Windows 10 Mobile. (Microsoft notes, however, that availability of Windows 10 upgrade for Windows Phone 8.1 devices may vary by OEM, mobile operator or carrier.)

-- Windows 8.1 is eligible for an upgrade to Windows 10 Home.

-- Windows 8.1 Pro and Windows 8.1 Pro for Students are eligible for an upgrade to Windows 10 Pro.

Microsoft wouldn't confirm what Windows 8.1 with Bing would be upgraded to, but several publications report it will be eligible for Windows 10 Home.

Can You Roll Back Window 10 To A Previous OS?

Once you upgrade to Windows 10, is it possible to downgrade back to Windows 8 or 7 without having to buy a new OS license?

In response to our question Microsoft wrote back: "You will have one month to revert back to the old OS on your device. That said, we believe that the super- familiar nature of Windows 10 as well as speed, safety and security improvements we have made will make this an easy choice for consumers to jump forward to Windows 10 and love it."

We can only assume that the upgrade mechanism has a built-in roll-back option. But without further clarification from Microsoft, it's still a bit unclear.

What's Up With Microsoft's Nag-Ware 'Get Windows 10 App'?

Love it or hate it, Microsoft has prepopulated millions of qualifying PCs with a "Get Windows 10 App" that allows you to "reserve" the OS for your PC the day it becomes available. Microsoft spared Windows 7 Enterprise or Windows 8.1 Enterprise systems the notification update. You will also not see the "Get Windows 10 App" if your system isn't up-to-date running the latest OS updates, or if Windows Updates is turned off, or if a PC's OS is not a "genuine" version of Windows.

Microsoft said making a reservation for Windows 10 on a system allows it to slowly download the 3 GB of required installation files onto a PC ahead of the July 29 release date. In doing so, Microsoft said, it reduces the burden on its servers and speeds up the installation time for end users.

Feature Depreciation

Microsoft is warning anyone considering upgrading to Windows 10 that if they do they will lose features. Some of those lost features include Microsoft's Media Center, DVD playback software, Windows 7 desktop gadgets and games Solitaire, Minesweeper and Hearts Games.

Solitaire, Minesweeper and Hearts Games haven't been preinstalled on versions of Windows since Windows 7. Windows 8 opted not to ship the OS with these games and instead made them available via the Windows Store as a free modern app.

Now with Windows 10, Microsoft preinstalls the Solitaire, Minesweeper and Hearts Games app.

Clean Upgrade Verses An In-Place Upgrade

Microsoft's general manager for the operating system group's data and fundamentals team, Gabe Aul, wrote in a blog post that those that did qualify for the free upgrade would also have access to final Windows 10 media that would allow them to perform a clean install on the operating system.

"Once you've upgraded to Windows 10 using the free upgrade offer, you will be able to reinstall, including a clean install, on the same device. You won't need to purchase Windows 10 or go back to your prior version of Windows and upgrade again.

"You'll also be able to create your own installation media like a USB drive or DVD, and use that to upgrade your device or reinstall after you've upgraded."