Microsoft's much-hyped free upgrade offer for Windows 10 ended in 2016, right? Not exactly. The GWX tool may be gone, but all the other upgrade tools still work. The end result is an apparently valid digital license, and there's no evidence that the free upgrades will end any time soon.
Updated January 7, 2020: Thank you to the many readers who have continued to provide firsthand reports that this procedure still works. The overwhelming majority of reader reports confirm that this upgrade is still available. A small number of readers have reported that the upgrade fails because of a Setup error or a compatibility block. For details on how to troubleshoot these errors, see "This free Windows 10 upgrade offer still works. Here's why - and how to get it.".
Everyone knows the free upgrade offer for Windows 10 ended on July 29, 2016, right?
That's when Microsoft officially ended the Get Windows 10 program and, to the relief of many, stopped forcing the GWX tool onto the PCs of unsuspecting users who were perfectly happy with their current version of Windows and had no desire to upgrade.
As of July 30, 2016, the upgrade notifications stopped and the GWX app began disappearing. In theory, that means the only way to get a Windows 10 upgrade is to pay for it.
The funny thing is, no one told the folks who run Microsoft's activation servers. Which means today, more than three years after the free upgrade offer supposedly ended, you can still upgrade to Windows 10 from Windows 7 or Windows 8.1 and claim a free digital entitlement, without being forced to jump through any hoops.
You can also still upgrade Windows 10 Home to Windows 10 Pro by using a product key from a previous business edition of Windows 7, 8, or 8.1 (Pro/Ultimate). That can save you $50-100 in OEM upgrade charges if you buy a new PC with Windows 10 Home preinstalled. (For details, see How to upgrade from Windows 10 Home to Pro without hassles.)
In this post, I'll cover the basics of a Windows 10 upgrade. I'll also talk about the licensing issues involved, which are (as always) confusing.
HOW TO UPGRADE AN OLD PC TO WINDOWS 10
In early 2017, I recycled an Intel small-form-factor PC that had previously been working full-time in the living room, running Windows Media Center on Windows 7 Ultimate. When I finally pulled the plug on Media Center after the release of Windows 10, I had put this little device on a shelf.
The GWX utility had never been installed on this PC and it had never been offered a Windows 10 upgrade via Windows Update.
As part of my digital clean-up, I decided to run the Windows 10 upgrade from Windows 7. I fully expected that after the upgrade was complete, the system would fail activation and I'd be asked for a product key.
Imagine my surprise when, instead, I was greeted with this screen.