In context: If you are still running on Windows 7 (and I don't blame you), you are now officially out to pasture. However, if you don't mind treading on some gray areas of licensing agreements, you can still take advantage of Microsoft's free Window Upgrade offer even though it was technically taken off the table a few years ago.
Microsoft officially ended support for Windows 7 on Tuesday. The company will no longer push out security updates, with the exception of enterprise customers paying for extended support until 2023. To avoid becoming vulnerable to future exploits and weaknesses, users are advised to upgrade to Windows 10.
ZDNet notes that if you go to the Windows 10 ISO download page and grab the media creation tool, you can run the wizard, select "Upgrade this PC now," follow the prompts, and get a valid Windows 10 activation key. This works as long as you have a legit Windows 7 or Windows 8.1 installation. It even works for Pro and Ultimate versions.
No matter what you do, be sure to make a backup before starting and keep in mind that when upgrading from W7, it will wipe your settings and some apps. It's a good idea to note the apps you use most often so you can re-download the W10 versions later in the event they don't transfer over. Windows 8.1 rolls smoothly into W10, so this is not a concern.
In its push to get Windows 10 installed on "one billion" devices by 2018, Microsoft employed several tactics from overly aggressive nag popups to downright deceptive window modifications. The silver lining was that at least the upgrade was free for Windows 7 and 8.1 users. Microsoft officially ended its gratis offer in 2016 but continued it for Assistive Technology users through most of 2017.
It appears that while Microsoft removed its official free download pages, it left the media creation tool online and never changed it to exclude Windows 7 or 8.1 keys. This may have some wondering if this is even legal or if Microsoft will invalidate their install down the road.
This may indeed be something that slipped by Microsoft. In its FAQ, it states that to use the media creation tool, you will need a valid Windows 10 product key, but this is not true since valid W7 and 8.1 keys still work.
According to a Redditor who claims to be a Microsoft engineer, the company does not run license audits on individual PCs. It is more concerned with volume licensing. He adds that execs care more about upgrade stats than licensing revenue.
"That whole 'free' upgrade for a year was fully marketing fluff," the Redditor said. "Terry Meyerson cared more about his upgrade stats than license revenue as Windows isn't Microsoft's cash cow anymore."
At the time, Microsoft was aiming for a billion upgrades. As of last September, it was sitting at 900 million Windows 10 installs globally.
Of course, if taking the word of a basically anonymous Reddit user is not enough to clear your conscience, perhaps you should go ahead and pay for a copy of Windows 10.
Masthead credit: Anton Watman via Shutterstock