As a means of enticing people to the new OS, at the time, after the launch of Windows 10 on July 29th, 2015, a free upgrade was available to Windows 7 and Windows 8 users, however, this offer expired a year later in mid-2016.
At the time, a workaround of questionable moral standing existed, which involved making use of an extension to the free upgrade for Windows users that made use of assistive technologies within the Windows framework.
Similarly to the free upgrade, Microsoft shut down the extension at the end of 2017 presumably in response to wild abuse of the loophole as the workaround caught on.
Since then, there is ostensibly no legitimate way to obtain Windows 10 other than buying a key directly from Microsoft. The reality is somewhat different though. Here’s how to download Windows 10 for free.
Downloading Windows 10 For Free
A free copy of the installation files for Windows 10 in ISO format is readily available on Microsoft’s website, and depending on the speed of your internet connection (the file is a hefty 5GB) acquiring it couldn’t be easier.
The issue is that using the file for a fresh install of Windows 10 without a bonafide key to authenticate it results in a trial version of the OS, a ”taster” version if you will, with limited functionality and no customization. Browsing the internet, sending emails, and other basic tasks are possible, but anything more is restricted, and attempting to do so triggers a prompt asking to buy a full copy of Windows.
In this section, we walk through downloading the file and using it to upgrade to Windows 10, and then, later on, we explain how to activate it using a Windows 7 or Windows 8 key. The most important thing to remember is that using it for anything other than upgrading an existing version of Windows 7 or Windows 8 won’t work.
- Visit the ”Download Windows 10 Disc Image” Microsoft website.
- In the ”Select Edition’ drop-down menu opt for the most recent version, which at the time of writing is ”Windows 10 October 2018 Update”. Then click ”Confirm”.
- Next, select your desired product language from the drop-down menu just below and hit ”Confirm”.
- The site then prompts you to either download the 32-bit or 64-bit version of Windows 10. If in doubt, get both to be safe. Click on the version that suits you to begin the download. Note the download link is valid for 24 hours from the time of creation. However, it is easy to reset the download by following the steps outlined above.
Creating A Bootable ISO Flash Drive
Once you’ve downloaded the file, you’ll need to transfer the ISO to a USB flash drive. Unfortunately, this isn’t as simple as dragging the ISO file to the flash drive as the drive needs prepping before installing the ISO.
- To begin, download the latest version of Rufus, a small tool designed to mount ISOs to flash drives, right here. Rufus preps the flash drive and ISO, then correctly copies the ISO over making it bootable for the installation of Windows 10.
- Click on the downloaded file to launch Rufus (no installation is required) and insert your flash drive into an available USB port. Note that all data on the drive is deleted during the ISO creation process so ensure you’ve saved any crucial files before continuing. At the very least, a flash drive with a capacity of 5 GB is required.
- In the ”Device” drop-down menu select the USB flash drive being used to create the bootable ISO. Next, select the Windows 10 ISO you’ve just downloaded from the ”Boot Selection” dropdown menu by making sure it’s set to ”Disk or ISO image”, then clicking on ”Select” button on the right then choosing the correct file.
- Once Rufus has analyzed the ISO file, make sure to select ”GPT partitioning for UEFI firmware” in the ”Partition scheme” drop down and set the ”File system” to ”FAT32 (Default)’’. Leave the rest of the settings as they appear when launching the program.
- Click on ”Start”, click ”OK” when alerted that the process erases all files on the drive and Rufus will transfer the ISO to the flash drive. It may take a reasonable amount of time to complete depending on your system. Once the ”Status” bar at the bottom of the program turns to ”Ready”, the bootable ISO drive is ready.
Installing and Activating Windows 10
Now, we need to launch the Windows 10 installer on the USB flash drive. Before continuing, note down your Windows 7 or Windows 8 key as you’ll need it to activate Windows. The idea here is to get Microsoft to issue a new digital license for Windows 10.
The process only works with the most recent Windows 10 ISO (link provided above), so if you have a backup ISO that’s more than six months old, this won’t work. Also note that if a Windows 7 or Windows 8 key has previously been used to upgrade to Windows 10, this method, unfortunately, won’t work.
- Restart your computer.
- Just as the system resets to the BIOS, a screen should show options such as setup, recovery, and boot menu, which is the one we are looking for here.
- Press the indicated button, in most cases a variant of the F key. The options don’t stay on screen for long so ensure you hit the appropriate F key quickly. If you’re too slow, restart the computer and try again.
- Once in the boot menu, select your USB flash drive, and hit enter to boot the device.
Alternatively, you may be able to trigger the boot menu in Windows 10 itself if your PC has UEFI firmware. Hold down on the Shift key and restart the computer from the Windows start menu. A boot menu should appear, click on ”Use a device”, then select your USB drive.
From here, the computer restarts and will enter Windows 10 upgrade installation. Follow the steps to complete the installation. They are self-explanatory, and Microsoft does well to walk the user through the entire process. You can choose to upgrade to keep your files or initiate a full wipe. The installation can take a while so be patient.
When prompted to enter a key to activate Windows, enter your Windows 7 or Windows 8 product key. You can also click on ”I don’t have a product key” to enter it manually later on. The installation process resumes as usual and when completed boots into Windows proper.
On newer systems running either Windows 8 or Windows 8.1, the product key may be linked to the PC’s BIOS already and clicking on ”I don’t have a product key” forces Windows to track down the key automatically. If this fails, enter it manually as above.
From here on, Microsoft links your product key to a digital license on its end, and you can reinstall Windows 10 as many times as you want using the same key.
You can verify this by clicking on the Windows start menu, then ”Settings”, followed by ”Update & Security” in the left-hand menu, and finally click on ”Activation”. Under ”Activation” you’ll note ”Windows is activated with a digital license”.
If you opted for ”I don’t have a product key” during installation, you can enter your product key in the very same ”Activation” section.
As you can see, the method is legitimate and doesn’t require jumping through impossible hoops to complete.
What If I Don’t Have A Windows 7 Or Windows 8 Key?
If you don’t own a Windows 7 or Windows 8 product key you are unfortunately out of luck.
Apart from diving into the murky world of torrents and cracked versions riddled with unexpected complications, potential trojans, malware, and viruses, the only option is to spend some cash. We strongly advise against obtaining a free illegal copy of Windows 10 – they are prone to crashes and are vulnerable to exploits.
Microsoft currently sells Windows 10 for around $140.00 on its official site, but you can also pick up a product key for significantly less on Amazon. The versions of Windows 10 sold on Amazon are legitimate and sold with Microsoft’s blessing in either DVD or USB flash drive format. At the time of writing a DVD version was priced at less than $100. If only for the peace of mind, an official copy of Windows 10 warrants the price tag.
Although not recommended, you can always try your luck buying a key off eBay for often less than $5.00. The problem is that these keys often turn up as either invalid or are deactivated a few months down the line without notice (they are often pulled from mass issue product keys used by business and surreptitiously sold on by opportunistic employers and when the licensing agreement ends Microsoft automatically deactivates all the product keys). It’s a gamble and not one we can condone.
The Final Word
To summarize, if you’ve got Windows 7 or Windows 8, then you can indeed bag an upgrade copy of Windows 10 by following the steps outlined above. For everybody else, there’s no way to get a legitimate download of Windows 10 other than a full retail version directly from Microsoft or through authorized retailers like Amazon.