When Microsoft released Windows 10 back in 2015 - it's hard to believe it was that long ago - it made a big deal of its free offer which allowed anyone running an older version of Windows to upgrade to its latest and greatest.
It seemingly stuck to its plan of allowing people to upgrade their PCs and laptops without paying for just one year, but it’s still possible to make the transition without spending any money.
We decided to try upgrading a Windows 7 PC in 2020 now that support and updates have officially ended, and successfully made the move to Windows 10 without buying a licence.
The process is completely legit and, from what we've heard, Microsoft is well aware of the 'loophole' and hasn't made any moves to close it.
How can I get Windows 10 for free?
1. Use the Media Creation Tool
This is what we did in January 2020, and had no problems updating our Windows 7 PC to Windows 10.
First, download the Media Creation Tool from Microsoft. It's designed for putting Windows onto a USB stick, but in this case we simply ran the tool in Windows 7 directly after downloading it.
Follow the instructions on screen and choose the Upgrade this PC now option.
Continue to follow the instructions and eventually Windows 10 will be ready to install. When asked, choose the option to Keep files and apps.
This is likely what you want anyway, as it means you don't have to copy off all your documents, photos, music and other files (but it's a very good idea to back them up first just in case anything goes wrong).
Finally, click the Install button and your computer will reboot and begin the installation process.
After a while (exact time will depend on the speed of your PC and its hard drives) and a couple more reboots, you should see the Windows 10 wizard which will walk you through choosing settings and options before taking you to your new desktop for the first time. Most of your apps should be there and function correctly - it's possible antivirus apps will have to be reinstalled.
2. Don't activate
At no point in the process above were we asked to enter a Windows 7 product key. But if you are prompted for one (or a Windows 10 key) then choose to skip that step.
After that, just ignore the nagging messages once you begin using Windows 10.
Aside from a few things that won't work, such as the personalisation options, Windows 10 remains completely usable.
As far as we know, Windows 10 will continue to work in this state indefinitely without activation. And there are ways to get around the personalisation limitations. For example, if you want to change the wallpaper, right-click the image you want in File Explorer and choose "Set as Desktop background".
3. Use the 90-day Enterprise trial
This isn't a method that will be useful for many people, but if you need to try out Windows 10 temporarily you can download the 90-day trial of the Enterprise version. Obviously it will expire after three months, but if you just want to test how Windows 10 runs on an older PC or laptop, this is a decent option.
Don't forget, too, that you can install the Home version of Windows 10 using method 2 here and then pay to buy a license key once you've decided you're happy with everything.
And if you do decide to buy a license key there are ways of getting it a lot cheaper than Miicrosoft's price. We explain everything in What's the difference between Windows 10 OEM and retail licence keys?