If you’re looking for confusion, you need look no further than Microsoft. When it comes to Windows 10’s free offer, there’s plenty of it.
While there are a lot of things we don’t know, there’s much we do, and much that we can infer.
Become a Patron of Ask Leo! and go ad-free!
Moving to a subscription model? No.
Many people have inferred the “free upgrade for the first year” offer as meaning that they’ll have to start paying after that year is over. Much like the Office 365 subscription, they’re concerned that they’re somehow being sneakily moved to an annual subscription where only the first year is free.
No. Just … no.
Each edition of Windows has always been a one-time purchase, with updates to that version free for as long as that version is supported.
This has not changed.
The offer is simply this: for the first year after release, and for qualifying machines, the “one time cost” of Windows 10 will be exactly $0.
The goal is very simple: Microsoft wants as many people to move to Windows 10 as possible. This one-year offer is their way of removing one barrier that might prevent people from upgrading: cost.
What it means to be a “qualifying machine”
Microsoft has been very clear on this:
We announced that a free upgrade for Windows 10 will be made available to customers running Windows 7, Windows 8.1, and Windows Phone 8.1 who upgrade in the first year after launch.1
So if your PC is running Windows 7 or 8.1, and the hardware supports Windows 10 (most will), Windows 10 is available to you for free for the first year after it’s released.
What it means to NOT be a “qualifying machine”
What if you’re not running Windows 8.1 or Windows 7?
Presumably, if you’re running Windows 8, you can update to 8.1 for free. Certainly Microsoft has been pestering you to do so since 8.1 was released. Once updated to 8.1, you can leap into Windows 10.
If you’re running XP or Vista, you’ll need to first make sure your hardware is capable of running 10 (click here for the requirements). (If it can run 8.1, it should be able to run Windows 10.)
If your machine can run Windows 10, but you’re running XP or Vista, you’ll need to purchase Windows 10. How much? When? What format? Microsoft recently announced pricing similar to that of Windows 8.1. All the details will be out by the day of release.
About Windows 11, or 12 or …
Microsoft has stated that Windows 10 is the last major version number for Windows. That implies there will never be a Windows 11 or 12.
Rather than provide major releases every few years, Windows 10 will simply be more or less continually updated for as long as Windows itself lives on.
What that means to you is that you’ll get updates for free, pretty much forever. Microsoft has qualified this as “the life of the machine:” as long as you have a machine running Windows 10, they’ll support it. Free.
Bold claims, and never say never
Never releasing another major version of Windows seems like a very bold claim. Similarly, potentially supporting Windows 10 with updates for decades seems extreme.
But those are the current interpretations of what Microsoft has stated.
It makes Windows 10 a very lucrative option for folks who want to keep their computers running for a long, long time.
As for me, I’m always a little skeptical. Decisions can be changed. I’m reluctant to ever use the word “never”.
But as an overall direction, I think it’s very promising.
Time will tell.