There are at least two ways to still get Windows 10 for free, provided you have an authentic Windows 7 or 8.1 license. First, the Windows 10 upgrade offer hasn’t actually expired if you use assistive technologies like screen readers or on-screen magnifying glasses, and the only authentication the system performs is a button that says “Yes, I use these technologies.” In short, anyone who wants Windows 10 can still get it that way.


Over at ZDNet, however, Mary-Jo Foley has found an alternate-alternate method of downloading Microsoft’s OS that doesn’t require you to lie about your need for a seeing-eye dog, on-screen keyboard, or color blindness. It seems you can still activate Windows 7 and 8.1 keys during the upgrade process. A Microsoft spokesperson provided the following statement to ZDNet:

Users upgrading their PC for the first time will need to enter a Windows 10 product key. Users who’ve previously installed Windows 10 on their PC should activate successfully with a digital entitlement when reinstalling Windows 10 on that PC.

Note that the upgrade process referred to in the original story is specifically for system keys that were never upgraded or authorized for Windows 10 during the past 12 months. This statement is, at best, inaccurate — though it’s also not surprising a PR person might not know why a program that was widely advertised as ending on July 29 hadn’t actually ended yet.

If we had to guess, we’d guess that Microsoft hasn’t pulled the switch just yet because it wants to give people a little more time. The alternative is that Microsoft made a very public show of ending the Windows 10 upgrade offer and will pull the GWX.exe tool from systems in a future Windows Update — but doesn’t actually intend to stop giving the OS away. It’ll just require a little bit more elbow grease to download as time goes by, or a willingness to claim a disability you may not actually possess.

On a personal note: When I upgraded my own Windows 7 rig to Windows 10, I ran into a problem with my display driver. The upgrade assistant kept insisting that my display was incompatible with Windows 10. Since I’m running a GTX 970 with the latest Nvidia drivers, I knew that wasn’t true, but couldn’t lock down the problem. I wound up running the installer manually and handled the upgrade that way.


Windows 7. It turns out that this problem was caused by an old, old driver I’d installed years ago, while working with the TightVNC client for accessing testbeds. I still use TightVNC on occasion, mostly because I need a VNC solution that allows for file transfers and doesn’t install or emulate a GPU driver. (Microsoft’s RDP is roughly 100x faster, but doesn’t always play nice with GPU drivers when testing 3D applications. If you have a client you’d recommend, let me know.) Some years ago, there was a GPU driver you could install to improve performance in the application, and I’d installed it. This, it turns out, is what Windows 10 was picking up and failing to understand. Once I removed that driver, I had no problem upgrading to the Anniversary Update for Windows 10.

I’d still recommend that users at least claim their free copy of Windows 10 before MS decides to pull its various plugs, but don’t see a problem with sticking with whatever version of the OS you prefer.

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