Those free Windows Ten upgrades are over

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Those free Windows 10 upgrades are over

We’ve reached the end of Microsoft’s unprecedented free upgrade suggest for Windows Ten. If you choose to upgrade an old Windows PC, you’ll now have to pay. But good news: Those annoying GWX notifications are eventually gone. [Updated]

[This article has been significantly revised and updated since its original publication in January 2016. The most latest update was July 30, 2016]

Microsoft’s ambitious plan to get Windows Ten running on a billion devices within the next few years falls into the “Close, but no cigar” category, with the announcement that Windows Ten will need more time to hit that magic round number.

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That big objective was predicated on the success of an unprecedented free upgrade suggest. When the company very first announced the terms of that suggest in May 2015, it literally included an asterisk and fine print. Those terms switched slightly over the intervening months, but one element remained constant: The suggest was good for one year after the availability of Windows Ten.

When they said “Suggest finishes July 29, 2016,” they weren’t kidding, either.

If you click the Get Windows Ten icon today, you see a stark message: “Sorry, the free upgrade suggest has ended.”

Here’s the tl,dr version of this post if you don’t want to keep reading:

1. The free upgrade suggest for the general public ended on July 29 and will not be extended.

Two. Any upgrades finished before that date will be valid for as long as the device lasts.

Three. There is a possibility that Microsoft will introduce some fresh upgrade offers this fall, but don’t count on it.

Anyone who has taken Microsoft up on its free Windows Ten upgrade suggest before the expiration date has a “digital entitlement” (or “digital license” as it’s called beginning with version 1607) tied to that hardware. That upgrade doesn’t expire.

If you haven’t finished the upgrade and activated the installation, you’re out of luck, unless you qualify for the one exception. Individuals who use “assistive technologies” get an automatic extension of the free upgrade suggest. Details of that upgrade extension are here. This Microsoft Accessibility page defines assistive technology products (they’re intended for people with “significant vision, hearing, dexterity, language or learning needs”) and includes a list of third-party products.

I’ve tested the Windows Ten Upgrade Advisor, available from that page, and I can confirm it works as expected, providing a digital license on a Windows 7 device that had not previously been upgraded. It does not include any requirement for proof that you are using assistive technology.

Update 31-July Asked for comment, a Microsoft spokesperson replies:

As we collective earlier, we’ve extended the free upgrade suggest for those who use assistive technology as we proceed to make accessibility improvements to Windows Ten, including many coming in the Anniversary Update, which is available after the free upgrade suggest completes. See the Microsoft Accessibility blog here for more details. We are not restricting the free upgrade suggest to specific assistive technologies. If you use assistive technology on Windows, you are eligible for the free upgrade suggest. That said, it is not intended to be a workaround for people who don’t use assistive technology and who missed the deadline for the free suggest.

For procrastinators who think they might have waited too long, my testing this morning uncovered one surprise: Product keys from earlier Windows versions still work on Windows Ten. I created a fresh virtual machine and installed Windows Ten version 1607 Pro using an ISO picture. I entered a never-used Windows 7 Ultimate product key, and my copy of Windows Ten was automatically activated with a digital entitlement.

Earlier this week, Microsoft told my colleague Mary Jo Foley that the Get Windows Ten (GWX) notifications will end. They added, “In time, we will eliminate the application.”

My morning-after testing confirms those details. If you determined to pass on the free Windows Ten upgrade, the GWX app remains installed, but based on my practice and the above statements it should no longer emerge in the taskbar and its notifications emerge to have been muffled.

The Windows Ten download page, which is useful for anyone who needs the Windows Ten installation files to do a recovery or a clean install on a machine that already has a Windows Ten license, is still up. But the Upgrade Now button is gone, substituted by a notice that the free upgrade suggest has ended.

In fact, Microsoft’s real purpose with this upgrade suggest isn’t just to get its installed Windows Ten base to a billion. The long-term aim is to help close the books on Windows 7 in an orderly style before its 10-year extended support commitment completes on January 14, 2020.

Some of those Windows 7 PCs will simply be retired, of course. But what about those that are only a few years old and have more than three years of usable life ahead of them? For Microsoft executives, the prospect that hundreds of millions of PCs will still be running Windows 7 on Fresh Year’s Day 2020 has to bring back unpleasant flashbacks of Windows XP’s messy end.

After 11 months, Microsoft said a total of 350 million monthly active devices were running Windows Ten. (In its most latest earnings release, CEO Satya Nadella committed to “regularly reporting the growth of Windows Ten monthly active devices.”)

The shift to using monthly active devices as a metric is a big switch for Microsoft, which previously reported on the number of licenses sold. In the very first Eighteen months after releasing Windows 7, for example, Microsoft officials reported that they had sold 350 million Windows 7 licenses.

Windows Ten hit the same milestone in less than a year, thanks in no puny measure to that free upgrade suggest.

Many of those 350 million devices, perhaps one-third or more, represent fresh PCs. Another big chunk represents newer devices (less than three years old) originally sold with Windows 8 or 8.1. Windows Ten has succeeded in cutting the share of devices running those versions by more than half over the past year, and the share of PCs running Windows 8.1 should be in the low single digits by the end of 2017.

But what about Windows 7? The most latest figures measured by the US Government’s Digital Analytics Program showcase that the percentage of Windows PCs running that version has dropped significantly in the past year, going from 71.1 percent in the very first quarter of 2015, before the release of Windows Ten, to toughly 56 percent at the end of July 2016.

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That’s still a lot of Windows 7 PCs, And even the carrot of a free upgrade was not enough to stir that number more than another few percent in the final months of that suggest, which explains why the suggest wasn’t extended.

There’s slew of precedent for this, based on past behavior. For Windows 7 and 8, Microsoft suggested significant introductory discounts and then ended them on schedule after a few months, with no extensions.

Financially, this decision is unlikely to have much of an influence. Retail upgrades have historically represented a microscopic share of Microsoft’s revenue (see the chart in this article), and most customers who might have been willing to pay for an upgrade will have taken advantage of the free suggest by the time the Anniversary Update rolls around.

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Asking existing Windows 7 users to pay $99 or more after they’ve spent a year avoiding the free upgrade seems like a surefire way to assure that they never upgrade. That significantly increases the risk of an XP-style mess come 2020.

On the other arm, the free upgrade suggest never truly applied to large businesses that run Windows Enterprise editions. For those customers who also have purchased Software Assurance for those volume licenses, the Windows Ten upgrade suggest is, if not free, at least already paid for. The decision of whether and when to upgrade is driven by business needs, not by the cost of an upgrade license.

In the fresh “Windows as a Service” model, Microsoft said it plans to supply two or three fresh releases each year. The Anniversary Update, which is rolling out to Windows Ten users now, is the very first release in the Redstone update series. It’s no coincidence that it arrived a few days after the original upgrade suggest ended. Another Redstone feature update is scheduled to arrive in the very first half of 2017.

Of course, the end of this upgrade suggest doesn’t eliminate the possibility of a fresh suggest. If not free, then perhaps a discounted in-place upgrade. But an extension of the current suggest is not going to happen.

One significant date to witness is October 31, 2016. That’s when OEM sales of fresh PCs with Windows 7 Professional officially end. That date marks the beginning of a three-year period in which the population of Windows 7 PCs will presumably shrink quickly as old PCs die and are substituted by newer models running Windows Ten (or aren’t substituted at all).

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