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In a few weeks, the free upgrade to Windows 10 will expire. Are you torn whether or not you should take the leap? If you’ve been resisting the friendly upgrade reminders because you’re wary of what’s expecting you, let us show you how you can try Windows 10 with (almost) no risk or commitment.
1. Install Windows 10 on a Virtual Machine
A virtual machine is a piece of software that emulates computer hardware. This fictitious hardware allows you to install an operating system like Windows 10 inside another operating system like Windows 7 or OS X. The beauty of this method is that it works with any hardware that supports Windows 10, even on a Linux or Mac PC.
Minimum hardware requirements for Windows 10:
Processor: 1+ GHz
RAM: 1+ GB (32-bit) or 2+ GB (64-bit)
Free disk space: 16+ GB
Graphics card: Microsoft DirectX 9 graphics device with WDDM driver
To set up a virtual machine, you need to download a Windows 10 ISO file and virtual machine software like VirtualBox. Once ready, follow our instructions to run Windows 10 in VirtualBox on Linux, OS X, or Windows (explained based on Windows 8).
The drawback of a virtual machine is that the experience can be slow and buggy, unless you enjoy tinkering with settings or can commit a lot of system resources to the virtual Windows 10 setup. Even if your virtual machine runs smoothly, you won’t have access to all features of the operating system (OS).
On the other hand, the risk factor is almost zero. Windows 10 is sand-boxed within the virtual machine and won’t affect your current setup. It’s safe and convenient.
2. Visit Your Favorite Electronics Store
Meanwhile, every respectable electronics store will have computers running Windows 10 on display. If you don’t want to mess with your running system, this is a great hands-on alternative to give Windows 10 a spin.
Don’t get distracted by the wonderful hardware on display! Find a machine that most closely represents your own computer and focus on playing with Windows 10. You can strategically prepare yourself by making a list of Windows tools you use a lot, functionality you depend on, or new features you’re dying to try. Here’s a brief list for inspiration:
- Take a Windows 10 tour with the Get Started app; simply press the Windows key, type help, and press Enter.
- Do you tend to have a lot of windows open? Play with the new Snap Assist feature and Task View to discover how you can organize windows and set up virtual desktops.
Cortana, Microsoft’s virtual assistant, is the hottest new Windows 10 feature. You can use your voice or the keyboard to communicate with Cortana.
The Start Menu has been evolving and the tiles are optional.
The Action Center is a new element in the Windows 10 Taskbar. It sits in the notifications area (aka system tray) and compiles any updates or messages you may have missed.
Do you spend a lot of time in the Control Panel? See if you can warm up to the Settings app.
If you’re an advanced user, don’t miss out on test running new Command Prompt and PowerShell functions.
The advantage of this approach is that you can gain hands-on Windows 10 experience with absolutely no strings attached. On the flip-side, you probably won’t be able to log into the computer with your own Microsoft account or make significant changes to the default setup. Your hands might also be tied by a limited user account.
3. Watch Online Windows 10 Demos
With less than 3 months to go to convert eligible users — over 60% of the desktop OS market — to the latest Windows version for free, Microsoft has compiled an online resource with Windows 10 demonstration videos. According to the URL it’s an emulator, but the truth is that you can’t do much yourself.
The page hosts a collection of videos demonstrating selected Windows 10 features on 11 general topics, including work across devices, stay organized, or browse the web. Choose your desired Windows 10 platform — PC, tablet, or phone — and a topic, for example Meet Cortana, followed by a feature you’re curious about, let’s say work hands-free, and the respective demo video will start to play.
This is another zero risk option, but it’s also very superficial. You won’t be able to explore Windows 10, discover unexpected features, or uncover problems. Obviously, the videos present an ideal case. In real Windows, things go wrong, applications reveal bugs, and features you’ve become used to may be missing.
4. Dual Boot Windows 10
This is the closest you can get to upgrading, without actually letting go of your existing installation. A dual boot gives you the full Windows 10 experience on your own hardware. And on a Windows or Mac machine, it’s easy to set up.
The advantage of this over all the previous options is that a dual boot offers you a full-fledged setup. You can customize Windows 10, install your own software, use your own accounts, and get a truly immersive experience, without performance restrictions. If you have enough disk space, this is the route you should take to test Windows 10, even though it requires a little more effort.
For a dual boot you need two things:
On a Windows machine, install Windows 10 on the dedicated partition, and the Windows setup will automatically take care of dual boot settings.
If you can get this to run, a dual boot has almost no drawbacks, other than taking up space and time to set up. If your current Windows machine comes with an UEFI BIOS, it should even activate automatically. Otherwise, you might have to enter a valid Windows 7 or 8.1 product key to activate Windows 10.
You might end up enjoying Windows 10 so much that you’ll want to migrate all your files and settings and never boot into your old OS again.
5. Upgrade with a Rollback Option
You won’t know whether you truly like Windows 10 until you’ve tried to upgrade. An upgrade will immediately reveal which of your software and hardware is really compatible with Windows 10, you won’t lose any of your files, and you get the full experience without wasting space for a dual boot.
The big risk, of course, is that you won’t like Windows 10, that something breaks, or that you have to go back for a different reason. That can be difficult, unless you are prepared. You have two convenient options to downgrade from Windows 10 to Windows 7 or 8.1:
Create an image of your current Windows installation and restore this OS backup if you must. This no pain solution will fully restore your old setup.
Use the built-in downgrade option under Settings > Update & security > Recovery. You can “go back” for 31 days or until you upgrade Windows 10 to a new version, whichever comes first.
If you have upgraded and neither of those options are available, you can still re-install your preferred OS. Here’s how to download Windows installation files.
Make Up Your Mind About Windows 10 NOW
If you have the option to upgrade to Windows 10 for free, you’ll have to make up your mind soon. We hope that the options above will help you. Should you decide against the upgrade, know that you can get Windows 10 features on older Windows versions, too.
What is tempting you to upgrade to Windows 10? Or what make you want to stay with Windows 7? Is anyone seriously stuck on Windows 8.1? Let’s hear your perspective in the comments!