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Microsoft’s offer to upgrade to Windows 10 free ended over a year ago. But you can still upgrade your copy of Windows 7 or 8.1 to Windows 10 using the assistive technology workaround or by entering your current license key.
Whether you were a Windows 10 upgrade holdout or just want to upgrade your spare machine to Windows 10, we’ll show you everything you need in this guide.
Step 0: What You Need Before You Start
We’re going to walk through the process of upgrading Windows 7 or Windows 8.1 to Windows 10, then using the built-in rollback tool to downgrade. This allows you to try Windows 10 and have a guaranteed way out if you decide you don’t like it.
Before you begin, make sure you have a few elements in order:
- A valid copy of Windows 7 or Windows 8.1. If you’re still running the unsupported Windows 8, you need to update to Windows 8.1 before proceeding. If your copy of Windows isn’t activated, you can’t initiate the update to Windows 10.
- Your Windows 7 or 8 license key. To activate Windows 10, you need your license key from the prior version of Windows. You’ll usually find this on a sticker attached to your PC, or you can use software to find it. Note which version of Windows you’re running (such as Home or Professional) so you know which version of Windows 10 you’ll receive.
- Confirm your PC meets the system requirements for Windows 10. You can review Microsoft’s system requirements for Windows 10 if you’re not sure. A fair amount of disk space is required for the upgrade, so especially old machines might not be able to make the upgrade.
- Back up your computer. Depending on the method you use to perform the upgrade, you can keep your personal files intact. But unfortunately, the update could run into problems and result in loss of your data. Make sure you’ve backed up everything before you start the upgrade.
This guide will use Windows 7 as the original operating system (OS), but the process is the same with Windows 8.1.
Step 1: Download the Windows 10 Media Creation Tool
First, you’ll have to decide whether you want to upgrade using the Assistive Tech workaround or by creating Windows 10 media. You can use the Assistive method even if you don’t have a disability, but it may present a moral dilemma for some. Thus, we’ll use the official procedure for this guide.
Head to the Windows 10 media creation tool page on the PC you want to upgrade and click Download tool now. A file named MediaCreationTool.exe will start downloading. Open it when it’s complete and click Yes when prompted for administrator privileges. Accept the terms once the tool loads up.
Step 2: Install Windows 10
The next prompt asks what you’d like to do. Select Upgrade this PC now and click Next. You’ll see the media creation tool start downloading Windows 10. Sit tight while it does so. After several steps of downloading and verifying everything, you can continue.
The tool will ask you to enter your product key at this point if you haven’t activated Windows yet. Next, you’ll need to accept more terms and conditions. Then the installer will check for Windows updates and make sure you have enough space to upgrade.
When it’s all ready, you’ll see a Ready to Install screen. It shows a brief summary of your install options, including which edition of Windows 10 you’ll install and whether you’re keeping your personal files.
The edition of Windows 10 you get will depend on your installed edition of Windows. If you’re on Windows 7 Home Premium, for instance, you’ll upgrade to Windows 10 Home. A Windows 8.1 Pro user will upgrade to Windows 10 Pro. Don’t despair if you’re on Home — you really don’t need what Pro offers.
Click Change what to keep if you want to install differently. You can choose from three options:
- Keep personal files and apps: Don’t change any settings. Preserve all programs installed just as they are now, and your files stay intact.
- Keep personal files only: All installed programs and settings are wiped out, but your files stick around.
- Nothing: Delete everything and start with Windows 10 from scratch.
What you choose here is up to you. Most users should pick the first option to avoid losing any data — you can always uninstall programs and delete data later. We’ll select this option for this tutorial. If your current Windows system is problematic, try Nothing for a fresh start.
Once you’ve confirmed your choice, click Install to start installing Windows 10. Your computer will restart several times and it will take a bit, so wait until you have some time before you begin.
Step 3: Windows 10 Setup
Once the install process completes, you’ll need to run through Window 10’s first-time setup. If you chose to keep your personal data during the upgrade, click Next on the first screen to use your account. To sign in to another one, click I’m not [Account].
Setup next presents you with several privacy settings you can enable or disable. Consult our complete guide to these settings for more details.
Click Accept when you’ve set them to your liking. Then, choose if you want to use Cortana or not. She does offer lots of neat features if you don’t mind the use of your information.
Next, choose your default apps. The defaults include Edge as your browser and Groove Music as your music player. Click Let me choose my default apps to customize this. You can always change these later, too.
After you click Next one more time, you can sign in. Your account is the same as it was on your old version of Windows. After you sign in, Windows will likely have some more updates to apply. Wait for these, and you’ll see your desktop when it’s all complete.
Step 4: Getting to Know Windows 10
Now you’ve updated to Windows 10! You should take some time to play around with it and see what you think. We’ve written plenty of articles to help you find your way around, including the newest features you should know about, default settings you should check immediately, how to manage your privacy, and the best Store apps.
Note that you only have 10 days to decide whether you want to stay on Windows 10 or not. After this period, you’ll have to manually roll back your Windows installation instead of using the convenient built-in tool. Do not remove the Windows.old folder using the Disk Cleanup or other tools, or you won’t be able to easily jump back to your old installation.
Make sure that Windows activated properly if you decide to stick with it. Head to Settings > Update & Security > Activation and make sure you see that Windows is activated here. If it’s not, scroll down and click Change product key and enter your license key. If you can’t activate with your key, you may need to look at buying a cheap and legal license.
After a few days, let’s say you decide to jump back to Windows 7 or 8.1. Next, we’ll cover how to roll back to your previous version.
Step 5: Revert to Windows 7 or 8.1
Decided Windows 10 isn’t for you? You can return to your old version with little trouble. Before you jump back, we recommend creating another backup just in case the process goes south.
If you’re returning to Windows 7, we remind you that extended support for Windows 7 ends in January of 2020. You’ll need to jump to Windows 10 again before then to avoid getting stuck on an unsupported OS. Whether this is worth the hassle is up to you.
Start the rollback process by visiting Settings > Update & Security > Recovery. You’ll see an option named Go back to Windows 7/8.1. Click the Get started button here.
Windows will ask why you’re returning to an older version. You have to check an option to proceed, take a second to give an honest reply. Click Next and Windows will ask if you want to check for the latest updates to “fix the problems you’re having.” Since it’s not problems, but preference, why you’re returning, click No, thanks to move on.
Windows will then warn you that you might need to reinstall some programs and will lose any settings changes you made after jumping to Windows 10. You might want to take a moment to generate a list of installed programs so you don’t forget what you had installed. If you didn’t make many changes in Windows 10, this shouldn’t affect you much.
Your final warning alerts you that you need to know your Windows 7/8.1 password to sign in. If you tried out a PIN or face unlock in Windows 10, it won’t work to get into your old Windows account. To seal the deal, click Go back to Windows 7 and bid adieu to Windows 10.
Like the upgrade to Windows 10, this will take some time and your PC will restart several times. Be patient as the downgrade processes. After it’s done, you’ll be back to your old version of Windows, (mostly) as you left it.
Have You Upgraded or Downgraded Yet?
Now you know how to complete a Windows 10 upgrade and downgrade back to your old OS if you don’t like Windows 10. It’s not tough — it just takes a valid Windows installation and some time. Windows 7 and 8.1 will still receive support for years, so you don’t have to jump ship just yet if you’re not ready to.
If looks are the only beef you have with Windows 10, you can make Windows 10 look like 7, 8.1, or even Windows XP!
Which version of Windows are you using, and why? Will you upgrade to Windows 10 anytime soon, and have you downgraded already? Tell us what you’re using in the comments below!
Image Credit: BrianAJackson/Depositphotos