Windows 10 is free for Windows Insiders… sort of! After much confusion, Microsoft has finally outlined how Windows Insiders will get an activated copy of Windows 10, regardless of whether you have a legitimate Windows 7 or Windows 8.1 license. But before you decide to dust off your old 2009 tower PC and install Microsoft latest operating system for free, let me explain what Insiders are really getting.
It’s true. As a Windows Insider, you can install the Windows 10 RTM, have it activated, and continue on your merry way, no previous operating system required. As a Windows Insider, doing this costs you absolutely nothing. $0. What’s the catch? Well, you will be expected to test pre-release code and submit feedback to Microsoft. And that’s pretty much it.
Windows Insiders who have been part of the program since October last year have been doing this for 8 months now. Every now and then Microsoft will drop a new preview build for Insiders to install and test, sometimes these builds can be troublesome and buggy, and sometimes they can be smooth and not buggy. So using the Insider program to grab yourself a free copy of Windows 10 may not be a good idea.
”But Zac, what if I just upgrade to the RTM with the Insider program and then leave the Insider program? Will the RTM stay activated?” Good question, and the answer is no. As a Windows Insider, the builds you receive (including RTM) will have a time bomb, and will eventually expire if you don’t keep upgrading to newer pre-release builds and updates. This isn’t anything new, all the preview builds Microsoft has dropped for Insiders have a time bomb, so those who don’t update are eventually forced to regardless.
To stay activated, you will have to upgrade to newer pre-release builds every now and then, which will extend the time bomb of your install to cover you until the next Insider drop is available. In the official blog post, they explain how each Insider build will be activated:
This is prerelease software and is activated with a prerelease key. Each individual build will expire after a time, but you’ll continue to receive new builds so by the time an older prerelease build expires you’ll have received a new one. Since we’re continuing the Windows Insider Program you’ll be able to continue receiving builds and those builds will continue to be activated under the terms of the Windows Insider Program.
So the trade off is simple, if you don’t have a legitimate Windows 7 or Windows 8.1 license but still want Windows 10 for free, you pay by testing pre-release software and sending feedback to Microsoft. It costs you nothing, but the feedback Microsoft will get from you is essentially priceless. Windows 7 and Windows 8.1 users who upgrade to Windows 10 on July 29th will receive a normal, fully legitimate and fully activated copy of Windows 10, and those users will not be expected to test any pre-release code or send feedback to Microsoft at all.
Keep in mind that Windows Insiders agree to a different license than those who upgrade with a legitimate license. Keep in mind that with it, you agree to submit feedback to Microsoft, and test pre-release code. So if you’ve been a Windows Insider for the last 8 months, nothing changes for you. You wil receive the RTM like any normal preview build, and it will work like all the other preview builds you’ve received so far. Legitimate Windows Insiders will be awaiting the next preview build after RTM anyway, so no issues there.