Microsoft’s Windows 10 Fall Creators Update has arrived, and if you have any previous version of Windows 10, the upgrade is free.
For those with Windows 10, Microsoft recommends “you wait until Windows 10 is automatically offered to your device” via Windows Update, if you’ve opted for automatic updates on your device.
“Once the download is complete and the update is ready to install, we’ll check with you, so you can pick the right time to finish the installation and reboot,” Microsoft says. “We do this so we can ensure the update does not disrupt you, and we use active hours to help suggest a good time.”
If you want Creators Update sooner, check for it manually via Settings > Update & security > Windows Update > Check for updates.
Once it’s installed, you’re ready to go; here’s what to check out. For everyone else: you blew it. As of July 2016, those still on Windows 7 or 8 have to pay up to $200 for Windows 10.
Last month, about 29 percent of worldwide PCs were running Windows 10; Windows 7 is still most popular with 47 percent, according to Net Applications. So there are still quite a few people who have yet to experience Windows 10.
If you’re ready to try it, check if your PC can even run Windows 10 Fall Creators Update. Chances are good that it can; the system requirements are not extremely demanding.
If that’s a go, back up your files. Remember, a new operating system is a non-trivial upgrade, and even though Windows 10 has been tested on millions of PCs already, there’s a chance your particular combination of hardware, drivers, and software could trip up the new OS.
To buy a copy of Windows 10, point your web browser to microsoft.com/windows. Click Windows 10 > Get Windows 10 > Get Windows 10 OS > Next. You’ll get a warning that if your PC is more than three years old it may not support “the innovative features of Windows 10.” Just click the Get Windows 10 OS option again. Then you pick if you want it for Home, School/Education, or Business.
On the next page, you can choose to get Windows 10 Home, Pro, or S, though the last one is not really for sale; it’s only available if you purchase a Surface Laptop. (Windows 10 S is the student-focused version of Windows 10 that only runs apps you get from the Windows Store, though it’s upgradeable for a time to Windows 10 Home.)
Choose to download the installation software or have a USB thumb drive sent to you. If you are a system builder or a Mac user wanting to install Windows using Boot Camp, the Windows 10 USB installer makes more sense. You can also get Windows 10 via the online Microsoft Store, and have it sent to your home or pick it up at an actual Microsoft Store. The price is the same either way.
Note that anyone can go to the Download Windows 10 page at Microsoft and download the upgrade software to Windows 10, and even use the Media Tool available there to make a USB drive with the installer software. But you can’t just install it any computer; the PC has to have a valid Windows 10 product key (that 25-digit alpha-numeric Microsoft sticks on everything its sells). Without the product key, the software won’t install, so you still have to pay. It is, however, a smart thing to do after you install Windows 10, so you’ll have an easy replacement (assuming you didn’t buy the USB drive version in the first place). This is also a good way to upgrade from 32-bit to 64-bit, or go from Home to Pro.
Install the Operating System
Run the setup. You’ll see this message box telling you that the setup is preparing itself:
The setup program downloads updates and restarts itself. Next you OK the license terms, and finally it’s ready to start the actual upgrade:
In a very welcome change from Windows 8.x, the Windows 10 upgrader keeps your installed software in place, and unless it’s very old—for example it uses 16-bit code—the software should run. If you have problems, you can right-click on the program file and choose “Troubleshoot compatibility.” If you want a fresh start and don’t want to keep programs or data files, you can make that choice in this screen during the setup process:
Here’s what you’ll see during the first part of the installation:
After that, there’s a second setup phase during which you’ll see a circular percent countdown (pardon the photo quality-there’s no way to do a screen capture at this stage).
Assuming your microphone is detected early on, even the Cortana voice-activated assistant will jump in to help with the install, letting you say “yes” aloud to answer questions like what kind of keyboard setup you want. It’s handy if you’ve got Windows 10 installing on a PC that’s across the room.
The entire process may take as little as 20 minutes or as much as an hour, depending on your configuration.
There is still one way to get Windows 10 as an upgrade to Windows 7 or 8 without paying: use the operating system’s Assistive Technology. Sight-impaired users can get enlarged screen views with Magnifier or voice control for everything with Narrator; people who have trouble clicking a mouse get tools to make it easier, and more. The 2016 Anniversary Update improved several of Windows 10’s existing accessibility features.
There’s no requirement to use specific assistive technologies; you can still get this upgrade even if you use assistive tech from a third-party company. Microsoft hasn’t commented on whether it’s checking whether those who take advantage of this offer are actually using the assistive technologies, but the download page says: “If you use assistive technology on Windows, you are eligible for the free upgrade offer.” Microsoft still hasn’t announced an end date to this offer.
Going the Other Way
What if you make the upgrade to Windows 10 and you don’t like what you see? Microsoft has another surprise that breaks remarkably from the past: You have one month (and only one month) to go back to your previous operating system version.
But we really doubt you’ll want to make that choice. For the full rundown of what’s new in Microsoft’s latest desktop operating system, read PCMag’s in-depth review of Windows 10.