Microsoft's Explanation of Free Windows 10 Upgrades Leaves Questions

Microsoft on Monday attempted to clarify some recently announced Windows 10 details in a blog post aimed at partners.

The post, which is attributed to Windows product marketing manager Alex Snelson, filled in some details that were missing from last week's Microsoft announcement of the names of the Windows 10 editions, such as which of those editions qualify for the free upgrade offer to Windows 10. According to Snelson, it's possible for consumers to use the free upgrade offer to move to the Windows 10 Home edition. Small and midsize business customers will be eligible for the free upgrade offer to move to Windows 10 Pro.

Free for 1 Year?
The next part of the post is a bit tricky. It implies that the upgrade is free for just one year. If so, that's new information that appears to contradict earlier Microsoft statements.

Here's how Snelson states it:

There's been a lot of talk about Windows 10 being a free upgrade. For many customers, that will be true for the first year. So let's confirm the details:

  • Microsoft will offer a free upgrade to Windows 10 for qualified Windows 7, Windows 8 and Windows Phone 8.1 devices in the first year. After the first year, upgrades will be paid via boxed product and VL Upgrades.
  • Windows 8/8.1 and Windows 7 Home Basic and Home Premium devices upgrade to Windows 10 Home
  • Windows 8/8.1 Pro and Windows 7 Professional and Ultimate devices upgrade to Windows 10 Pro
  • If upgraded within the first 12 months following launch, the device will receive ongoing Windows 10 updates for free for the life of that device
  • Excludes Windows Enterprise and RT devices
  • The free Windows 10 upgrade is delivered through Windows Update; domain-joined machines can manually get the update via Windows Update. The upgrade cannot be deployed through WSUS.

The idea that Windows upgraders within the first year of Windows 10's launch will get updates "free for the life of that device" seems to contradict the notion that "after the first year, upgrades will be paid via boxed product and VL Upgrades." If the free upgrade is just available for one year, then it seems Microsoft is contemplating a future where users would pay each year to continue to get Windows 10 upgrades.

When asked about the apparent contradiction, a Microsoft spokesperson offered this statement:

We are excited to offer a free upgrade to Windows 10 for qualified new or existing Windows 7, Windows 8.1 and Windows Phone 8.1 devices that upgrade in the first year. Once a Windows device is upgraded to Windows 10, we will continue to keep it current via Windows Update for the supported lifetime of the device – at no cost. Windows 10 will be available this summer, and we look forward to sharing more details about how the upgrade will be offered at a later date.

This "supported lifetime of the device" phrase has not been defined by Microsoft yet. Most people would interpret it to mean "however long the device functions," but maybe it's just refers to the device's warrantee lifespan, which might be a year at best.

Qualifying Devices?
As for which devices qualify for the free upgrade, that's not clear either. Microsoft offers an explanation in eight-point type, which is located at the very bottom of this page. The explanation reads as follows:

It is our intent that most of these devices will qualify, but some hardware/software requirements apply and feature availability may vary by device. Devices must be connected to the internet and have Windows Update enabled. ISP fees may apply. Windows 7 SP1 and Windows 8.1 Update required. Some editions are excluded: Windows 7 Enterprise, Windows 8/8.1 Enterprise, and Windows RT/RT 8.1. Active Software Assurance customers in volume licensing have the benefit to upgrade to Windows 10 enterprise offerings outside of this offer. We will be sharing more information and additional offer and support terms in coming months.

Requires Windows Update?
The free upgrade deal seems to require the use of Windows Update service. Windows Update works by automatically patching the operating system and is routinely used by consumers who typically do not test the updates before letting them take effect. Businesses, however, may prefer greater control over their Windows client updates, but if so, then they likely will have to decline this free upgrade offer from Microsoft.

Snelson's post also specifies that WSUS, or the Windows Server Update Services tool, can't be used to deploy the free Windows 10 upgrade. WSUS is typically used by large organizations to manage updates. While it's not really clear why WSUS can't be used, those organizations that do use it perhaps aren't eligible for the free upgrade offer. And they may not have been in the position to take advantage of the offer if they used the Windows Enterprise edition, which doesn't qualify under the deal.

The new information coming out about the free upgrade seems to indicate that we don't really know what the free upgrade offer will be at this point, and that past descriptions by Microsoft officials have been missing the basic details needed to properly understand it. Some journalists that closely follow Microsoft, such as Paul Thurrott and Mary Jo Foley, are described as not being confused by Microsoft's past statements, though.

For most of us, it would be best to temper our enthusiasm about a free Windows 10 upgrade until more information gets disclosed. Microsoft has indicated that Windows 10 is coming sometime this summer.

About the Author

Kurt Mackie is senior news producer for 1105 Media's Converge360 group.