The free upgrade path was supposed to close in 2016 but remained open until now.
Microsoft just closed its free upgrade path for Windows 7 and Windows 8 users. This may seem like an insignificant change, but it will affect two very large groups of people. Enthusiasts can no longer use their old Windows 7 and 8 product keys to activate Windows 10 or 11 on a new PC or in a virtual machine. And stubborn gamers who refused to install Windows 10 will soon be forced to make an upgrade, as Steam will stop working on Windows 7 and 8 in 2024. If you need to make the Windows 10 upgrade, do it fast, as the upgrade path appears to still be open for some users.
This change of policy was announced in a difficult-to-find blog post. Microsoft claims that the upgrade path for Windows 7 and 8 users “ended July 29, 2016,” which is partially true. This upgrade path was supposed to close in 2016, but Microsoft left it open for seven years. You could even use a Windows 7 product key to activate Windows 11! We don’t know why the upgrade path is closing today, but as Thurrott notes, Microsoft actually began testing this new (or “old”) policy in its latest Windows Canary release.
Upgrades from Windows 10 to Windows 11 are still free, of course. But the Windows 11 operating system has strict hardware requirements that will prevent some users from upgrading. The good news is that Microsoft plans to support Windows 10 until 2025, so you’ve got plenty of time to save up for a Windows 11-compatible PC.
If you’re still using Windows 7 or 8, I suggest that you attempt a Windows 10 upgrade as soon as possible. It seems that this upgrade path is still open for some users, but it will permanently close as Microsoft updates the Windows 10 and 11 firmware. A new Windows product key costs at least $140 but can be found on sale for less (just avoid anything that’s too good to be true). Note that you can use Windows 10 without a license key, but it comes with some limitations and annoyances.