If you upgraded an OEM device to Windows 10 for free then you can still reinstall Windows 10 on it for the lifetime of the device since that license can not be legally transferred to other hardware anyway.  If you upgraded a retail version of Windows 7 or 8.1 to Windows 10 then after 29 July 2016 you will be unable to fully move that Windows 10 upgrade to a new device using the Windows 7 or 8.1 retail license.

In both of these situations Windows 10 will need to be purchased for new systems.

This question comes about because earlier today I provided some commentary on a new support article Microsoft published over the weekend that relates to activating Windows 10.

That article from Microsoft, which was long overdue, still left one question unanswered about retail copies of Windows 7 and 8.1 systems - what about after 29 July 2016?

The OEM side is straight forward because of licenses being tied to hardware. For retail licensed version of Windows it becomes a little more challenging.

Here is the scenario for this question:

  • User has a retail license for Windows 7 or 8.1 (full or upgrade version). This would have been purchased in a physical store or online. User will either have a digital download or a physical DVD along with a product key.
  • This license was used to upgrade a previous version of Windows on OEM hardware or was installed on a home built system as a clean install or through an upgrade to a previous retail copy of Windows.
  • This genuine Windows 7 or 8.1 system was then upgraded anytime between 29 July 2015 and 29 July 2016 to Windows 10 using the free upgrade offer from Microsoft.

This system, once it is activated through the upgrade process from Windows 7/8.1 to Windows 10, will have a Digital Entitlement for Windows 10. That means Windows 10 can be clean installed on that device in the future and remain activated.

Since the underlying license for the Windows 10 upgrade, a retail license for Windows 7 or 8.1, is retail that means the license can be moved to another system. The key is that the old system, which was upgraded to Windows 10 at no cost based on that underlying retail OS license, would no longer be a genuine system if that license is moved to another device.

The user in turn would have to reinstall the genuine licensed version of Windows 7/8.1 and then perform the Windows 10 upgrade in order to gain a Digital Entitlement on the new system.

All legal and straight forward unless it is after 29 July 2016 because that is the date the free upgrade offer for Windows 10 expires. After that date you can still move your underlying retail license for Windows 7/8.1 because that is permitted as mentioned above but there will not be a free upgrade to Windows 10 at this point since it has expired.

This takes us back to the phrase Microsoft often used leading up to the release of Windows 10 that did crate some confusion:

For the supported lifetime of the device.

I asked Microsoft about this scenario after the info about Windows 10 activations from over the weekend failed to provide any info on it and this is the reply I received from a Microsoft spokesperson (emphasis is mine):

“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.”

The statement goes on to confirm that this upgrade is not related to your Microsoft account.

Bottom line is that if this scenario applies to you clean installs will be possible on the same hardware until that hardware is dead. This includes using the system reset option or clean installing Windows 10.

Any new system you may want to move your retail Windows 7 or 8.1 license over to after 29 July 2016 will not be eligible for a free upgrade to Windows 10 and you will have to purchase a Windows 10 retail license to get that system updated to the new operating system.

Of course, you should still be able to purchase an upgrade license for Windows 10, which will cost less than a full version of the OS, and then use it to upgrade your retail Windows 7 or 8.1 system at that point.