back to article Closure of Windows 10 upgrade path still catching users by surprise

Microsoft's decision to close pathways allowing Windows 7 and 8 users to upgrade to Windows 10 is still catching people out, months after the company took action. Do you remember 2015, when Windows 10 first burst onto the scene? Microsoft was very, very keen that users on previous versions of Windows upgraded to its latest and …

  1. Paul Crawford Silver badge
    Linux

    Once again I am reminded of why I ditched Windows as my primary OS when XP introduced this crap.

    Windows specific software now in VM, with no need for internet access and no worries over hardware faults impacting on keys.

    1. NewModelArmy

      I use Fedora as my main OS on PC's i use on a regular basis, and Windows as a VM, or a specific PC since the software required is only available for Windows - using W8.1.

      Had an issue with a program on the repository, and bug report was actioned within a day and solved. I don't think you will ever get that with Microsoft.

      Also, Microsoft seem to be treating your PC as their computing estate. With Fedora, and other Linux flavours, they just provide the OS as required, no shenanigans.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Haven't you heard of SystemD?

        1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

          >Haven't you heard of SystemD

          SystemD just gives you more new commands to learn beyond 'init', it doesn't allow their preferred version of Chrome to read open browser tabs in other versions of Chrome and send them to the mothership

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            > Also, Microsoft seem to be treating your PC as their computing estate. With Fedora, and other Linux flavours, they just provide the OS as required, no shenanigans.

            SystemD treats your PC as its computing estate. Plenty of shenanigans.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Microsoft wants users to move to Windows 11

      They still have upgrade issues on fully compatible machines. I, and so many people I know, simply can't get their modern fully compatible PC's to upgrade from Windows 10 to 11. Literally have spent days on forums following all sorts of MVP suggestions, delving through logs of failed upgrades, etc. Windows never tells you why it rolled back at the very end, nor do any of the log files. None of the Windows Setup command line switches help either (like "/compat ignorewarning"). They need a "install the fricking thing no matter what" switch.

      1. MrDamage Silver badge

        Re: Microsoft wants users to move to Windows 11

        Download the Windows 11 install assistant, right click, compatibility tab, and set it to run in Win7 mode.

        No, I'm not joking. I've used it on 2 recalcitrant PCs and it worked.

        1. t245t
          Joke

          Re: Microsoft wants users to move to Windows 11

          > Download the Windows 11 install assistant, right click, compatibility tab, and set it to run in Win7 mode.

          Now that you've blasted it all over the Internet that bug will be soon fixed in the next version.

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Microsoft wants users to move to Windows 11

          Been there, done that. Gets all the way to the very end, then rolls back. No errors in the log files.

          Clean install is not always an option. Hence why they need an option that allows one to force it through. We always image the system before an upgrade, so a forced upgrade that truely does not function after completion is recoverable back to where we started. But a clean install would leave us with a functioning but worthless machine. Or worse, require us to put the Win 10 image into a VM running on a Win 11 host, which really doesn't solve anything.

      2. 43300 Silver badge

        Re: Microsoft wants users to move to Windows 11

        We've seen similar. Most did install it, but we had a minority which didn't and it wasn't clear why as they were the same model, set up in the same way, as many which did install it. In some cases the upgrade assistant worked. If it didn't we just wiped and clean installed them.

        These were all machines which met the hardware requirements.

    3. karlkarl Silver badge

      Agreed.

      I simply don't engage with DRM. It is so easy to avoid these days.

  2. Omnipresent Bronze badge

    should throw a party.

    you never have to upgrade again.

    1. BristolBachelor Gold badge

      Re: should throw a party.

      I read "particularly considering that Windows patches will be choked off without activation" and realised the Holy grail; no need to mess with WUS and group policy; Microsoft themselves will still it installing that unwanted "upgrades" that break things :-)

      1. 43300 Silver badge

        Re: should throw a party.

        The problem there is that the rate in which holes come to light in Windows makes unpatched installations rather risky!

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: should throw a party.

          Being someone that works in cybersecurity, my "official" opinion has to be: Keep everything patched current. And at work we do keep everything patched, but we have a full team that deals with Microsoft's catastrophically bad patches. We patch mostly for compliance reasons. When we did an analysis of down time due to bad patches, versus down time from malware, it was close to a wash.

          At home, I turned that crap off years ago. I still browse the net every day on one of two Windows 7 PCs. I haven't picked up any malware in decades. Granted, I run an enterprise class UTM firewall at home, along with add blockers, a PI-Hole, etc.

  3. Roland6 Silver badge

    To be fair…

    The need for a MS account to which the W10 upgrade key could be associated and this be available for a reinstall, was widely reported on years back (I upgraded a bunch of systems in 2019 and dieliberately used a MS account during install to ensure the key was saved, although, I’ve not had cause to reinstall any of these systems…).

    I seem to remember once the key had been associated with a MS account, account details weren’t necessary to reinstall and relicence hence no need to transfer the key.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: To be fair…

      I must say I've had no joy with two separate attempted W10 transfers for retail versions held in my Microsoft account. It should have worked, it didn't and Microsoft "support" was the usual pathetic, unhelpful offshore/bot experience.

      Eventually I just gave up and purchased licences for £25 or so through one of the well known licence resellers. That worked fine.

      1. Spazturtle Silver badge

        Re: To be fair…

        The easiest way to get a Win 10 licence associated with a Microsoft account was to install Windows 7, activate it with KMS-Pico (which activates it with a generic OEM licence) and then download the Windows 10 upgrader and run it.

        Upgrading a copy of Windows 7 that used a consumer licence key was much less reliable at getting a Win 10 licence added to your account.

    2. MrDamage Silver badge

      Re: To be fair…

      I didn't log into my Micros~1 account for a couple of months. Next time I tried to, it wouldn't let me continue without handing over my bloody phone number. Nope, fuck that.

      1. Roland6 Silver badge
        Pint

        Re: To be fair…

        You got off lightly! I had to create a 365 domain admin account and set up authenticator, so I now have IT@xyz.co.uk and IT@xyzcouk.onmicrosoft.com...

      2. Bebu Silver badge
        Windows

        Re: To be fair…

        "it wouldn't let me continue without handing over my bloody phone number. Nope, fuck that."

        The number of the sim in my data only 4G/LTE router usually serves when dealing with likes of these although I have noticed the router has subsequently received some peculiar sms (texts.)

  4. 42656e4d203239 Silver badge
    Black Helicopters

    There may be alternatives available

    I am told that a simple Google search will show you a Github respository that helps with Microsoft activation problems.

    Apparently the repository contains powershell scrips that sort out any licensing/activation issues you may have and result in a fully licensed/activated copy of the OS/Office suite as required.

    It is rumoured that Microsoft employees also use these scripts to sort out issues that are otherwise intractable through official channels.

    I obviously cannot comment on the veracity of these tales.

    1. AJ MacLeod

      Re: There may be alternatives available

      Superb - strangely I had just come up against this in the past day, upgrading a elderly Win 7 laptop for an even more elderly lady who doesn't expect to last very much longer. I had totally forgotten that MS had closed the 7-10 upgrade route until the activation failed... Your post may or may not have resolved this issue, thank you! Not sure how I hadn't come across that before, but this is why I still waste time reading The Register - there's something to be learned in the comments most days.

      (In this case having she had a plain black desktop anyway so I'm sure she could have lived quite happily with a watermark warning her to activate, but it was annoying to me nonetheless.)

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: There may be alternatives available

      Any comment on:

      https://massgrave.dev/#Intro

      ?

  5. Roland6 Silver badge

    “ the Windows 7 and 8 upgrade path had been closed”

    At Christmas 2023, you could still upgrade a W7 installation using the W10 in situ upgrade from MS, however, the resulting W10 system needed a W10 licence key to be fully working/legit. Ie. MS would only tell you, you needed a licence/activation key after upgrading your ancient system to W10.

  6. mark l 2 Silver badge

    AFAIK security patches still work if you are running an unactivated Windows 10 install, as I have a VM with unactivated Windows 10 and it still works with Windows update to get patches. I know this because i only usually boot it up every few months and there is always a fsck ton of patches to download every time I do.

    I think Microsoft do this to stop huge botnets of insecure PCs getting created because they didn't activate Windows.

    1. Necrohamster Bronze badge
      Pirate

      Might be something to do with this.

    2. 43300 Silver badge

      I often create VMs with Windows 10 / 11 / Server 2022 for short-term testing of things, and they always install updates without any issues, They don't tend to exist for very long, but I've never seen any warnings about expiry after X number of days - they just have the well-known restrictions (watermark, can't change the wallpaper, etc). None of the restrictions affect core functionality - it's all cosmetic.

  7. RosieBrock

    Trouble is I would not know how to download and set up a different operating system and nor would most people hence we are captured slaves to the giant Microsoft. Windows 11 is unstable and screen goes to black very briefly before restoring itself. One would have thought that since I had terrible issues with a brand new Dell I5 laptop from day one I bought it, three years ago, and recently the hard drive also went, after an expensive new SSD installed and some data saved from the hard drive, and Windows 11 reinstalled, the 0S might have resolved the go to black shakiness of the product. But it has not. A few years ago I went to Windows 10 via Windows 8.1. (a weird and short-lived system). 10 was OK but in each change I lost out on something with compatible 365 software - the Microsoft Picture Manager for example which I used as at the time I had a digital camera for pix but no smartphone. In our hosue we began paying for a 356 subscription five years ago. Very expensive and they keep changing things including Outlook, and not always an improvement. One thing I did find strange was Back-Up. My Toshiba External Back Up broke easily - not an SSD. I invested in a Samsung TB1. Took me three hours to find the correct place to write to to register the warranty. Had to send a photo in the end twice, as I could not red the tiny print even with a magnifying glass. Now the system tells me it has not backed up anything. There is an error. And searching has produced experts on You Tube which say in Windows 11 I need to use Windows 7 to back up??? I really don't understand what is going on.

    1. t0m5k1

      is this a basic llm or just block-o-text?

      1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

        And a brand new user handle. Interesting.

    2. Mike_R
      Linux

      Oh, come on...

      See icon

      ------------------------------------------------------------->

    3. Number 39

      You say

      "I would not know how to download and set up a different operating system"

      but follow up with

      "A few years ago I went to Windows 10 via Windows 8.1"

      Which means you have done so already.

      Using a different family of OS is not any more challenging (if you choose a friendly one - Linux Mint is probably a safe choice)

    4. katrinab Silver badge
      Meh

      "I could not red[sic] the tiny print even with a magnifying glass"

      probably not an LLM. Probably also not machine translated.

    5. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      How about welcoming Rosie to the forums and suggesting she uses paragraphs in future, rather than flaming and downvoting her?

      I thought this was a welcoming place...

    6. claimed Bronze badge

      The simplest way to backup using an external drive is to “copy” the files you want to backup to the external drive. I can’t help with your warranty, that’s between you and the retailer of the device.

      First you need to check your external drive is working, plug it in and try to locate it in Windows Explorer. Try to copy and paste a file there.

      If that’s ok, go ahead and copy all your files over.

      Some reasons for errors might be:

      Not enough space on the hard drive

      You’re trying to configure a type of backup that doesn’t work with portable drives

      Broken portable drive

  8. Necrohamster Bronze badge
    Windows

    Just buy your Windows 10/11 key for a couple of quid on eBay like a normal person

  9. Fading
    Windows

    In my misbegotten youth....

    I purchased an upgrade from Vista home OEM to windows 8 retail via Microsoft for the grand total of 25 whole English pounds (when they were desperate to increase windows 8 uptake). The key has been used subsequently to upgrade to windows 8.1 then 10 and since then the "downgrade" to windows 11 - going on 15 years of MS OS's now (all those other OEM licenses from machine upgrades have been wasted). This is linked to my MS account so with luck I will get a few more MS Os's out of it.....

    Now who remembers calling the MS activation number for XP numerous times after another wipe to get the machine working again.....

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: In my misbegotten youth....

      I thought that Windows Vista was shitty until Windows 8 (and further editions) appeared - now I see it as much easier to use Vista than the latest versions even though I have to use every version of Windows at work. I'm not complaining, using Windows 11 means I get well paid to just sit down and wait half an hour for it to boot every time. I reboot Windows 11 whenever I want to relax.

      1. AndrueC Silver badge
        WTF?

        Re: In my misbegotten youth....

        I'm not complaining, using Windows 11 means I get well paid to just sit down and wait half an hour for it to boot every time. I reboot Windows 11 whenever I want to relax.

        Eh?

        I used to power down my work machine at the end of the week (I put it in standby at the end of the workday) and on Monday it booted and was ready for me to login within twenty seconds. And this was a machine that had BitLocker active. It was also a relatively elderly clone - must've been five years old. I missed the last upgrade cycle because everyone knew I was about to retire. Heck - when I was working I could boot the machine, launch three instances of Visual Studio get Docker running two Linux instances (PostGres back-end and an Elastic Search server) and be ready for work in 10 minutes.

        My personal laptop is the same on the rare occasions when a Windows update requires me to reboot it.

        You appear to either be running on really, really shitty hardware (in which case I don't understand how you even got Windows 11 installed) or else there is something very wrong with your computer. Malware or a virus perhaps?

    2. phuzz Silver badge

      Re: In my misbegotten youth....

      I'm still technically using the same license I bought for Vista, which got upgraded (in place) to 7, then 8>8.1>10>11. I think I did a fresh install on Win 10, but otherwise it was the same install, upgraded several times, and cloned to a newer SSD at least twice.

      And yes, I too spent many hours on the phone to MS activation back in the XP days :(

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Well if you will ignore how it's designed to work then that's down to you.

    1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      Designed? This is Microsoft.

  11. Czrly

    That means no re-installs?

    Let me get this perfectly straight because it is important to me: this means that, should something disturb my Windows 10 activation on my old hardware or should my disk drive fail, I can never re-install, even though my PC has been running Windows 10 for many years – originally from a Windows 7 upgrade?

    I can't upgrade to Windows 11 – don't have a TMP and my motherboard is rather dated – and, even if I could, I *would* not because I consider it to be a step backwards in usability, privacy, openness and, outside of those, it's no advancement in any way that matters.

    There's nothing wrong with my old hardware (i7 7700, 1080ti era) and no earthly reason to upgrade it.

    Frankly, I'd actually be perfectly happy to DOWNgrade back to 7 except that nothing supports that any more. LOTS of games, software, tools and even modern programming languages and compilers have dropped Windows 7 support simply because they did not want to or could not afford to expend resources maintaining it, given that Windows 10 was a "free" upgrade path.

    This is basically a pure, end-game distillation of the EEE tactic, except I'd personally omit the "Extend" part because I honestly can't think of a single Windows 10 feature that "Extended" functionality in a way that I actually wanted or needed. And, basically, this goes to show that Microsoft could put paid to anybody's use of their OS at any time on their own hardware, even if one had a formerly valid and legal license. The can choose to alter the deal at any time.

    Meh. I've migrated 99% of my use-cases to Linux, anyway. I only boot Windows 10 for a few games, now. But I was planning a fresh re-install to clean out some unwanted stuff – like old Adobe and Apple bloat left over from other abysmal software that I once used, have uninstalled, and will never touch, again – and now I see I can't ever do that, again!

    1. Roland6 Silver badge

      Re: That means no re-installs?

      >Let me get this perfectly straight because it is important to me: this means that, should something disturb my Windows 10 activation on my old hardware or should my disk drive fail, I can never re-install...

      If you didn't back whenever you upgrade, associate your new W10 activation with a MS account then if you reinstall Windows 10 due to HDD failure expect it to require an activation key.

      Aside: I don't know if you can now (some years after the event) associate the W10 activation with a new MS account.

      1. Adelio

        Re: That means no re-installs?

        Why, oh Why should 1 have to create or use a Microsoft Account? I have never found any use for it.

        1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

          Re: That means no re-installs?

          "I have never found any use for it."

          That's not the point. The point is that Microsoft have found a use for it.

    2. Necrohamster Bronze badge
      Windows

      Re: That means no re-installs?

      "LOTS of games, software, tools and even modern programming languages and compilers have dropped Windows 7 support simply because they did not want to or could not afford to expend resources maintaining it, given that Windows 10 was a "free" upgrade path."

      Windows 7 was the last great version of Windows, but it's obsolete now.

      It makes up 3% of the Windows market share as of January 2024, so it's not worth the effort to do the testing etc to ensure new versions of your applications continue to support it. Which is fair enough...

      1. Version 1.0 Silver badge
        Unhappy

        Re: That means no re-installs?

        All "upgrades" these days are designed to upgrade corporate income, so often when you try to upgrade to the new Windows version, then you are told that buy a new computer. And the hackers are all working on the new upgraded Windows versions.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: That means no re-installs?

          Windows 7 is now a lot more secure because the hackers have all upgraded their systems too.

        2. Necrohamster Bronze badge

          Re: That means no re-installs?

          Welcome to capitalism. Of course, you may choose not to participate.

          So instead of upgrading from Windows 10 to Windows 11, you might choose to install Ubuntu (or whatever) instead.

    3. Shalghar

      Re: That means no re-installs?

      I have found an external drive bay with two slots and a clone drive button. Works a treat everytime smart diagnostics suggest a drive may fail in near future to mirror the afflicted drive to the new hdd/ssd. The old drives are kept as backup, so if the new drive fails or the OS crashes beyond repair/recoverability, i just clone the near faulty old backup drive again.

      Takes about an hour per terabyte but after you press the button you dont need to care about anything and have a working OS after the thing is done.

      Should your mainboard or anything that windows deems "too much has changed" cease working, this will of course not help.

    4. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: That means no re-installs?

      There's a tool out there that allows you to display the key used by Win10 for its activation, which isn't the same as the Win7 one and should be reusable.

  12. yetanotheraoc Silver badge

    Please accept this wooden horse

    Moving to a subscription license for Windows would be a step too far even for MS. So their strategy appears to be that Windows is a delivery system for the subscription moneymakers O365 and CoPilot. Any formerly good and newly bad (because incapable of sequestering the murderers inside) version of Windows will be given the chop by any means available. The reasons they give for dropping support for the upgrade licenses are a little inscrutable. They easily could continue to honor them, but they just don't want to. Even the hard requirement for a Microsoft account is entirely at their whim, they could do it another way but again they don't want to.

    1. Adelio

      Re: Please accept this wooden horse

      As a "lay" user what use would I have for Co-pilot or 0365. I use Outlook 2007 and LibreOffice.

    2. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      Re: Please accept this wooden horse

      "Moving to a subscription license for Windows would be a step too far even for MS."

      Don't be too sure. The frog may not have been boiled yet but it's getting pretty warm.

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Don't confuse "upgrade" with "run"

    While anything Intel gen 8 or lower (or TPM 1.2) won't upgrade to Windows 11, a straight install from USB still works. It's been getting harder to do this, Win11 23h2 requires you to pop up a command shell to change some registry keys, but the install completes -- even picking up the Win 7/10/11 key already on the machine, so the install is activated.

    In case you didn't notice, Microsoft is EOLing the Win 11 feature patches after two years (just like they promised). Win11 21h2 EOLed in Oct. 2023, and stopped getting all patches. If you had forced the Win 11 install on a machine which refused to upgrade, the only patches cut off were the feature upgrades. Fortunately, the Win11 23h2 patch still installs via USB (with the registry modifications). At some point, this upgrade path may be cut off.

    Good luck with those cheap win 10/11 Home/Pro activations. If an OEM key for multiple activations, it may have run out of activations. If a retail key, it may be already in use. The gotcha is that to find the problem, you need to download the key, and the claim is no refunds at that point. The support process is dragged out as long as possible to get beyond the credit card problem report period. The need to call Microsoft and beg for the key to be unblocked is not part of the advertisements. showkeyplus from Microsoft will at least tell you what kind of key it is, and if a retail, no way will a retail do multiple activations.

    1. 43300 Silver badge

      Re: Don't confuse "upgrade" with "run"

      "While anything Intel gen 8 or lower (or TPM 1.2) won't upgrade to Windows 11, a straight install from USB still works. It's been getting harder to do this, Win11 23h2 requires you to pop up a command shell to change some registry keys, but the install completes"

      It will in-place upgrade a machine which has at least Secure Boot and TPM 1.2 (and pre-8G CPU) by adding one registry entry. Microsoft even now explains how to do it (although they don't recommend it) - search for 'Ways to install Windows 11'.

      Anyhting below that (i.e. no TPM at all and/or no Secure Boot) won't upgrade or clean install easily. Might be able to get it to clean install with Rufus, and I've seen assorted other suggested registry changes, but not tested whether they work.

    2. Necrohamster Bronze badge

      Re: Don't confuse "upgrade" with "run"

      "If a retail key, it may be already in use."

      Use phone activation in this case *wink, wink*. And yes, it still exists in 2024.

  14. K.o.R
    Boffin

    I thought once you'd activated on a given motherboard it was stored and reinstalling Windows on the same motherboard would automatically reactivate? Tying the license to your MS account was only if you wanted to transfer to a new system?

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