It was a great ride, but today it’s over. On January 14, 2020, Microsoft ended the life of one of its greatest operating systems ever. Windows 7 is dead.
Your computer will still power on, but it won’t receive any more security updates, and any bugs found won’t get fixed. Bottom line: It’s dangerous to keep using Windows 7, especially if you shop online or store any personal information on your PC. We’ve got tips on how to stay as safe as possible now on Windows 7 now that security updates are done but your best bet is migrating to a more modern operating system. Good news! Remember Microsoft’s offer of a free Windows 10 upgrade, the one that ostensibly ended years ago? It’s quietly still available.
It’s unclear how long this will continue to be available, as the upgrade offer was officially yanked in 2016, so consider doing it sooner than later if you’re interested. That said, since it still works, we’re inclined to believe Microsoft doesn’t mind this unofficial upgrade method and simply wants as many people off Windows 7 as possible. Now that Windows 7 is dead it’s even more critical.
How to upgrade from Windows 7 to Windows 10 for free
First, you’ll want to have your Windows 7 product key in hand in case things go awry. If you’re using a prebuilt PC bought at a store—the usual tower computers by Dell, HP, etc.—then it should have a sticker somewhere that includes the product key. If not, free tools like Belarc Advisor or NirSoft’s ProduKey can scan your system and find it for you. Jot it down and keep it handy.
With that done, back up your data. Upgrading to a new operating system is a major task, and you don’t want to lose your precious photos and files if things go wrong. We’ve got guides to the best Windows backup software and online backup options, but even stashing your most valued files on a USB key or external drive works. Whatever method you use, just make sure your data’s backed up somewhere safe.
Next, head to Microsoft’s Windows Media Creation Tool page and click the Upgrade Now button. The Media Creation Tool will download to your computer. Run it, select the Upgrade this PC now option when prompted—not “Create installation media”—and choose to keep your apps and files. Click Install and wait for the tool to work its magic. After several reboots (and potentially a long wait), you’ll be on Windows 10, which is still being supported for years to come. Yay!
If you want to take a more complicated route, you can also use the “Create installation media” option to clean install Windows 10, inputting the Windows 7 product key you dredged up earlier when you’re asked for your Windows 10 license. How To Geek’s article walks you through the process step-by-step. Most people should stick with using the much simpler Upgrade this PC now option, though.
Sometimes, Microsoft will prevent the upgrade from occurring because of compatibility errors with your hardware or software. If so, you’ll be dumped back into Windows 7 after a reboot. Troubleshooting those errors gets hairy and far beyond the scope of this article. Consider checking if there’s a BIOS or firmware update available for your system if you run into an issue, though. Find one? Install it and run Microsoft’s upgrade tool again.
If you’re still out of luck, check out our guide to running Windows 7 safely, and consider migrating to Linux or buying a new Chromebook or Windows PC to hop back on the security update bandwagon. Seriously: You don’t want to be running an unpatched, insecure operating system in today’s world. Linux is much more user-friendly than it used to be and should handle most people’s basic needs with minimal headaches.