Top Windows 10 questions: How to install, secure, upgrade, get it for free

In the past year, Ed Bott answered hundreds of questions about Windows 10. Here are the topics that readers found most interesting.
Written by Ed Bott, Senior Contributing Editor

Video: Windows 10 after two years: Was the upgrade worth it?

Every year I make a list and check it twice.

I'm referring, of course, to the reports generated by the elves in ZDNet's analytics engine, who know exactly which posts you've been most interested in.

In 2017, Microsoft hit the accelerator on Windows 10, delivering the fourth and fifth major feature updates as part of the "Windows as a service" makeover to its flagship operating system.

You, dear readers, were intensely interested in details about how the new operating system works, with Windows 10-related topics dominating my list of most-read articles. Here, in order, are the topics you found most interesting.

Can you still get a free Windows 10 upgrade?

My most popular post of 2017, by far, was this one: "Here's how you can still get a free windows 10 upgrade."

I originally wrote it in 2016, shortly after Microsoft ended its year-long free upgrade offer for Windows 10, and then updated the post several times over the course of the following year.

More than a year after that offer supposedly ended, Microsoft is still giving away upgrades to Windows 10 from Windows 7 or Windows 8.1 to anyone who downloads the installation files and runs Setup. And there's even an official extension for anyone who uses "assistive technologies."

That last loophole is closed as of New Year's Day 2018, as we found out earlier this year (see "Microsoft quietly announces end of last free Windows 10 upgrade offer"). But it's still an open question whether anyone in Redmond will reset those activation servers.

What's the best way to install Windows 10?

Late this year, Microsoft announced that the number of monthly active users of Windows 10 had climbed past the 600 million mark, an increase of more than 100 million since the installed base hit 500 million a mere six months earlier, in May.

With that backdrop, it's no surprise that readers of this column have a voracious appetite for information about setting up Windows 10. These three posts were all popular in 2017:

When will Windows 7 go away?

More than eight years after its release date, Windows 7 is perhaps Microsoft's greatest success story ever. Its success, in fact, probably keeps a few Microsoft executives awake at night: Will it become another Windows XP, so popular that businesses continue using it even after its onrushing end-of-support date in January 2020?

This year I looked at the sometimes-problematic business of calculating Windows market share ("Windows 10 versus Windows 7: Whose numbers do you trust?") and updated an evergreen post on Microsoft's support deadlines ("When will Microsoft end support for your version of Windows or Office?")

But perhaps the most interesting indirect data point is that after seven years at the top of my year-end most-read list, "Perfectly legal ways you can still get Windows 7 cheap (or even free)" finally slipped to number three.

How can I lock down Windows 10?

The Windows 10 installed base continued to climb in 2017, and so did the audience for my weekly series of Windows 10 tips. The most popular of all was this how-to article on how to prevent friends, family members, and employees from inadvertently installing malware or crapware on PCs you support: "Windows 10 tip: Keep unwanted software off PCs you support."

For more tips, see these collections:

Is it possible to get a free upgrade to Pro edition?

If there's a consistent theme in these questions, the quest for value is probably involved. A less charitable soul might suggest that readers of these pages are, um, cheapskates.

But it's undeniable that a two-year-old post, "How to upgrade from Windows 10 Home to Pro without hassles" was the fifth most-read posts here, thanks in no small measure to its instructions on how to accomplish that upgrade using an old product key from Windows 7 or Windows 8.1.

(PS: I just checked. Yes, that trick still works.)

How do I turn off Cortana?

Not everyone loves the idea of having a personal assistant embedded in their person computer, especially when said assistant has a perky personality that can be grating if you haven't had enough coffee yet.

For those of you who share that churlish outlook on computing, I present the ever-popular instructions in this Windows 10 tip: "Turn off Cortana completely."

What's Windows 10 S, and should I care?

Normally, the introduction of a new edition of Windows would be headline news. For Microsoft, the headlines associated with its May launch of Windows 10 S, a Chromebook competitor, were uniformly negative. You can read them all in "Reviewers give a giant thumbs-down to Windows 10 S." (Spoiler alert: They hated it. They really, really hated it.)

The biggest objection: "Google Chrome won't be allowed on windows 10 S." And with less than three weeks to go in 2017, iTunes still hasn't made its promised debut in the Microsoft Store, although its archrival Spotify is there.

For a full backgrounder, see "What is Windows 10 S?"

Is the PC dead yet?

The year started out on a grim note for PC makers, as Gartner noted in January that global shipments of PCs had fallen for the fifth straight year in 2016.

Thanks to increasingly powerful smartphones (and, to a lesser extent, tablets), the consumer PC market has shrunk, perhaps irreversibly. But there are a few bright spots at the high end of the market, notably from Microsoft's Surface line.

If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, Microsoft should be blushing at the sheer number of hardware makers that are borrowing its ideas, as I noted in "Meet the army of Surface Pro clones and lookalikes."

One cautionary tale, however, occurred when Microsoft abruptly cut off feature updates for the first generation of 2-in-1 PCs based on Atom Clover Trail series CPUs. (See "Microsoft cuts off Windows 10 support early for some PCs.") The company modified its decision after a couple days, announcing that it would continue to deliver security updates for another five years.

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