Windows 10: More free upgrade and activation questions answered

Here are a few more answers to some nagging questions about Windows 10 upgrades and activation in the post-Anniversary-Update era.

Phasing out the year-long free Windows 10 upgrade promotion is, no doubt, a complicated process. But getting answers about how this process would work has proven equally complicated for some reason.

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Thanks to a new report from Thurrott.com's Paul Thurrott, we now have more answers to some of the nagging Windows 10 upgrade and activation questions that readers have been asking during recent weeks and months.

Thurrott says he's seen some new internal Microsoft documentation that explains how the end of the Windows 10 free-year upgrade deal, which officially ended on July 29, was designed to work.

In that documentation, Microsoft officials acknowledged that there would be "a short period" when existing Windows 7 and 8 product keys would continue to work for activating Windows 10, as some of us discovered to be the case last week. Seemingly, this was by design, as Microsoft officials realized some users might not have managed to get Windows 10 fully set up and installed by July 29.

(Microsoft officials originally told me the week before the end of the promotion that those who didn't have Windows 10 upgrades fully completed by July 29 at 11:59 p.m. UTC would be out of luck. Last week, those officials sort-of acknowledged that users with existing Windows 7/8.X keys were still able to get Windows 10 for free.)

We still don't know exactly when existing Windows 7 and 8 keys will no longer work to activate Windows 10 and Thurrott's sources don't have a firm end date, either. But users who downloaded the Anniversary Update before August 1 can start and finish setup and activate at any time in the future, the purported Microsoft documentation states.

There are also some new details from Thurrott about the ways that digital entitlement and activation will work in Windows 10.

In June, Microsoft officials noted the company planned to tweak the way activation was handled with the Windows 10 Anniversary Update. As ZDNet's Ed Bott noted at the time, beginning with the Anniversary Update, users would be able to link a Windows 10 digital license with a Microsoft account. This linkage occurs automatically if you're signed in with a Microsoft account when you upgrade to version 1607, a.k.a. the Anniversary Update.

As Bott noted, there is a troubleshooter in Windows 10 Anniversary Update that is meant to help users keep their systems activated if they exchange their motherboard/CPU in their systems. Users also now are able to replace and reinstall their HDDs without having to reactivate/get another digital license, as Microsoft has "factored out the hard drive in regard to licensing," according to Thurrott's sources.

Even though Microsoft is now linking digital licenses to Microsoft Accounts, this new method is not meant to allow users to transfer digital licenses to new PCs.

"Think of the Microsoft Account as a way to validate [that] a user can re-activate rather than thinking the license is tied to their Microsoft Account," Thurrott says, quoting Microsoft's documentation.