Microsoft has tried a few times recently to explain the company's upgrade policy in regards to Windows 10 for a variety of users. In the process, the explanations caused great confusion and led to all sorts of speculation as to what Microsoft really has in mind.
It was confusing partly because there's no single process that applies to all users. Everything depends on how you got your particular copy of Windows, what version it is and how it was purchased.
For most users of Windows 7 and Windows 8.1, there's really not much of a mystery. If your copy of Windows came with your computer, or if you purchased it either from Microsoft or a third party, the update will be automatic. It will be free, and it will be delivered over the Internet. That will happen sometime after July 29, 2015.
However, you may opt for delivery on physical media, which you can get from Microsoft, or which you can download yourself using an ISO file you burn to a DVD. The copy of Windows will be free, but currently, there's no word on whether there will be a cost for creating and shipping the actual media. If I had to guess, there will be a nominal charge for the physical media, but that's just a guess.
For users who are part of the Windows 10 Insider Preview team, which is a few million people already running preview copies of Windows 10, the update will also be free. The difference is that it will be delivered automatically just like updates to Windows 10 are already handled. The update will simply appear, and you'll find yourself with the released version of Windows 10.
Users in the Windows 10 Insider program will need to make sure that their Microsoft ID is linked with their copy of Windows 10 before the automatic update can happen.
So what about those other users? You know, the folks who updated Windows XP and Windows Vista. Microsoft said that those users will need to roll back to their original Windows and then purchase an upgrade to Windows 10. But what happens if those users have already become part of the Preview program? You will need to get a Windows 10 license, but exactly what that will entail isn't clear. Microsoft does say that eventually that copy of Windows 10 will expire, but if you're still running a machine with XP recently installed, it's probably time for a new computer anyway.
And speaking of new computers, that's the other way to get Windows 10. Manufacturers who are currently installing Windows 7 or Windows 8 will be able to begin installing Windows 10 around the same time as the software becomes generally available. But if you buy a new machine with the old version of Windows, it will qualify for the update just like any other version of Windows 7 or 8.1.
Things are a little different for enterprise customers of Windows 10. "Other editions of Windows 10, such as Windows 10 Enterprise, do not qualify for the free upgrade offer," a Microsoft spokesperson said in an email response to an eWEEK query, "but as with prior versions, Active Software Assurance customers in Volume Licensing can upgrade to Windows 10 Enterprise as part of their existing Software Assurance benefits."