Microsoft Windows 10 is one of the best operating systems for PCs; it is fast and easy to use, runs all your favorite software, and offers a versatile experience whether you use it for education, work, entertainment, or gaming. But at the same time, Windows 10 is expensive and will cost you a fair amount of money.
1. Windows 10 Education student discount
Microsoft usually has an affiliation with schools, colleges, and universities, which allows their students to use Windows 10 Education for free.
You must be enrolled in a college or university to become eligible for a free Windows 10 key.
Only a select few educational institutions offer Windows 10 Education, and the free version availability varies within institutions, i.e., between different departments.
For example, one department in your university may have access to Windows 10 Education, but another department may not.
Windows 10 Education is free if available at your university or college, but your college fees would most likely include its cost.
You can check the eligibility of your college or university by going to the OnTheHub website and entering the name of your institution.
Suppose the name of your institution does not appear in the drop-down menu. In that case, it means that your college or university is not a participating institution, and you are not eligible for a free upgrade.
If your institution is eligible, you can download your free upgrade after filling in some personal information such as name, email, and student ID.
As for features, Windows 10 Education is the same as Enterprise but is geared with tools designed for students and teachers, as the target audience is academic institutions.
With additional security, management and deployment, and device control features, Windows 10 Education is more streamlined for education.
If you have your college email ID but are not currently a student, you may still be able to get an access key to Windows 10 Education through your institution. However, that is unethical and makes you liable to pay Microsoft in full if your theft is discovered.
2. Upgrade from older versions (Windows 7 and 8)
One way to get Windows 10 for free is by upgrading from previous versions. For example, if you have Windows 7, 8, or 8.1 installed, you can upgrade to 10 for free.
Even though Microsoft officially ceased support for 7 and 8, users report that a free upgrade to Windows 10 is still possible.
To do this, download Windows 10 and install it. Back up your data before installing it as a safety measure. After installing it, activate it using the product key you used to activate your previous version.
Also, an activation key for 7 or 8 Home will upgrade your PC to Windows 10 Home. Similarly, 7 or 8 Pro will upgrade to 10 Pro.
The downside to upgrading to Windows 10 for free using this method is that there is a slight chance that your old activation key may not work. This problem occurs if Microsoft determines you are not eligible for an upgrade.
To convince them otherwise, you will have to contact their customer service. Then, a process will be initiated where you will enter your key and get a new code. Windows can then be activated using this new code.
Also, you should check the compatibility of your device with Windows 10 before upgrading. If your PC is over four years old, upgrading to a newer device would be advisable.
Why should you upgrade to Windows 10 from older versions?
Security, compatibility, and compliance are problems that users have to face with end-of-support software.
One of the major reasons for upgrading to 10 from previous versions is that Windows 7 and 8 have reached their end-of-life.
After the life of a particular version of Windows ends, Microsoft no longer sends any further updates, and your PC becomes prone to security threats. As a result, your data becomes vulnerable, and the new software is no longer compatible with the old operating systems.
Security fixes by Microsoft are no longer offered after software reaches its End-of-Support period.
Other in-built security features like the Windows firewall still work after end-of-life but are insufficient to protect against more serious security threats.
New software and the latest applications are built for smooth optimization for the latest operating systems. Unfortunately, that means you will not be able to run the most recent versions of apps if your Windows version has reached its end of life.
If you are running an older operating system, it will not deal with the growing data input. As a result, it will start to lag while running more complex operations and the latest applications.
3. Windows 10 Enterprise free trial
Microsoft gives a 90-day free trial for Windows 10 Enterprise. 10 Enterprise is the same as Pro in features and functionality but has some additional features that would be more useful for large organizations.
Although Windows 10 Enterprise is designed for use by large corporations, you can download it and use it on a free trial basis for three months after filling in some information.
Microsoft will require you to provide some information, such as your name, company name, job title, email address, and phone number, before allowing you to download Windows 10 Enterprise.
But a few minutes of filling in personal information is not the only problem with this method of using Windows for free. A Microsoft representative will periodically call or email you asking you to subscribe to their Enterprise version.
Since you intend to use Windows for free, you must politely decline.
Aside from this little nuisance, you will have Windows 10 to use for three months for free, enough time for you to think of a more permanent solution.
4. Use Windows without activating
Microsoft allows you to download Windows 10 and install it on your PC for free. You can use it for free without activating it within the grace period. You can click the ‘skip’ option when the notification for activating pops up.
This option is supposed to give you a free trial of a Windows 10 experience. However, if you ‘skip’ activating it every time the warning prompt appears on your screen, you are essentially using Windows 10 for free.
You can use an unlicensed copy of Windows 10 without running into any major performance issues.
There are a few disadvantages to using Windows without activating it.
A non-activated copy will display an ‘Activate Windows’ watermark on the bottom-right corner of your desktop screen. Unfortunately, you also keep getting a warning message to activate it on your PC, which gets more frequent and annoying with time.
Although it is free, these irksome messages are a little price you must pay for using it without activating it.
According to Microsoft, this watermark is intended to warn you against using a fake version of Windows. But, of course, if you download it directly from the Microsoft website, there is no chance of it being fake.
Some features are also restricted until you activate your Windows. For example, the Personalization settings, including not changing your Start menu, taskbar, notification area, and other customization options such as font and lock-screen, cannot be changed.
Another disadvantage of using Windows without activating is that Microsoft won’t assist you if you encounter any technical issues. Instead, the tech support staff would ask you for your activation key before answering your queries.
Other (almost free) ways of getting Windows 10
Buy a cheap key
You can buy Windows 10 keys from other third-party websites at a lower price than what buying directly from Microsoft would cost you. So, buying a cheap key would be viable if you want the complete experience for free without any restrictions or annoying activation warnings.
Many third-party vendors sell Windows at lower than the original prices. These prices vary for different sellers.
You can activate your copy using keys from these websites, and although this method is not exactly free, it is cheaper than the other option. Also, you will still have access to Microsoft technical support even if you bought your key from a third-party website.
User reviews from these websites show that, apart from minor issues in some cases, Windows 10 keys from these third-party websites work just as well as keys bought directly from Microsoft.
Customers report some issues from these websites, including slow customer service, receiving keys for different versions, or receiving already used keys. So, before purchasing, ensure the website has an adequate refund policy.
When buying keys from third parties, you should be cautious of other things.
Many third-party websites offering cheap activation keys would not be legitimate.
Buying from them risks your key expiring or your operating system being blocked by Microsoft. It is an illegitimate venture if a website offers activation keys for free or at too low prices and has shaky ratings.
Do not buy from websites that offer no insurance or warranty. Also, refrain from buying activation keys alone because then you risk buying a pre-used or false key.
Buy a new laptop
Another free way of getting Windows 10 is to buy a new laptop. Many laptops and PCs have it already installed and activated when you buy them.
Several new laptops would cost you nearly the same as upgrading to 10.
Although these laptops won’t be the fastest or equipped with the strongest processors, they will carry out basic functions easily.