Microsoft Windows 10 free upgrade revisited: seven more of your questions answered

Microsoft Sign

Download the upgrade?

Can I download the upgrade, store the files, and install it about a week later? Ernst

Yes, you can download it from the Download Windows 10 page. Microsoft provides a media creation tool so that you can install the download on a blank USB memory stick or burn it to DVD. This means you can download the file on one PC to upgrade a different PC.

Windows 10 is being continuously updated, so don’t download it a long time before you plan to use it: it will be out of date. You have until next July to install the free upgrade.

Third-party upgraders?

Is there any reason to let a Microsoft store install the Windows 10 update, as opposed to an independent PC/desktop specialist? Luther

Not many of us have access to a Microsoft store, but in either case, ask your store – or your independent operator – to describe what they are going to do. This should include backing up your data and programs, and restoring/reinstalling anything that goes missing. (Obviously, you should have your data backed up already.) They should also guarantee that Windows 10 will be activated. You can check this by running the Settings app from the Start menu, going to Update & security, and selecting Activation.

Good installers will make sure your PC already has the latest Windows updates installed, and double-check that they can get all the right drivers. They may also uninstall any non-Microsoft anti-malware software that might cause problems with the upgrade.

However, 75 million people have now upgraded, and most used the Windows Update service. It’s not hard.

Where’s my product key?

Where is the new product key when upgrading? Alan

It’s online. You can search your PC for a Windows 10 product key using a utility such as Belarc Adviser, Jellybean Keyfinder, or whatever. However, if you took the free upgrade via Windows Update, then your product key will probably be YTMG3-N6DKC-DKB77-7M9GH-8HVX7 for the Home version or VK7JG-NPHTM-C97JM-9MPGT-3V66T for Pro. There are a few other generic keys, but don’t bother trying to use them.

You won’t have a unique key stored on your PC’s motherboard unless you upgraded from a retail version of Windows, or bought a digital version from the Windows Store.

When Microsoft installs Windows 10, it creates a hash number based on your hardware and stores it against your Microsoft Account (MSA). Once you have done that, you can do a re-installation, and your PC will authenticate automatically. If you are asked for a product key, click “Skip” and it should authenticate itself, perhaps after a day or two, depending on the load on Microsoft’s servers.

This is a different approach from Windows XP, Vista, 7 and 8 where a unique product key was printed on a Certificate of Authenticity stuck to the bottom of the PC. (Tip: take a photo of yours because the CoA can get worn and hard to read.)

Note that you must upgrade (and get your hash key recorded) before attempting to do a clean installation from a DVD or USB stick.

Of course, if you change parts of your PC then this will change the hash number. Microsoft ignores small changes – replacing a hard drive, video card or whatever. You’re only likely to have a problem if you upgrade the motherboard. If authentication fails, then traditionally you had to do a phone activation, which was rarely a problem. Now you can sign in with your MSA, type “supp” into Windows 10, run the Contact Support app, select Services & apps and then Windows. Click “Setting up” to request an activation.

Bear in mind that cheap pre-installed copies of Windows are tied to the device on which they are first installed, and the licence does not give you the right to move it to another PC. So, make your changes gradually. If you change all the parts at once, it will, in effect, be a new PC, even if it’s in the same case.

If you want a copy of Windows that you can move between as many PCs as you like, then you can pay a bit more for the retail version, which also includes Microsoft support.

Where’s my upgrade?

I reserved my copy of Windows 10 a while ago. When I click on “Check your PC,” it says “Good to go”. So why isn’t it upgrading to Windows 10? Is there a way I can find out what the problem is? Jeanne Marie

Microsoft is doing a staged roll-out that is expected to take several months. I assume Microsoft started with the easiest machines, to debug the installation process, before tackling the ones it thinks might cause problems. Your PC may have fallen into that category, though there’s no way to tell.

It seems that brand new Windows 8.1 machines go straight to the front of the queue. I just set up a new laptop and got an unrequested Windows 10 offer within seconds of signing on. It was fully installed about an hour later.

You could, of course, jump the queue by downloading Windows 10 directly. But if my theory is correct – that Microsoft is starting with the “low hanging fruit” – it’s probably better to wait.

Will my files survive?

Will the files, movies and programs on the Windows 7 disk drive be deleted or lost during the update? Hossam

If you do an “in place” upgrade via Windows Update, everything should stay safely in place, and any missing files should be stored on your hard drive in a folder called windows.old.

However, it’s a fact of computer life that things sometimes go wrong, so you should have a backup or two. I like to take a compressed backup and then use FreeFileSync to make a mirror image copy of all my files on an external hard drive, so I absolutely know they are there. You and you alone are responsible for preserving your own data.

Can I downgrade?

I have just upgraded from Windows 8.1 to Windows 10 on my PC, but want to go back to Windows 8.1 as I have some problems. Can I later – within a year – again install Windows 10 free of cost on the same PC? B. Nielsen

Yes, you can upgrade and downgrade as often as you like. To downgrade, run the Settings app, go to Update & security (as mentioned above), and click on Recovery. The middle option should be: “Go back to Windows 8.1”.

Note that you only have 30 days to do this. The Windows 10 upgrade rolls up your previous operating system into a folder called “windows.old”, but will delete this to save space (12.5GB on my laptop). You can also, of course, make your own restoration media. See Recovery options in Windows 10.

I’m not upgrading!

How can I cancel my reservation? Terry

Microsoft’s instructions were not as precise as they might have been. Happily, the SuperSite for Windows has published a brief guide to Successfully Cancelling Your Windows 10 Upgrade Reservation. It has an illustration for every single step.

* Ask Jack has had more than 650 questions about Windows 10, which is too many to answer personally. If yours isn’t answered here, see Microsoft Windows 10 free upgrade: five questions answered, Microsoft Windows 10 free upgrade: 10 more of your questions answered, Microsoft Windows 10 free upgrade: seven more questions answered, and Microsoft Windows 10 free upgrade: the last roundup.

Have you got a question? Email it to Ask.Jack@theguardian.com

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article was written by Jack Schofield, for theguardian.com on Thursday 27th August 2015 10.04 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010