Windows 10 upgrades roll out -- here's how to get yours

14 million devices have already made the leap, but there are some school-of-hard-knocks tricks to upgrading safely

Windows 10 upgrades roll out -- here's how to get yours
Credit: MIcrosoft

Late last night, Yusuf Mehdi, a longtime 'Softie best known as the head of Windows Marketing, posted a sweeping view on the Windows blog of what happened yesterday with the Windows 10 rollout. Based on posts from far-flung places, it's quite possible that Mehdi is the only senior exec who stayed in Redmond for the festivities. Here's what he had to say:

Our top priority has been ensuring that everyone has a great upgrade experience, so, we are carefully rolling out Windows 10 in phases, delivering Windows 10 first to our Windows Insiders. While we now have more than 14 million devices running Windows 10, we still have many more upgrades to go before we catch up to each of you that reserved your upgrade. Rest assured we are working 24×7 to continue the upgrade process and are prioritizing the quality of your upgrade experience over anything else.

While the 14 million number may not impress some people -- after all, Microsoft had 5 million people in the Insider program, and many of them have been running the final build 10240 bits for two weeks -- it's still a respectable accomplishment.

No, the Internet didn't melt down. Microsoft's slowly releasing Windows 10 to those who have the combination of hardware and software that's most likely to be receptive to the Win10 jolt. If you signed up for the Win10 program (still no word on how many made that list) and don't have "your" copy of Windows 10 yet, be of good cheer: Microsoft's going slowly, hoping to vet the inevitable bugs before it gets to your particular configuration.

When your PC hits the big time, one of two things will happen. Mehdi says you should see a notification popping out of the Get Windows 10 icon in your system tray, saying "Your PC is ready for your free upgrade."

I have one Windows 8.1 machine, though, that didn't work that way. My Get Windows 10 icon disappeared, but when I switched over to check for updates, I saw a big notice that says, "Upgrade to Windows 10 / Start installing the newest version of Windows now." I didn't click on the Get Started link, and waited overnight to see what would happen. True to its word, Microsoft didn't try to push the update onto my machine; it's still sitting there, waiting politely, though the machine is set to Install Updates Automatically.

At least in my experience, those of you who opted into the Windows 10 update program can breathe easy: Win10 won't be installed on your machine unless and until you explicitly give your permission for it to go ahead.

If you don't want to wait, you don't have to. Although Mehdi's post doesn't mention it, you can go ahead and suck from the firehose by following the steps I outlined a couple of days ago.

Based on lots of anecdotal evidence, if you decide to take matters into your own hands, the best approach is to first use Microsoft's tool (described in my blog post) to "Upgrade this PC now." If you don't trust Microsoft (imagine that) and want to perform a clean install, first Upgrade the PC, then either run a Windows 10 reset (Start > Settings > Update & Security > Recovery > Reset this PC > Get started) or create a boot drive using the provided tool, boot from the drive, and upgrade away.

The extra step -- "Upgrade this PC now" -- apparently ensures that Microsoft has, and keeps, a log of the fact that you already have a "genuine" copy of Windows 7 or Windows 8.1. With that information tucked away in Microsoft's cloud, you shouldn't need a key to validate Windows 10. If the installer asks for a key, click the link to Skip this step.

I've also heard that folks who "Skip this step" suddenly, miraculously, discover that Windows 10 has been activated a day or so after it was installed.

Vinod Archak, a well-respected Microsoft engineer, has more suggestions in this Answers forum post.

I'm under the impression that Microsoft doesn't want to broadcast the fact that you can upgrade yourself, on your own time schedule. No doubt it's because the company has seen plenty of problems, and unless your hardware and software appears at the top of the list, running the upgrade right now is risky. I figure, eh, if you back up everything and you're willing to hose off your hard drives, why not give it a try?

As always, though, I strongly advise you to refrain from upgrading your production machine(s). Let the bugs work themselves out. It'll take a while. There's nothing overwhelmingly compelling about Windows 10, although there's much to like. Many of you won't want to upgrade at all, and I'll go over 10 good reasons why early next week.

Patience, grasshopper.

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