Upgrading the Existing Windows 7 and Windows 8.1 Desktops to Windows 10
As we’ve discussed in How to Upgrade to Windows 10, Windows 7 and Windows 8.1 (Home and Pro editions) are eligible to benefit from the 1-year free upgrade offer. If your desktop machines are upgraded within that year they have a perpetual (but not transferable) licence for Windows 10 and they are able to be reimaged or reinstalled with Windows 10.
Using Windows 10 Media as the Initial Upgrade Image
The Windows 10 free upgrade offer is aimed at consumers and most people will initiate the upgrade from their own pc. However organisations with Windows Pro are eligible to take advantage of the offer and are unlikely to want to sit in front of each pc to upgrade it so upgrade media will be provided as part of the free upgrade offer. This media can be used on a machine (or multiple machines) to initiate the upgrade process. The media image can be customised like any other Windows image, for example via DISM (Deployment Image Servicing and Management) to include drivers, applications, etc.. During the upgrade process, a Windows 10 licence will be obtained from the Windows Store for the specific device. The upgrade media is intended to be used to initiate the upgrade process from within a currently-activated, eligible Windows OS. It shouldn’t be used as bootable media because the upgrade process validates the currently running OS to ensure it is eligible to be upgraded.
Using Windows 10 Free Upgrade Media to Reinstall or Reimage
As long as the specific device has been upgraded within the free offer year, Windows 10 can be reinstalled or reimaged on that device because the licence is tied to the motherboard, so even a hard drive upgrade is fine. So in theory, reimaging using the Windows 10 upgrade offer media will be allowed but as stated earlier, the advice from Microsoft is that it can’t be used as bootable so that makes reimaging tricky. Allowed: yes. Technically possible: it’s not clear because the upgrade media isn’t available yet.
Using Windows 10 VL Media to Reimage
One key benefit of licensing Microsoft software under a Microsoft Volume Licensing program is the right for customers to use VL media to deploy a standard image of software across multiple licenced devices. It doesn’t matter whether those devices are licenced under that particular VL program, an OEM or retail so long as certain eligibility rules are followed. The main rule is VL media may be used to reimage devices as long those devices are already licensed for the edition and version being reimaged onto them.
As long as your devices have upgraded to Windows 10 Pro within the free upgrade period, you will be allowed to use VL media to reimage them. If your VL licence is for Windows 10 Enterprise you must down-edition to Windows 10 Pro.
The Microsoft Product Terms document (a new document from July 2015 combining the Product List and Product Use Rights document) states “If a third party intends to re-image Windows on Customer’s separately licensed devices, Customer must first provide that third party with written documentation proving it has licenses for the software the third party will install.” So to cover your backs in case of an audit, ensure you have proof that the current installations of Windows are valid. With OEM, that should be easy as there’ll normally be a Certificate of Authenticity (COA) sticker on the device.
What if the Current Editions are Windows Home?
The Product Terms document states that down edition rights for Windows through Volume Licensing are from Enterprise edition to Pro (see the image below). You cannot down-edition Windows in volume licensing to Home edition because they are different products and that’s against reimaging rules. Therefore you won’t be able to use Windows 10 VL media to reimage devices if they are only licenced for Windows 10 Home (hence the big red block in the top right of our flowchart above). Licensing is full of exception though and it is possible that rights to reimage by using a different version or edition may be granted in the EULA that came with your OEM version of Windows.
One Last Point
The main points in this article are taken from the Product Terms document which hasn’t yet been updated for Windows 10 but as far as we’re aware the Windows 8.1 rules will apply, and the Licensing brief: Reimaging rights document from February 2015. We’ve also included some information from Microsoft sources in the case of unreleased bits such as the Windows 10 media and as such, they must be viewed as unconfirmed.