Windows 10 Upgrade Path and Process

In a pre-session presentation related to March 19, 2015 event on upgrading to Windows 10 from different operating systems, Microsoft’s Julius Ho has noted down few interesting points. These points form the base of this post on how to upgrade to Windows 10 from Windows 8, Windows 8.1 and even Windows 7, and the process involved.

It is clear by now that Windows 10 will be a free upgrade for all – even for some who are using counterfeit Windows 7, Windows 8.1 and Windows 8 and will be available somewhere this Summer – which could be anytime from June to September.

Windows 10 – Time to get excited

Windows 10 is indeed exciting. Microsoft is betting everything on the operating system, which will be same across all types of devices – from PCs to notebooks to tablets to phone. The features may be more or less available depending upon the type of device being used. For example, a Windows 512 MB phone might have less features compared to a phone with 1GB memory.

To make it all legitimate, Microsoft is allowing everyone with Windows 7, Windows 8 and Windows 8.1 – even if they are using pirated copies – to upgrade to Windows 10, after which, it could well be subscription-based, as Microsoft had stated earlier that updates will be pushed to Windows 10 as and when required. There will, in all probability, be no Windows 11. Windows 10 is Windows as a Service and works just like that – pushing updates and keeping the operating system up to date to deal with malware and cybercriminals – not to mention the later availability of user interface changes and other features.

Windows 10: Upgrade vs Update

According to the PowerPoint slideshow, Windows 10 combines the best of Windows 7 and Windows 8.1 while improving on the fundamentals such as ease of navigation and security. For the first time in the history of deploying a higher version of operating system at enterprise levels, Microsoft is urging enterprises to upgrade the desktops, instead of creating disk images. It says the process will make it easier to upgrade to Windows 10.

Microsoft defines the word Update in three different contexts:

  1. Modifying an existing operating system by changing some files
  2. For desktops, it could be KBs (Windows Updates), patches or hotfixes
  3. For mobile devices, it could even mean moving from Windows 8 (Apollo) to Windows 8.1 (Blue)

how Windows update works on mobile

After defining updates, Microsoft defines Upgrade as follows:

  1. For desktops, upgrade (and not update as defined above) means changing the entire operating system, reinstalling device drivers and apps
  2. For Mobile, Microsoft says the terms “upgrade” and “update” are used interchangeably and that from a technology perspective, everything on mobile devices is an “update”

Windows 10 Upgrade Path & Matrix

The term “upgrade” would mean moving to Windows 10, and the term “update” means making changes to Windows 10 after it is released and installed on machines.

If you check out the Windows 10 upgrade matrix, you will see how it will be possible to upgrade to Windows 10.

You can see that the direct upgrade path is not supported on Windows 7 RTM, Windows 8 and Windows Phone 8.0. Windows users can burn an ISO to directly upgrade to Windows 10 if they are already using Windows 7 RTM, Windows 7 SP1, Windows 8, Windows 8.1 RTM, Windows 8.1.

Similarly, people using Windows Phone 8.1 will be able to get the “upgrade” as an update to Windows Phone.

Windows RT is not supported.

Looking at the matrix below, the path of using “updates” to move to Windows 10 is limited to Windows Phone 8.1 and Windows 8.1 S14. All other except RT have to use an ISO file. They can directly upgrade over existing operating system so that device drivers don’t need to be installed separately again. The other method is clean install where you remove the older operating system, upgrade to Windows 10, install device drivers and all the apps that you need and were using before the “UPGRADE”.

Windows 10 Upgrade Path Matrix

As shown in the above table, desktops and notebooks can upgrade to Windows 10 using ISO media and in case of Windows 8.1 S14 (Windows 8.1 Update), using Windows Update.

For mobile phones, though it would be “pushing” the new operating system in a phased manner over a period of time, it is still called “update”. In other words, Windows 8.1 Phone will be automatically updated to Windows 10 after the latter releases. Generally speaking, the mobile phones check for software updates at regular intervals and if they find Windows 10, they will install the operating system after asking you for permission – just the way they did for upgrading from Windows Phone 8 to Windows Phone 8.1.

Read: Which version of Windows 10 will I be upgraded to?

Windows 10 Upgrade Process

Windows 10 will use partition switching according to the pre-session presentation by Microsoft on how to upgrade to Windows 10. If enough space is not available, Windows 10 may expand the system partition to make room for the new OS. Likewise, on mobile phones, the app files and customizable system files may be transferred to SD card in case of low storage space. We had talked about how Windows 10 will reduce its footprint to save space using smart compression algorithms. Please take a look at the below image to see how Microsoft intends to update mobile phones with Windows 10.

windows 10 upgrade process

While we wait for final arrival of Windows 10 towards end of summer 2015, you can keep an eye on MSDN Channel 9 to see what happens at the Windows 10 Upgrade Program webcast scheduled to happen soon.

Update: Windows 10 Editions have been announced. Reserve your Free Upgrade to Windows 10. See this Windows 10 editions comparison chart for details.

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Anand Khanse is the Admin of, a 10-year Microsoft MVP Awardee in Windows (2006-16) & a Windows Insider MVP. Please read the entire post & the comments first, create a System Restore Point before making any changes to your system & be careful about any 3rd-party offers while installing freeware.