Microsoft recently closed a loophole that allowed people to continue to access the free upgrade to Windows 10 (and then Windows 11), from Windows 7 or 8, but it appears there’s been an unwelcome side-effect here.
Namely that those who have previously taken the free upgrade offer in years past have reportedly found that their license key is suddenly deactivated.
Let’s outline a quick example to make the situation clearer. Say you owned a PC with Windows 7 way back when, then took the free upgrade to Windows 10 when it emerged. And down the road, you further upgraded to Windows 11.
After that upgrade, you found that Windows 11 is telling you that your license key isn’t valid – so you have to buy a new one.
That’s what has happened to The Verge, and some of its readers, and other folks who have been complaining about the situation on Reddit and other online platforms.
Okay, so it’s not clear how many Windows 11 and 10 users this is happening to, but it’s certainly occurring in some circumstances. It may arise without a hardware component upgrade, The Verge suggests, and the deactivation of the license could even take place due to a simple BIOS update.
Reader Daniel Mittelman tells a story of having his activation blocked after upgrading some hardware in his PC, and he contacted Microsoft customer support about the problem.
Mittelman observes: “They told me because my Windows 10 license had been upgraded from Windows 7, and that they had discontinued support for Windows 7 product keys, that they could not continue my license for Windows 10 Pro after the hardware change.
“They also acknowledged that changing the hardware is not a violation of the Windows license so there is no reason my Windows 10 license should be revoked or altered in any way.”
Analysis: Microsoft is investigating, thankfully
That’s the key point here, of course. While you can’t get an entirely new PC and use a Windows license from your existing computer – it’s tied to one machine – upgrading components should not mess with your license (it’s still the same PC, just with a bit of it swapped out, or maybe several bits).
So, this shouldn’t be happening, and as theorized it may be something to do with Microsoft squashing the upgrade path from Windows 7 or 8 to Windows 10/11. That free offer officially expired a year after the launch of Windows 10, but remained an unofficial route until just recently when Microsoft finally did away with it.
Microsoft is looking into this issue, you’ll be glad to hear.
Principal product manager of Windows at Microsoft, Bill Babonas, told The Verge: “Microsoft is aware of these customers reports and is investigating. Customers who are experiencing technical difficulties should contact customer support.”
You can use Windows without activating the OS, it should be noted, but there are a sizeable number of limitations including not being able to customize the operating system, and indeed not getting updates (except critical security patches). There are other annoyances such as a watermark and pop-ups nagging to activate Windows, too. In short, it’s far from ideal to be limping along in this manner…
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Darren is a freelancer writing news and features for TechRadar (and occasionally T3) across a broad range of computing topics including CPUs, GPUs, various other hardware, VPNs, antivirus and more. He has written about tech for the best part of three decades, and writes books in his spare time (his debut novel - 'I Know What You Did Last Supper' - was published by Hachette UK in 2013).