Evidence is mounting that Microsoft’s next major update for Windows will be available as a free upgrade for users of older versions of the operating system.
The anticipation for the launch has been growing online after Microsoft announced that it would be sharing more details on its “next generation of Windows” on 24 June.
Although Microsoft has not confirmed the name of the new operating system, a developer version of the OS which recently leaked on the web indicates it could be called Windows 11.
The company itself has alluded to this moniker in several teasers in recent weeks, including a video on YouTube that is exactly 11 minutes long which features the startup sounds of Windows 95 through Windows 7.
One of the big unknowns at the moment is whether this new Windows will be a free upgrade for existing Windows users.
While Microsoft historically charged customers for upgrading from one version of Windows to the next, it changed its approach with the arrival of Windows 10.
Following its launch, the new OS was available for free to all Windows 7 and Windows 8.1 users for a limited time.
While the official deadline for this offer has long passed, it is still possible to activate a Windows 10 installation if you are running Windows 7 or Windows 8.1, or by using genuine unused product keys from either operating systems.
There are now strong signs that Microsoft will offer free upgrades to Windows 11.
MyBroadband recently put the leaked version through its paces by installing a virtualised instance of the new OS using VirtualBox.
Like all fresh installations of Windows, we were required to provide a product key to activate Windows 11.
Unless we did this, we would be unable to personalise the interface, including changing the wallpaper, colours, themes, lock screen, and other settings. Certain apps would also stop functioning after a while.
Fortunately, we had an old unused device on hand which had a Windows 7 Starter product key. This slimmed-down version of Windows 7 was exclusively made for netbooks.
Despite this, we were able to activate a Windows 11 Home Single Language edition using this key.
The screenshots below show the state of our OS before and after entering the Windows 7 Start product key.
Review Geek managed to activate two virtualised versions of the OS using both genuine Windows 7 and Windows 8.1 product keys.
XDA Developers also tested the leaked version, but went even further.
It found that a system running Windows 10 with a valid licence could be upgraded to an activated Windows 11 for free with no issues.
Furthermore, it uncovered product key configuration files in the new OS which are meant for upgrading from Windows 7 and Windows 8.1.
There was also a file for Windows 8, but upgrading from this is not supported, so users will first have to jump to Windows 8.1 or perform a clean install of the OS.
Screenshots of these files can be seen below.
For now, it’s unclear whether these products keys will work on the final version of the new Windows that will ship to customers.
A move from Microsoft to charge for a new Windows OS would reverse the approach the company adopted with Windows 10 to continually upgrade its desktop operating system, similar to the way Apple regularly releases updates for MacOS.
In response to a query MyBroadband sent to Microsoft, the company would not confirm whether the leaked version was genuine.
It stated more clarity on what to expect from the next generation of Windows will be provided on 24 June.