Download and run any version of Windows for free

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Did you know that Microsoft is giving away free copies of Windows? Not only Windows 10 upgrades, but also Windows 8.1, 8, 7, Vista and XP? Here’s how you can download them for free.

Free copies of Windows? What’s the catch? Yes, there is a catch, of course, and Microsoft is giving away virtual machines.

Software like VirtualBox, VMware and others can run an operating system in a window on the desktop or even in full screen mode. A virtual machine is a bit like an emulator that allows you to run Gameboy, Comodore 64, Atari, and other devices on your computer.

Download and run any version of Windows for free - Download and run any version of Windows for freeIn the case of a virtual machine, the emulated hardware is a PC and you can run any version of Windows (or Linux, but that’s another story). It’s in a window on the desktop, but you can view it in full-screen mode to make it look and work like the real thing.

So why is Microsoft giving away Windows? The answer is for testing purposes. There are many different versions of Internet Explorer and in order for website developers to test their websites and make sure they work for everyone, they can start a virtual machine like on Windows 7 and see if Internet Explorer 8, 9 and 10 work, or Internet Explorer 6 and 8 on XP.

You don’t need to run Internet Explorer, and these are full-featured versions of Windows, so you can install and run any software. Here is a step-by-step guide showing how to download and install any version of Windows.

1 Select a virtual machine

Open a web browser and go to https://developer.microsoft.com/en-us/microsoft-edge/tools/vms/. Select a virtual machine, e.g IE8 to XP shown here. (Update: XP, Vista, Win 8 have been removed. There are now only Win 7, Win 8.1 and Win 10.)

Free Windows virtual machine

2 Select the platform

If you don’t already have virtual machine software, download VirtualBox or VMware Player. Both are free. Then select the appropriate platform from the list, e.g VirtualBox.

Free Windows virtual machine

3 Unzip the download

The file is downloaded as a zip file and is large! Windows XP has 1 GB and Windows 10 has about 5 GB. Ideally, you will need a fast internet connection to download. When the download is complete, right click on the ZIP file and select it extract everything. This will extract the content and save it in a folder of the same name in the same location.

Extract from a zip

4 Import the virtual machine

Start VirtualBox, go to file menu and select import device. Thus, the software is supplemented with ready-made virtual machines downloaded from the Internet.

Import into VirtualBox

5 Select the file

Browse the hard drive and select the file extracted from the downloaded ZIP file.

Import into VirtualBox

6 Adjust the settings

The virtual machine is ready to use, but comes pre-configured with the minimum requirements. Select the virtual machine and click on the settings Button. XP used in this example is configured to use 512MB of RAM, but increasing it to 1024MB (1GB) allows for better execution. Similarly, you can also increase video memory in the display area. There’s still some tweaking you can do, but that’s enough for starters.

Customize the virtual machine

7 Start the virtual machine

Select the virtual machine and click on the begin Button. The selected version of Windows will then run in a window on the desktop.

Windows XP in a virtual machine

There’s another catch, and that’s that these Windows versions are time-limited. You basically get the trial version and they run for up to 90 days and then stop working. However, you can delete the virtual machine and import a new copy from the downloaded file and enjoy another 90 days, repeating this forever. You’ll lose any settings or software you installed in the copy of Windows, but since it’s only used for testing purposes it doesn’t matter.

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