Play with Windows 10 without upgrading
Ken in Regina
Some of you may have managed to avoid upgrading from Windows 7 or 8.x but still have some interest in what Windows 10 is really like. Or perhaps like me you want to try the very latest test builds of Windows 10 to see what's coming up in the next release but don't want to dedicate a complete computer system to it and don't want to risk messing up your current stable Windows 10 installation.

For awhile when Win10 first came out I was on what's called the Fast Ring for test builds. These are the people who get the earliest, and sometimes flakiest, test versions. Once the second official release (build 1511) came out I was about to get rid of my test machine and I didn't want either of my other Windows computers on the test builds. But I'm still curious to see what's coming and have a chance to play with it from time to time.

More than just seeing what's available in the newest test builds, I also want to see some of the new versions of the apps. Microsoft is doing some interesting things with them and some of them will only run in newer builds which have the necessary support for them built in.

If you're interested, here's a way you can do it safely and for free.

It consists of installing Oracle's free VirtualBox virtual machine so you can run other operating systems on your computer without having to do complicated stuff like multi-booting, etc. VirtualBox runs on your PC just like any other app but it serves as a "host" that creates a completely isolated "sandbox" for the guest operating system to run in.

VirtualBox takes 153MB in the Program Files folder on the system drive .. not a lot of space.

However, a virtual machine running another operating system requires its own virtual hard drive. That's just space you allocate on any hard drive on your system. The virtual drive will look just like any other file except that the guest operating system running in VirtualBox will see and treat it like its own hard drive. With VirtualBox you can assign the virtual drive on any drive you want so it won't clutter up your system drive.

Of course if the drive you put the virtual disk on is a slower drive, as it is on my system, it will affect the performance of the guest operating system. But we just want to play around to see the functionality anyway so it's probably not a really big deal.

The article linked above is pretty good. Read it all the way through a couple of times to make sure you're familiar with what it's telling you to do. If you don't read the whole thing at least once you risk missing an important point or two (don't ask!).

The only thing I would add is that the link to get the Windows 10 ISO image file really isn't. That is, there's not a Windows 10 ISO file to download so don't waste your time looking.

When you get to that page you'll see a button to download the Media Creation Tool. That's what you need. Download it and run it. When you get to the bit where it wants to know if you want to upgrade "this" computer or create an image to install on another computer, select the option to create an image for another computer. Then select the option to create an ISO file somewhere on your computer (you can tell it where).

The Media Creation Tool will download the Windows 10 installation files and create an ISO file from them. (It's basically an image of the Windows 10 installation DVD.) This is the ISO file that will be used a little farther along in the article to install Windows 10 in VirtualBox.

Aside from that, you can follow the article as it's written. If you have any questions just ask here and I'll see if I can help. I've installed VirtualBox and have a virtual machine with Windows 10 installed and updated. Now I'm just waiting for the latest test build update to show up.

UPDATE: Well, that didn't work out as well as I figured. Before you waste any time on the stuff above, read the rest of the thread below. Or, for the TL;DR version (too long; didn't read) jump straight to this post:

Ken in Regina
The current version of Windows that the Media Creation Tool creates the installation file for is release 1511 (because it was released November 2015 ... or maybe it was November 15th ... ??). If you have avoided upgrading from an earlier version and just want to get a look, this is a stable version. Letting it grab it's related updates will further stabilize it.

If you sign up for Insider Previews (and you must sign up for them specifically if you want them, so you cannot get them by accident) you have a choice of relatively stable builds or the very latest ones. It's up to you what your risk tolerance it.

Yes, even though you're running the test system in a virtual machine so there can never be any harm to your real system, you can potentially waste a bunch of time installing apps and getting things running in the test system to your satisfaction and then have a flaky build cause you some major headaches, up to and including having to restore to an earlier version and having to reinstall everything again.

You can avoid most of the potential headaches by making a copy of the virtual machine whenever you have everything stable and set up the way you want. That way you can just revert to that copy of the virtual machine if something comes along later to screw things up.

That's the beauty of testing in a virtual machine.

I keep wondering what happens if I DON'T "up-grade" Win 10 (from 7). Will I be relegated to non-support-land like with the XP? I have Win 10 running on various household machines and it seems neither horrible or attractive so I remain ambivalent. I am less keen to try Win 10 on my ancient Lenovo laptop or Viliv S5 both running XP where I am unconvinced the hardware will support the newer O/S. Neither is 'broke' so why fix them? I have SSDs on both of them with more capacity than I will likely need in my lifetime; it just seems to be too much risk for no(?) up-side. Contrary views will be appreciated.
No interest in upgrading. I only use my Windows box to run GIS/mapping software that is all at least 5 years old anyway. Don't use e-mail, media, games or anything else on Windows. I got a Windows Vista machine when it first came out, stayed with it for 6 or 7 years and replaced it with the current machine which should last me another 5.

Speaking of virtual machines though, I just tried Wine/Winebottler a couple days ago. Wow, very impressed with that. It lets you run Windows software on other operating systems like MacOS or Linux. Haven't looked closely at the technology, but I believe it basically builds all the resources the program needs into a bundle that runs natively on the host operating system. So I now have a Windows program as a Mac app that I can just double-click.

I wanted to use some old software for a theatrical lighting console, and it would not install on my 64 bit Windows desktop. It worked on my old HP Slate tablet with 32 bit Windows 7, but really, I wanted to use it on my MacBook Air laptop. It really was as simple as copying the program's folder from the Windows tablet to my Mac, and running Winebottler. In less than a minute, I had a Mac version that worked perfectly.

The app that it built was quite large, over 260MB which is probably 10x the size of the Windows version. I guess that is the price to pay for the resources needed to emulate Windows.
Ken in Regina

Windows 7 is finished mainstream support mode and has entered Extended Support mode. If you manage to avoid the upgrade to Win10, Win7 will be getting security fixes until Jan 14, 2020.

I can't give you any compelling reason to upgrade those older systems. You already have experience with Win10 so you are in the very best position to make that decision. "If it ain't broke, don't fix it." is as good a reason to leave them alone as any.

I started playing with the early beta (Preview) releases at the very beginning of the Insider Preview program. I happened to have a spare system to use at the time. From the beginning I was impressed with just how much really really old stuff still ran, even in the very earliest versions. And it really doesn't require any more horsepower than Windows 7. In fact the test system I used had last had XP on it and Win10 ran fine on the same hardware.

There have been massive changes from 8.0 to 8.1 to 10, and within 10 from the earliest Preview builds to the current official release. In the current official release a Windows 7 or XP user should be able to make the switch with minimal fuss, whether learning curve or getting older software to work. The only caution is to check whether drivers exist for really old hardware (MS has an app for that). That is the one area that has caused headaches for many because they didn't check first.


Yes, no point in going through the upgrade for such minimal usage. There are some things I like about Win10 over earlier versions and the occasional thing I wish I could bring back. As it has evolved there are lots more of the former and far fewer of the latter.

Windows XP Mode under Win7 worked somewhat like Winebottler. You could run a full Windows XP desktop in a window, of course. But once you had installed an app into the XP desktop it would appear in the Win7 All Programs list and you could launch it on the Win7 desktop just as if it was a native app. I found that rather useful for the couple of apps that would only run in XP.

What is really interesting is that one of those apps runs just fine now in Win10, where it wouldn't in Win7. I no longer have need for the other one so I don't miss that XP Mode is not available in Win10. Win10 does come with it's own virtual machine feature - Hyper-V - but it won't run on my computer because it doesn't have the necessary hardware to support it.

The only thing I really miss in Win10 is the Windows Media Centre. That was a marvelously useful program for me and there is nothing else like it out there. Now that I have VirtualBox working I might just create a Windows 7 virtual machine and see if I can get Media Centre working again.

Ken in Regina
When creating a new virtual machine in VirtualBox it recommends the amount of RAM to use for the new machine. I found that it's a pretty good guess.

When I created the Windows 10 virtual machine, VirtualBox recommended 2GB of RAM be allocated for the machine. Things performed nicely. When I was checking some of the settings, the settings function in VirtualBox noted that I was allocating half the available RAM (I have a 4GB system) and this might have an impact on the performance of the host system (not leaving it enough RAM to run well).

I had not noticed any degradation in the host system when VirtualBox was running but I thought I would try reducing the RAM allocation a little (about 15%) for the virtual machine to see what would happen. There was no change in the performance of the host system, but there was a noticeable hit to the performance of the virtual system.

So I bumped the RAM allocation back to the originally recommended setting and everything is fine again.

Originally Posted by Ken in Regina
Windows XP Mode under Win7 worked somewhat like Winebottler. You could run a full Windows XP desktop in a window, of course.
Actually this feature grew from technology that Microsoft acquired when they purchased Virtual PC, a Macintosh program that let you run Windows software on the Mac in the days before Apple made the switch to Intel CPUs.

I used it myself to run Mapsource, Street Atlas and National Geographic TOPO on my Macintosh Powerbook G3 circa 2002 or 2003. It was a bit buggy and slow, but it worked. Then Apple switched to Intel chips that make it easier to Virtualize a WIndows machine, or you can actually just boot into Windows at startup and have "real" windows machine.

We discussed this recently in relation to running National Geographic on Windows 10. I imagine it can be done, but the OP in this thread clearly passed her point of capitulation.

Stick a fork in me, I'm done. This whole situation ha actually just about killed my desire to mess with my maps, trails, or gps ever again.
…should also add, using Wine/Winebottler does not require any software from Microsoft. With Virtual PC, you actually had to purchase a copy of Windows. Apparently, Wine uses open source libraries that duplicate the Windows API.
Ken in Regina
Yes, I also used Virtual PC and it does require a licensed copy of any guest operating system you install. This is true of any virtualizer that lets you run a full version of an operating system in a virtual machine.

Actually, it's completely a function of the guest operating system you are installing. The virtualizer could care less what you run in a virtual machine. It's the guest operating system itself that may, or may not, insist on being activated with a legitimate license key.

Regarding a question you had in the referenced thread on GPSFileDepot, Windows 10 does have a virtualizer. It's called Hyper-V. It's only in certain versions of Win10. If you have the right version you can turn that feature on.

I haven't tried it yet so I don't know how easy or difficult it is to use. When I tried to turn the feature on in an earlier build it told me I did not have some of the necessary hardware features on my motherboard (it's getting pretty old).

Ken in Regina
Update: Hyper-V needs a feature called SLAT (Second Level Address Translation). That's a feature of the CPU. Mine doesn't have it so I can't use Hyper-V. Fortunately VirtualBox seems to run fine without it.

Ken in Regina
Oh my, what a mess....

It seems to happen that whenever I find something neat to play with and get all enthused after a bit of time with it, I end up falling into the toilet! Why me??

Things started out really fine. ..... Then Windows 10 decided it wanted to be activated. Long story short; the free version of Windows 10 (which is what the Insider Previews are) MUST be an upgrade from an earlier version of Windows not a clean install.

I had done a clean install of the most recent official release version of Win10 into a new virtual machine and then did the upgrade to the latest Preview build from there.

Bottom line: there's no way to activate it.

So ...... back to Square One. I installed a copy of Windows 8.0 into a virtual machine. Let it download and install nearly 300 updates. You can't upgrade to Windows 10 directly from Win 8.0 so you have to upgrade to Win8.1 first. But you can't upgrade to Windows 8.1 unless all updates are installed in Win8.0.

Then I downloaded and upgraded to Windows 8.1 from the Windows Store. That's where I'm at now. Next step is to upgrade to the release version of Windows 10 so I can resubscribe to the Insider Previews and get the latest build.

In other words, after a day and a half I'm still approximately two steps away from where I was when I started this thread.

Did you see this article? It might help.[Petri%20-%20Main]%20-%20Apr,%2026th%20(ID:%201304)

Ken in Regina
Thanks Terry. I'll give that a whirl. If it works you will be my new hero!!!

Ken in Regina
Well, I still manage to make things un-simple for myself. The only VM with a properly activated version of 8.0 has a virtual hard drive that's too small to anything more with. I foolishly left the virtual disk at the default setting when I created the original VM.

When I tried to upgrade to 8.1 I had to create a clone, then expand the hard drive on it to get enough room to do the upgrade. That worked fine. Unfortunately when I check the activation status in that VM Windows tells me that it's not activated because it's not the original system. It obviously sees the expanded hard drive as sufficiently different to declare it's a "new" system.

The only way the trick in that link will work is if Windows 10 sees the exact same system that Windows 8.0 was activated on. Otherwise it will refuse to activate without a new key. And there is not sufficient space in that original VM to do a Windows 10 install.

I have to create a new VM with an adequately sized virtual hard drive, then install and activate Win 8.0 again. At least this time I won't have to mess with the updates. All I have to do is activate, get the XML file, then install Windows 10 into that same VM.

But I'm heading out for a bit so I need to get packing. I'll get back at this later when I have more time. Looks like it should work, though. I'll keep you posted.

I may have to try that method myself. I was just given an Acer laptop to fix that is stuck in an upgrading loop and has been forever. Not sure what o/s is on it but the sticker says Win 8. I'll probably try upgrading it to Win 10 using a USB key and that method might be fastest. Not for a while though as I am in the middle of upgrading a ceiling!

Terry About