PSA: You can still activate Windows 11 using Windows 7 keys

A Windows 7 logo next to a Windows 11 logo with a handshake

You can get Windows 11 for free if you have a Windows 10 PC with compatible hardware. However, buying a genuine license key is necessary to build a new computer or use Windows 11 on a virtual machine. You can purchase Windows 11 from Microsoft or authorized resellers ($139 in the US and £119 in the UK for Home Edition or $199 in the US and £219 in the UK for Pro Edition) or save quite a sum by using a key for an older Windows release, such as Windows 7, 8.1, or 10.

Seven years after the launch of Windows 10, old license keys for Windows 7 continue activating new Windows versions without issues. An old DVD with Windows 7 or a key received elsewhere is the answer to the "How to get Windows 11 for free" question. You can also buy such keys from others for much less than Windows 11's original sticker price. Remember that editions should match—you cannot activate Windows 11 Pro using a key for Windows 7 Home.

Here is how to activate Windows 11 using a Windows 7 key:

  1. Create a Windows 11 bootable drive using Rufus or the Media Creation Tool and install the OS locally or on a virtual machine.
  2. Windows 11 will prompt you to enter a license key before installing. Click "I do not have a key" to skip this step (you may get an error when using a Windows 7 key on this step).
  3. Proceed with installing Windows 11.
  4. Once everything is set up and ready, connect your computer or virtual machine to the Internet and launch the Settings app.
  5. Go to System > Activation and click Change Product Code.
  6. Enter your Windows 7 key and wait for Windows 11 to activate.

Those using other operating systems and wanting to try what Windows 11 offers can try the official virtual machines supplied by Microsoft. They are available for free and can work for several months without activation. The current version of the official virtual machines from Microsoft will operate without prompting you to enter a license key until February 7, 2023. After that, Microsoft will release a newer version, giving everyone an option to keep using Windows 11 on a VM for free. You can download free Windows 11 virtual machines from the official Microsoft website.

Update: We have updated the article to remove mention of OEM license stickers. According to Microsoft, those keys can only be used on the original hardware on which they were sold.

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