Rumor mill: There are still 100 million PCs out there that run Windows 7, many of them for good reason, despite the fact the OS no longer receives official support. If it has any chance of ever convincing those customers to upgrade to Windows 11, the process needs to be free of charge -- and that may well be the case, according to a new leak. Now let's hope that it won't also bother people the way the old Windows 10 upgrade tool did, fingers crossed!

As we inch closer to Microsoft's big reveal event for Windows 11, all the leaks and hints point to a visual refresh that will arguably bring the Windows experience into the modern era and in line with Microsoft's new design language. What could have ended up as a separate OS called Windows 10X is guiding this new release, and the Redmond giant is also set to introduce a redesigned Windows Store.

However, there's one other aspect that matters just as much, and Microsoft is no doubt hard at work cooking up a solution: how to get Windows 7 users to upgrade from the now 11-year-old OS. For Windows 10 users, the next version of the operating system is expected to be a free upgrade, although that will need to be confirmed, and this could also extend to Windows 7 holdouts.

According to a report from Windows Latest, a leaked build of Windows 11 includes a configuration package that suggests Windows 7, 8, and 8.1 users will have a direct upgrade path to Windows 11 using official tools provided by Microsoft. Additionally, the configuration keys found within the product key configuration package indicate this upgrade could be offered at no cost.

On one hand, you should take this with the proverbial grain of salt, as we're talking about a leaked build and Microsoft has yet to reveal the official upgrade path from Windows 10, let alone from previous versions. On the other, there's reason to believe Microsoft will do this, as the financial impact would be minor and the company used a similar strategy to get users to update to Windows 10. Not only that, but the initial free upgrade promotion that was supposed to end in 2016 still works to this day, letting you use a valid Windows 7 or Windows 8 key to upgrade to Windows 10.

If Windows 11 is indeed offered as a free upgrade, Microsoft should learn from the many blunders caused by forced Windows 10 upgrades in the past. That decision was motivated by an ambitious plan to reach one billion devices in a relatively short amount of time, but now that Windows 10 is installed on 1.3 billion devices, the only way Windows 7 users will finally make the move to the new Windows is to let them do so whenever they're ready.

Judging from the reaction of people who've installed the leaked build, Windows 11 should run well even on old hardware, as long as it supports TPM 2.0 and Secure Boot.