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Black Friday and its sibling Cyber Monday barrel toward us like an early-season snowstorm. Every year I urge caution before lining up at the big box store in the middle of the night or by the dawn’s early light. Similarly, be very careful about rapidly clicking on what appears to be a great online deal.

But first, a long promised answer about how to upgrade to Windows 10 for free. Before taking the following as gospel, remember that Microsoft can change the rules any day or any minute. It announced over two years ago that it ended free upgrades to Windows 10, but it never actually pulled the plug.

Go to the Microsoft Windows website, which I have condensed for you to:

Select: Download tool now.

The site will guide you through the process. While you can create an installation DVD or USB drive, it’s easier if you upgrade the PC you are using while connected to the internet.

If your current PC runs Windows 7, 8, or 8.1 Home, your Windows 10 install will be Windows 10 Home, which is adequate for nearly everyone. If you are running the Pro or Ultimate versions of your previous operating system, your upgrade will be Windows 10 Professional.

To make this work and activate you must enter a legal license key from your existing Windows installation. As noted in a previous column, you can find the key on the installation disk envelope, or as a sticker pasted to the back or bottom of your PC. If this is missing, visit and download its safe product key retrieval app. Other key retrieval apps could infect your computer.

If all goes well, in about 15-30 minutes you’ll have a fully functioning free version of Windows 10 running on your PC. The best part is that you keep most of your existing settings and software.

While I much prefer Windows 7 to Windows 10, come January you’re walking a tightrope without a net if you don’t upgrade to Windows 10. Microsoft will end security patches for Windows 7. I’d rather work with a slightly annoying operating system than one vulnerable to malware.

Assuming no problems after a couple of weeks, you can delete the files that permit returning to your previous operating system and recapture considerable disk space. You also should remove or hide the plethora of apps that you won’t be using that Microsoft installs as part of Windows 10.

About those deals. Let’s return to Black Friday/Cyber Monday. You can’t compare prices, since all the big box stores sell models with custom model numbers and features. It’s even worse online. That bargain big-screen TV might only display 720p resolution, while the rest of the basic models are 1080p, and at this point 4K. Even a 4K model may not be a bargain if it lacks High Dynamic Range (HDR) or its proprietary form, Dolby Vision.

Make sure the unlocked bargain smartphone works on the radio bands of your carrier. Some imported phones don’t use all the U.S. bands, reducing connectivity. The only Chinese branded phones to consider are OnePlus and Motorola.

Just don’t let so-called bargains bamboozle you. You might find similar prices later in the season.

Rich Warren, who lives in the Champaign area, is a longtime reviewer of consumer electronics. Email him at