Other than Windows 7 and Windows Vista, disk images of Windows 8, Windows 8.1 and Windows 10 have never been available for public download, and most probably will never be. Digital River used to provide ISO files for the previous versions of Microsoft Windows, however, Microsoft is no longer leveraging those servers to distribute Windows as of Windows 8 release. This article describes some alternative download options.
Windows 8 on Digital River
Up until recently, there was a notice on windows7.digitalriver.com that the Digital River Windows Store has closed down. Now even the subdomain isn't available any longer. It seems that Microsoft now wants to distribute Windows exclusively through their own website. We do not expect any future Windows versions to become available on the download domain digitalrivercontent.net or the Digital River Azure storage.
Windows 8 left-over lot on Amazon
If you prefer to hold a physical disk of Windows 8 in your hands, you can get one from the leftover stock of the initial upgrade offer at Amazon. This version can be upgraded to Windows 8.1 free of charge. In fact, this option is much cheaper than purchasing a full version. Microsoft stopped distribution of the initial offer on 31 January 2013, but Amazon still seems to have some stock remaining:
Windows 8.x Test Drive
If you don't want to spend any money now, but still have a look at the final release of Windows 8.1, you can download a 90 days evaluation version of Windows 8.1 Enterprise. The previous release Windows 8.0 is also available for evaluation.
After the 90 days are over, these versions can't be converted to a full product by entering a purchased product key.
Install now, Activate later
In previous versions, it was possible to install Windows without key, run it as trial for up to 120 days, and enter a product key later. This option on first sight seems to have been removed in Windows 8.
However, it's still possible to pre-install Windows 8 or Windows 8.1 with a generic key. These keys can only install Windows. It's not possible to activate it unless you enter an original key purchased from Microsoft. Here they come...
XKY4K-2NRWR-8F6P2-448RF-CRYQH (Windows 8 Professional)
RR3BN-3YY9P-9D7FC-7J4YF-QGJXW (Windows 8 Professional with Media Center)
FB4WR-32NVD-4RW79-XQFWH-CYQG3 (Windows 8 [Home])
XHQ8N-C3MCJ-RQXB6-WCHYG-C9WKB (Windows 8.1 Professional)
GBFNG-2X3TC-8R27F-RMKYB-JK7QT (Windows 8.1 Professional with Media Center)
334NH-RXG76-64THK-C7CKG-D3VPT (Windows 8.1 [Home])
If you can get hold of the installation disk, you can use these keys to install now, and purchase an activation key after 30 days. Rearming the trial period is no longer possible as of Windows 8, therefore, after the initial 30 days' trial period the installation becomes useless until you enter a valid product key.
The Windows 8.1 Media Creation Tool
This is different from the previous Windows 8 Setup Tool. Microsoft has released a new Media Creation Tool, which downloads the Windows 8.1 installation files, and creates an iso file from them. Running the tool will ask you for a product key. You can use any valid key for the download, including the above generic keys.
The Media Creation Tool will let you choose the bit edition and language version you require. It will give you the full choice on versions that are available from Microsoft. The previous restriction that only allowed download of the same language and bit edition as the current system no longer exists.
The previous Windows 8 and Windows 8.1 Setup Tools are also still available. If you want to use one of them, download and execute the file Windows8-Setup.exe from Microsoft, enter your product key, and have the tool download the Windows 8 or 8.1 setup files. The tool will then be able to compile an iso file or bootable USB stick from the download. These old tools are known not to accept all valid product keys.
Both Microsoft tools create iso images that considerably differ from the full version DVDs. They can only install the same Windows edition for which they have been downloaded.
Windows 10 Technical Preview
Windows 10 is currently available as a Technical Preview both for Business use as well as for IT professionals. These two versions probably correspond to the Professional and Enterprise editions of the final product. For users with slow internet, Amazon UK can send out an USB stick to any address worldwide.
To activate the technical preview, you can use the following keys.
NKJFK-GPHP7-G8C3J-P6JXR-HQRJR (Windows 10 Professional)
PBHCJ-Q2NYD-2PX34-T2TD6-233PK (Windows 10 Enterprise)
Once the release date for Windows 10 comes closer, please check back on this site on any updates on download options.
Amazon has already maintained a Windows 10 product page. From there, it will be possible to pre-order Windows 10 soon. Amazon also distributes the Windows 10 Technical Preview for users who don't want to download large amounts. It can be shipped to worldwide destinations from the UK.
Windows Free for Students
Those of us who are still at college, and whose institution provides access to Microsoft DreamSpark Premium, are among the especially privileged. If that's the case for you, consider yourself lucky! You'll get Windows 8.1 free!