Windows 10 has finally launched, and there's plenty that potential users will need to know about Microsoft's latest operating system. We've therefore gathered the most salient facts, dates and features to create an all-inclusive guide to Windows 10.
We've focused on the main version of Windows 10 here, but keep an eye on V3 for our upcoming guide to Windows 10 Mobile, the smartphone and phablet version which is being developed and released separately.
Windows 10, like Windows 8/8.1 before it, is designed to work with desktops, laptops and tablets alike. We can therefore expect Windows 10 to be supported by as big and diverse a range of devices as its immediate predecessor, including - as one would expect, given the free upgrade offer - any machine currently running Windows 7 or 8.1.
The minimum system requirements are also quite low: Windows 10 needs a 1GHz processor, at least 1GB of RAM for 32-bit or 2GB for 64-bit, and 16GB of hard drive space for 32-bit or 20GB for 64-bit. This means that almost any machine made in the past few years should handle Windows 10 just fine.
Despite reports that manufacturers would be unable to offer hardware with Windows 10 pre-installed on launch day, Dell and HP since confirmed that they'll have products running Windows 10 ready to go on 29 July. Dell announced a range of PCs, tablets and convertibles designed for Windows 10; in the UK and Ireland, pre-ordered units went into production on 29 July and shipped a few days later, while in the US, pre-ordered units shipped on 29 July itself.
Even more machines will, naturally, be available in the coming months. Microsoft itself is leading the charge with the Surface Pro 4 and its first laptop, the Surface Book, both of which will run Windows 10 Pro when they launch on 26 October.
Microsoft also used the 2015 Computex trade show in Taiwan to show off a few Windows 10-optimised devices, including convertible laptop/tablet hybrids from Asus and Acer, while HP has revealed its first dedicated Windows 10 product: the business-oriented Pro Tab 608 tablet. Acer has also announced the Aspire One Cloudbook 11 and Aspire One Cloudbook 14, two laptops starting at £179.99 and £199.99 respectively; their specs are basic, but they'll run Windows 10 out of the box and include 1-year subscriptions to Office 365 Personal and OneDrive. They arrive in the UK in October 2015.
On the even smaller end of the scale, the Raspberry Pi 2 can already run a special version of Windows 10 aimed at bringing the OS to the Internet of Things (IoT). Microsoft calls this version ‘Windows 10 IoT Core', and it's available free to makers and commercial device builders.
Windows 10 apps will also run on Microsoft's HoloLens VR headset. Official demos have shown how 'holograms' of individual apps can be placed and interacted with around the environment, such as sticking a video player to a wall, mounted flatscreen-style, or leaving weather updates running on top of a table. It's some interesting tech, even if we can't see it being used outside the home.
Microsoft's Terry Myerson confirmed that Windows 10 would launch on 29 July in 190 countries, including the UK.
However, not everyone had access on Day One; for those who opted in for the free upgrade from Windows 7 and 8.1 (see below), Windows 10 will continue to roll out "in phases". Members of the Windows Insider programme are being given priority access, after which Microsoft will "start notifying reserved systems in waves, slowly scaling up after July 29th."
Microsoft has not specified to V3 how long it might take pre-registered users to all recieve their upgrades; however, Yusuf Medhi, corporate vice president of Microsoft's Windows and Devices Group, wrote that "We are doing everything we can to upgrade the world to Windows 10 as quickly as possible over the coming days and weeks ahead." An email sent to users who pre-registered for the upgrade also states that, "Your notification to upgrade could come as soon as a few days or in a few weeks."
As well as being available via digital download and packaged DVDs, Windows 10 is the first Microsoft OS to be sold on USB sticks, with listings for both Windows 10 Home and Windows 10 Pro appearing on Amazon US. The USB versions were due to launch on 30 August, more than a month after the digital and DVD releases. There's no sign of the flash drive release on Amazon UK.
Another way to get Windows 10 is to download it onto a USB stick or blank DVD, and use it as installation media. This will require a valid product key if installing Windows for the first time, but won't if you're using the media to upgrade for free.
One of Windows 10's biggest surprises was the news that existing Windows 7 and Windows 8.1 users can upgrade to Windows 10 absolutely free. This offer will be available for one year after release, although eligible users can already register for the free upgrade straight from their desktop.
On or after release day, they'll receive a notification to either download Windows 10 immediately or schedule the installation for later.
However, Jim Alkove, Microsoft's director of programme management, has stated that Windows 7 Enterprise and Windows 8/8.1 Enterprise are not included in the terms of the free upgrade. That's doesn't mean all is lost for - firms running a Volume Licensing program for Windows 8/8.1 Enterprise may still be entitled to a Windows 10 upgrade via Active Software Assurance, rather than the one-year promotional offer.
Firms using these specific versions of Windows will need to pay, as will any other users exempt from the offer.
As for how much they'll need to pay, Microsoft has announced specific prices only for the US: Windows 10 Home will cost $119 per licence, while Windows 10 Pro will cost $199 per licence.
In the UK, Microsoft confirmed to V3 that Windows 10 will cost the same as Windows 8.1 does currently, which means £99.99 for Windows 10 Home and £189.99 for Windows 10 Pro - as usual, higher than the US prices, which are roughly equivalent to £85 and £140 respectively including taxes.
The Start menu is back. Microsoft seems to have heeded complaints that Windows 8 used the same tile-based UI on desktops as it did on tablets, so Windows 10's ‘Continuum' interface will adapt according to the type of device running it.
On a PC, then, it will look a lot more like Windows 7, with an expanding Start menu, while on tablets it will use a more Windows 8-style, touchscreen-optimised tile layout.
Plugging a keyboard into a tablet will bring up a prompt asking if the user wants to switch to the traditional desktop view, which will immediately appear if selected. Likewise, undocking the tablet from the keyboard will prompt the user to switch back to a tablet view. Having seen Continuum in action at a preview event, it certainly seems like an improvement on 8/8.1's Metro UI, which was fine to poke and prod but inefficient to navigate with a mouse.
Going back to the Start menu, it uses a split design that includes a Windows 7-style list of recent apps on the left, with a smattering of Windows 8's Live Tiles on the right. The whole menu can be resized, like an ordinary window, for the first time. Plus, the Search function will now include web results, while a new ‘My Stuff' tab also shows a greater range of search results from within the device's files compared with Windows 7 and 8.1.
Windows 10 also introduces Microsoft Edge, a replacement for the much-derided Internet Explorer browser. IE will remain part of Windows 10 for compatibility purposes, but Edge will become the main browser, bringing password and form-fill support, drag-and-drop tags, the ability to import bookmarks from other browsers, integration with Microsoft's OneDrive cloud storage service and a notation tool for marking up webpages.
We're not sure how well Edge will be able to compete with the likes of Chrome and Firefox, especially amongst business users. Microsoft UK Project Manager Ian Moulster explained to V3 that Edge was designed specifically with consumers in mind, whereas Internet Explorer aimed to please both consumers and enterprise. Even so, we're also not exactly sad to see Internet Explorer go.
Cortana, Microsoft's virtual assistant, makes its desktop debut in Windows 10. Commanded by voice recognition or simply typing directives, Cortana can be used in an impressively wide number of ways, from giving event reminders and bookmarking web pages, to writing and sending user-dictated emails. Cortana will remember information and instructions across both Windows 10 and Windows 10 Phone; if, for instance, a user sets a reminder with their desktop but switches it off before the set time, Cortana will alert the user through their Windows Phone instead.
To facilitate these features, Cortana will be integrated into several Microsoft applications as standard, including Edge and Office 365.
Last but not least, Windows 10 makes it possible to create and switch between multiple virtual desktops. We've already seen this feature in Ubuntu, where it's often handy for keeping screens relatively clean when juggling multiple tasks by compartmentalising windows into each virtual desktop.
Even if clutter takes over, however, a new ‘Task view' brings up a quick-look menu of all currently open windows.
Additional features will be added in future updates. Members of the Windows Insider Prgram can get a taste of these upcoming features by installing the Windows 10 Insider Preview Builds. For example, the latest build, 10676, has added the ability cast YouTube videos and Facebook photo albums to DLNA-enabled devices on the same network, and use Cortana's search functions in PDF files viewied in Edge.
Microsoft has added a few new tools to keep Windows 10 as secure as possible. Multi-factor authentication is one highlight, and support for fingerprint readers, iris scanners and other biometric tools is now built in to the OS.
An app called Windows Hello manages the user's biometrics profiles, allowing them to sign in without a password, provided their device features the appropriate scanning/reading hardware.
Another new tool, Device Guard, aims to prevent users accidentally installing malware by adding more stringent checks of an app's legitimacy. When a user executes an app, Windows 10 will check to see whether it's been ‘signed' by the Windows app store or by certain pre-approved software vendors, and will warn the user if not.
Device Guard also operates virtually, so it can - in theory - stay safe from tampering even if the Windows kernel is compromised.
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