Everything you need to know about Windows 10
With the Windows 10 release date having been formally pencilled in for late July, Microsoft's next operating system is now just a matter of months away.
Like most of you, we've been growing weary of Windows 8 for some time - it's no surprise then that excitement is ramping up for the upcoming Windows 10 release.
As excitement grows, so too has the number of Windows 10 rumours doing the rounds. To save you the hassle, we've separated the wheat from the chaff to give you a comprehensive rundown of what to expect from Microsoft's next flagship OS.
So, what can you expect? Well, the Windows 10 upgrade will mark a new generation of Microsoft software, with the Redmond-based firm hoping to unify all of its platforms - PC, tablet, mobile - under one, simple Windows banner.
According to Terry Myerson, Microsoft's Windows Head: "Windows 10 will be our most comprehensive platform ever."
He added: “We’re delivering one application platform. One store. One way for applications to be discovered, purchased, and updated across all of these devices.”
Microsoft talked this fact up earlier this year, revealing some of the Windows 10 universal apps, namely Office Suite, Outlook, and the brand new Photos app. Last month's developer tool release means devs are already tinkering with third-party universal apps too, hoping to debut the new content on Windows 10 for the software's summer launch.
It's not all about the apps though, there are a raft of high-profile new features coming to the platform. One of the most exciting Windows 10 features is Project Spartan, the new web browser that looks to eschew the beleaguered Internet Explorer. It's going to rock a lightweight design, a darker theme, a new rendering engine, and Cortana integration.
Although Microsoft has already detailed many new Windows 10 features in speeches and through the Technical preview, much mystery still surrounds certain elements of the update – most notably exactly when the Windows 10 release date will fall.
We will continue to update this page with all the latest Windows 10 release date and download details as new information emerges. Bookmark it now to keep up-to-date on all things Windows 10.
Watch the Windows 10 preview video:
Windows 10 Release Date
Microsoft officially unveiled Windows 10 on September 30, and we now know that the final consumer release for the new operating system is set for late July.
The company did offer a Technical Preview for the software beginning late last year, but it has since expired (as of April 15). Fortunately, it's given us plenty of clues as to what to expect from the full software package, which we've detailed further down in this round-up.
Moreover, we're now just shy of Microsoft's Build 2015 conference - scheduled to run between April 29 and May 1 - which should finalise a lot of Windows 10 details, possibly including an exact release date.
Build, held at the Moscone Centre in San Francisco, is Microsoft’s annual developer conference. It regularly offers a targeted look at the company’s upcoming software.
The first Build conference took place in September 2011 and saw a heavy focus on Windows 8, as did the 2012 meeting. 2013’s yearly get-together saw the limelight fall onto Windows 8.1, while the focus of this year’s conference shifted on Cortana and Windows Phone 8.1
Looking back at Microsoft operating system releases, the company has taken a varied approach to its software releases. Windows 8.1, Windows 8, and Windows XP all landed in October, while Windows 7 came in July 2009. The July Windows 10 release date isn't exactly revolutionary, then.
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Windows 10 Features
Windows 10 is a pretty big overhaul as far as Microsoft releases go. The firm’s execs are looking to completely unify device platforms – no small feat. This means there are heaps of new features in tow, including universal Windows 10 apps, desktop-based Cortana AI and – in response to endless consumer requests – the return of the Start Menu.
Project Spartan on Windows 10
One of the most exciting additions to Windows 10 is Project Spartan, the Internet Explorer replacement set to debut with the new OS. It's optimised for touch, comes with a host of built-in extras like a reading mode.
The most obvious changes come in the form of UX tweaks, with Spartan boasting a thicker navigation bar and a more uniform selection of buttons designed for touchscreen ease of use.
You'll also be able to easily annotate web pages, drawing on sites with either a mouse or a finger, although this is a pretty niche tool.
There's a new rendering engine too, and while the Technical Preview version doesn't showcase the browser as hugely nippier than Internet Explorer, it should bring faster browsing come the final release.
Start Menu on Windows 10
On to the Start Menu. Woe betide those who forget the furore that followed Microsoft’s abandonment of the beloved feature in Windows 8.
The outrage subsided slightly with the addition of a pseudo-Start Menu in Windows 8.1, but it still left many hungering for a full-fledged return to days of Start Menu yore.
Fortunately, Microsoft has revamped the classic Start Menu, albeit with a sprinkling of Windows 8. The new Start Menu returns to its old bottom-left stomping ground, this time with Metro-style live tiles on show. It’s also much wider and, thankfully, resizable, should its newfound girth not be to your tastes.
For the display-fondlers amongst you, there is also a heavy focus on improved touch integration. Microsoft has promised to evolve its touch UI, guaranteeing us more intuitive features without completely abandoning its current touch flavour.
Cortana for Windows 10
Many fans of the Windows ecosystem were excited to find Cortana showing up in Microsoft’s Technical Preview build. Cortana is a voice-controlled AI that was initially designed for Windows Phone, but now looks set to appear on your desktop through Windows 10.
Cortana for desktop got its first proper reveal back in 2014, courtesy of WinBeta. Footage from an unreleased Microsoft build showed the Windows Phone-sired AI performing a selection of tasks on her new home, including setting up calendar alerts and using location-based mapping features.
We've since seen Cortana at work on Microsoft's Windows 10 Technical Preview, and had a play with all of her new desktop-bound features.
Taking on Siri and Google Now, the clever clogs software is good for the expected raft of AI tasks, including scheduling events, searching the web, and making amusing but awkward small talk – Her-enthusiasts likely disappointed.
Microsoft confirmed all the Cortana goodness at its January 21 event, revealing that Cortana would be taking shape as a Notebook-toting, machine-learning digital assistant for your desktop.
When you click on Cortana in the Start Bar, you'll see the Cortana Home Page, chock full with things she's learned about you.
"Having Cortana on your PC is like having another member of the family sitting around and helping you get things done," explained Microsoft's Joe Belfiore.
She's also getting some unique features designed specifically for desktop and laptop, including searching your Windows 10 PC for content - even detailed things like photos snapped during a given date range, or specific PowerPoint slides pertaining to a given topic.
And here's one for the keyboard happy - Cortana will gladly take written commands, meaning you won't need to bark at your monitor every time you want something done.
Cortana was available to try out on the Technical Preview in the UK beginning with Build 10041, although this preview has now expired.
Task View and Snap Assist on Windows 10
Another new Windows 10 feature is Task View. This lets users flick between virtual desktops. It launches from the task bar, and offers up the chance to re-arrange running apps. There’s also a swipe-from-the-left option to engage Task View for touch users too.
A big part of Task View is the new Snap Assist feature. Snap Assist builds on the side-snap functionality that shipped with Windows 8. The new system allows for 2 x 2 snapping, vertical snapping, and cross-monitor snapping – a welcome boon for multi-taskers.
For the hardcore Windows user, the command prompt is getting a 21st century kick up the backside with the addition of keyboard shortcuts. No longer will you have to hack out lengthy command lines – just copy to the clipboard and paste away.
There’s also Continuum. Before you ask, no it’s not Microsoft’s answer to Apple’s Continuity. In fact, what it does is register how you’re using your Windows device, and then subsequently adapts to your chosen style.
If you’ve got a keyboard or mouse plugged into your Surface Pro 3 then you’ll get a standard click-friendly Windows interface. Unplug all your peripheral kit and the Surface Pro 3 will switch to a more touch-friendly Metro-style interface – how considerate.
Universal Apps on Windows 10
Universal apps will also be making an appearance as part of Microsoft’s over-arching unification agenda. Since the (effectively) same Windows 10 will run across all of your Microsoft-powered devices, the big M wants a singular app store to cover all your gadget bases.
This means that when you download, for instance, Skype on your PC, it should be the same effective download for all other platforms, tablet and mobile included.
On March 23, Microsoft released the tools and sample code for creating these universal apps. This means developers can now create software that will work across desktop, tablets, and smartphones, as well as on Xbox consoles.
This means we may see the first wave of third-party universal apps showing up at Microsoft's Build conference, hinting at what's to come with the software's final July release.
Gaming on Windows 10
Microsoft also wants to put a big focus on gaming this time around, with Xbox head Phil Spencer having teased the January 21 event ahead of time by tweeting: "I'll be focusing more on what we are doing on Win10 in January. It's time for us to talk about gaming on Windows."
And talk he did. Microsoft used the occasion to reveal that Windows 10 would enable users to stream Xbox One games to tablets and PCs.
"With Windows 10 we will enable streaming of Xbox One games to any Windows 10 PC or tablet in your home later this year," confirmed Spencer, speaking at the event.
You'll need to do a one-time setup, whereby the new Xbox app for Windows 10 will search for Xbox One consoles in your home.
You'll then be able to stream those games over your local Wi-Fi connection, meaning you can carry on lobbing frags in Halo even when you're on the loo.
Spencer also showed off the upcoming Windows 10 gaming API, DirectX 12, boasting that it would boost performance by 50 per cent.
This is thanks to a new version of Direct3D, which will offer more granular access to your computer's CPU and GPU.
This means that developers will be able to optimise their code to run as quickly as possible, no matter whether you're rocking Intel, Nvidia, AMD, or any other hardware variant.
"DirectX 12 will make your games even better," said Spencer. "For CPU-bound games, DirectX 12 will increase the performance of those games by up to 50 per cent."
It's similar to AMD's Mantle API, which launched a couple of years ago and worked in conjuction with DirectX 11.
Microsoft also confirmed that users won't need to pay for online multiplayer via Xbox live on Windows 10 devices.
According to the company, online multiplayer gaming will be free through Xbox Live on Windows 10 smartphones and PCs, although it seems Microsoft will still charge users for Xbox-based gameplay through the standard Xbox Live Gold subscription.
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Windows 10 Preview
The Windows Insider Program officially launched on October 1. This has given keen tinkerers and developers a chance to play around with the new Windows 10 software ahead of launch. Microsoft has been regularly releasing Windows 10 preview builds ever since.
Unfortunately, the Technical Preview expired on April 15, so you'll need to wait until the Windows 10 July release to enjoy Microsoft's full software package.
Shortly thereafter, on October 7, the company made the developer preview build available for Windows 7 users, which saw updates and features trickled onto the platform over time.
Keeping its timeline tight, on October 13, Microsoft revealed that upwards of one million unique users had already accessed the Windows 10 Technical Preview. There’s also been north of 200,000 feedback comments, with 68 per cent of users testing the system with more than seven apps per day.
Windows 10 Download
While you can’t download Windows 10 proper just yet - you'll have to wait until July for that - we have seen plenty of details offered up courtesy of the now-expired Technical Preview.
It wasn't a true representation of the final software, of course, and regularly received updates, or new ‘builds’, pushed out by Microsoft, adding new features, fixing bugs, and responding to tester feedback.
Any willing individual was able sign up to Microsoft’s Windows Insider Program and gain access to the preview downloads, although it was largely recommended for those who are keen to actually provide feedback on the software to Microsoft.
It’s also not for the tech non-savvy, with Microsoft recommending knowledge of .ISO files and UEFI BIOS before getting involved. There’s an FAQ available as a helping hand to those willing to give it a go, however.
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Windows 10 Price
Until January 21, Microsoft had remained frustratingly quiet on how much Windows 10 would cost.
To that end, there was plenty of speculation on what approach Microsoft would take to its Windows 10 pricing, including abandoning price tags altogether, offering a subscription plan, and running with a one-off fee.
Well thanks to Microsoft's most recent event, we know now exactly how much Windows 10 will cost - zilch.
That's right, Microsoft has said that during the first year of release for Windows 10, the upgrade will be offered completely free.
Somewhat interestingly, Microsoft says users with pirated versions of Windows 7 and Windows 8.1 will also be able to upgrade to Windows 10 for free.
These Windows 10 versions will remain 'unsupported' and 'not genuine' according to Microsoft however, but the company will offer a 'a mechanism' for dodgy users to 'get genuine' using the new Windows store.
Microsoft also says it will be bringing tweaks and new features to users of Windows 10 via free and regular software updates. Jolly good show.
"With Windows 10, we think of Windows as a service," explained Myerson. "You could comfortably think of Windows 10 as the world's largest internet service."
The caveat to all of this is that it's not yet clear how much Windows 10 will cost once that initial year-long free run is up.
The good news is that all of this means Windows 10 will be free across all platforms, including your smartphone.
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