Microsoft Windows 10
Windows 10 review: Microsoft's OS won't be free much longer
Windows 10 is Microsoft's best ever operating system, and for many a completely free upgrade
Latest news: The first big update since the launch of Windows 10 is almost upon us. Dubbed the Anniversary Update, this next big change for Windows 10 will land on August 2nd, just four days after the free upgrade programme expires.
What will be in the anniversary update? The biggest changes are set to surround Microsoft's digital assistant, Cortana, which will be available from the lockscreen for the first time. This should mean that you’ll be able to perform a series of set tasks without ever having to unlock your laptop or tablet, such as replying quickly to messages, or potentially agreeing to calendar invites. Details are thin on the ground right now, but hopefully we’ll know more soon.
Elsewhere in the anniversary update, you’ll also see improvements to Windows Hello, stylus support throughout the operating system and Microsoft Edge, which will at long last get support for extensions.
To read about the update in more detail, use the dropdown menu to navigate directly to the last page of our in-depth review. Otherwise, you’ll find our full, in-depth Windows 10 review below.
Microsoft Windows 10 review: In depth
Ever since it was first announced, Microsoft’s Windows 10 has been different: the odd one out, the black sheep, the ugly duckling. That's because it brings to an end the sequence of upgrade cycles that for years has defined Microsoft's development cycle.
Since Microsoft first unveiled Windows 10 in September 2014, we’ve known it will be the very last big operating system upgrade. This will be the last time users will have to undergo the upheaval of reinstalling a major version of Windows. The last time they’ll have to worry about backwards compatibility, just to keep up with the bleeding edge. The last time they'll have to make a decision over whether to install this version or wait until the next one in the hope that things will get better. There will be no Windows 11.
Instead, Windows has become a service, a product Microsoft has promised to continue developing over time, with major new features introduced steadily, one by one, trickling out slowly through Windows Update as they become ready.
This makes Windows 10 very much a moving target. It might work one way when you install it but turn into something quite different in a year’s time. For businesses, Microsoft is providing options to keep things stable, but for consumers running the Home edition of Windows 10, you won't be able to to opt out of these updates.
Like it or not, upgrading means taking an open-ended leap of faith, for both consumers and reviewers.
Windows 10 review: It's free, but only until July 29
In previous years, most of us only moved to new editions of Windows when we bought a new PC. Only a very few enthusiasts would actively go out and purchase a copy of the new operating system and go through the rigmarole of installing it themselves.
With Windows 10, Microsoft is attempting to change all that, and for the first year is offering free upgrades to anyone running a non-enterprise edition of Windows 7, 8 or 8.1.
For once, there’s no catch. As Microsoft moves to Windows as a service, it no longer wants to be held back by the inertia of huge numbers of customers using old versions of Windows, although there will always be a certain number of curmudgeons who decide to stick with what they've got.
The free upgrade programme ends on July 29 2016, though, so if you haven’t taken the plunge just yet (and plan to), you need to get your skates on, and as if to encourage people to take the plunge, Microsoft has revealed how much it'll cost you upgrade if you don't.
A boxed copy of Windows 10 Home will set you back £100, while Windows 10 Pro will cost £190. That’s quite a chunk of cash, and no doubt there will be some discounts available at online retailers for OEM copies and the like, however if you do plan to move to Windows 10 at any stage it makes sense to sit down and go through the free upgrade process now, before it’s too late.
Windows 10 review: How to upgrade
The upgrade process ought to be glitch free, and for most people it will be. All you need to is to look out for the pop up offering you the upgrade and follow all the instructions provided by Microsoft.
As with any complicated software upgrade, however, things can go wrong. You might be prompted for a product key when you don’t have one (just click Skip); the upgrade might get stuck completely or reboot continuously; you might have problems activating the product; and when you finally do get Windows 10 installed, the start menu might not work.
Don’t give up. These are common problems with the Windows 10 install, and all have fixes in place (just search Google). It’s worth noting that the upgrade requires you to be using a fully up-to-date release of Windows 7 SP1 or Windows 8.1, so if you’re not getting the pop-up offering the free upgrade, try running Windows Update first.
Another fix you might want to try before taking all of your anger out on Microsoft, especially if you're using a laptop or tablet, is to check the manufacturer's website for BIOS and other firmware and driver updates as well.
I had a problem with a Dell laptop at home that repeatedly refused to complete the upgrade, hanging once it had downloaded and installed Windows 10, then reinstating Windows 8.1 when I’d had enough of waiting and turned it off and on again a couple of times.
While this is reassuring to a certain extent - the install reverted to 8.1 successfully several times without a problem - it takes an absolute age to go through the process, so it’s best to update everything you can update before attempting the update. In my case, updating the BIOS and chipset drivers, then ensuring all important Windows updates had been installed, fixed the problem and the laptop is now running Windows 10.
Assuming you don’t have a problem, however, the upgrade process is almost entirely automatic, and it keeps your existing applications, so you don’t need to worry about reinstalling applications or relocating install media and product codes. If you’re running a professional edition of Windows 7 or 8 you’ll be moved up to Windows 10 Pro, otherwise you’ll receive the Home edition.
Microsoft is determined to reach as many customers as possible with Windows 10. To that end, it's even partnered with Baidu, one of the largest internet gateways in China with more than 600 million customers, to deliver a customised Windows 10 experience to users. Make no mistake: Microsoft wants everyone in the world to upgrade and it's pushing, pushing, pushing to make it happen.
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