Microsoft chief executive hailed the release of Windows 10 as a "new era" for personal computing, but early reviews of the operating system are decidedly mixed.
Microsoft's new software launches worldwide today, and will be free to most customers. But the company's staggered release means that some people will have to wait several weeks before they can install it.
According to Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella "Windows 10 is a huge milestone for us as a company, and quite frankly the industry."
Subscribe to The Week
Escape your echo chamber. Get the facts behind the news, plus analysis from multiple perspectives.
So does it live up to the hype?
According to The Next Web, the old adage about Windows is that the good versions skip a generation.
"Windows Vista was bad, Windows 7 was good and Windows 8 was bad again, so it’s not much of a spoiler to say that Windows 10 lands on the bright side of the cycle."
The unpopularity of Windows 8 led Microsoft to undertake a major overhaul, kicking out the worst parts of of the old software and bringing back the best of previous generations of Windows.
Perhaps the most significant shift is that Windows 10 will be the last operating system Microsoft produces. This does not mean that Nadella and co plan to retire any time soon, but rather that all future changes to Windows will be released as upgrades rather than entirely new software packages.
The advantage of this is that users will always be running the latest incarnation of Windows, but the disadvantage is that they cannot opt to turn updates off without losing the company's support.
The Guardian says that while Windows 10 may be "smaller, lighter and faster than previous versions", its "stark appearance" won't please everyone and the forced upgrades are a problem. Tech Radar praises Microsoft for recognising that Windows 8 was "a car crash" and rolling back its worst features. "If Windows 8 was the steepest learning curve imaginable, Windows 10 is like meeting a great friend you once knew again," the site says. "It's just that they've bought some new clothes of which you really do approve."
So what are those "new clothes" exactly?
Windows 10 features
The return of the Start menu
Central to the new operating system is the return of the Start menu - a feature that users "know and love," according to Microsoft. Windows 8 controversially did away with the simple navigation system that was first introduced by the company in 1995. Microsoft hoped to create a single navigation system, called Metro, that would work across desktops, tablets and mobile phones.
Now, though, Microsoft has backed away from the idea, although the new Start menu incorporates Metro-like "live tiles". Clicking or tapping on Start brings up a list of the user's favourite applications, alongside resizable tiles which offer quick notifications such as new emails, Facebook and Twitter alerts and live weather information.
Goodbye to Internet Explorer
Although Microsoft's default browser "has gotten better over the years," the company has finally given up on it, says Life Hacker. Internet Explorer has been replaced with Microsoft Edge, which the company says is significantly faster than its predecessor and includes a number of useful new features such as a built-in notation tool, further integration with digital assistant Cortana and a reading mode. Edge is also capable of supporting Chrome and Firefox extensions, allowing developers to carry their favourite plug-ins to the new browser, says the Daily Telegraph.
Microsoft's digital personal assistant previously existed only on its phones, but Cortana has now been "welcomed to the PC". On desktops, it takes the form of a search box located right beside the Start button and offers scrolling notifications, explains Verge. The rival to Apple's Siri can be used to conduct a wide range of searches, from weather updates to flight statuses, as well as to perform tasks such as sending emails, controlling music and launching apps.
Windows 10 introduces some "truly powerful multi-tasking features" says Mashable's Karissa Bell. The software allows users to switch quickly between apps and desktops through a feature called Task View, which is activated either by clicking on a button in the taskbar or by swiping left on a touchscreen device. The feature allows more advanced users who use two or three monitors to move quickly from one desktop to another, while regular users can switch between programs with the familiar Alt + Tab command.
The new operating system includes several new security features to protect users, including multi-factor authentication ensuring that only trusted applications are installed. It also comes with Windows Defender anti-malware protection, including free security updates for the supported lifetime of the device. The improvements Microsoft has made "should make the world of computing a significantly safer place," Brenden Vaughan, a threat research manager at Webroot, told Tech Radar. "Much of it still relies on IT admins and end-users to use the tools at their disposal correctly, but Windows 10 should provide hackers fewer weaknesses to exploit."
No Windows 11
The question of "what version of Windows are you running?" will soon cease to exist, according to Microsoft's Executive Vice President of Operating Systems Terry Myerson. The company promises to deliver more regular updates, while continuing to develop Windows 10 for the foreseeable future, Expert Reviews reports. "This is great news for consumers, as it could signal the end of big drastic OS upgrades every few years," it says.
So should you upgrade to Windows 10?
A phased rollout means you may not be eligible for the upgrade immediately, but some reviewers say that even if you can upgrade right away, you should hang on for a while.
One reason it may be better to wait, says PC World's Lincoln Spector, is that it takes time for bugs and incompatibilities in software to emerge, so users should consider holding off for up to three months.
"If you have professional obligations that require you to upgrade, or if you enjoy riding on the bleeding edge, go ahead and upgrade," Spector says. "Otherwise, I recommend you wait until the new OS has been out for about three months."
Another reason it may be sensible to wait is that users won't be able to turn off updates once they have switched to Windows 10, says The Independent's Andrew Griffin.
"Windows 10 forces users to commit to receive automatic updates — whether they like it or not, and even if those updates break computers," Griffin writes. "If users have specific drivers or applications installed, new updates could cause them to stop working. Previously, such users have been given the option to only get security updates, but that has been removed."
When will Microsoft Windows 10 become available?
If you were among those eagerly anticipating the launch of the new Windows 10 operating system, then you may have to be patient.
Microsoft has announced in a blog post update that in order to manage a demand that has seen millions of users pre-register for an upgrade it will be rolling out the new software in waves.
This will mean that on the scheduled release date of 29 July some 'Windows Insiders' who had been taking part in so-called beta testing will get the new system, which will subsequently be issued "slowly" to the wider user base while the company responds to reports of issues.
An 'Insider' who has seen the system writes in Gizmodo that this step will be important as the news system "isn't quite ready". It has "a wide variety of bugs that you don't typically see this close to the launch of a major operating system".
Previous Microsoft systems, including that of the much derided Windows 8, have been plagued with bugs and errors immediately after launch, setting them off on the wrong foot with reviewers and users alike.
Windows users can reserve a copy by clicking an icon in their system tray in the bottom right hand corner of the screen, The Independent says. It is a free update for users of Windows 7 or 8, but not those still using earlier systems such as Vista or XP.
Why Windows 10?
When Microsoft unveiled the successor for its Windows 8 operating system at an event in San Francisco last year, tech analysts were wrongfooted when it turned out to be called Windows 10 – not Windows 9, as had widely been predicted.
According to Terry Myerson, head of the Microsoft operating systems group, "Windows 10 will be our most comprehensive platform ever. It wouldn’t be right to call it Windows 9."
Many reviewers suggested the new name may have been chosen for rather more pragmatic reasons. Skipping the number nine is an attempt to "put some numerical distance between its poorly received Windows 8 operating system and its replacement", The Guardian says.
Launched three years ago, Windows 8 introduced a broad range of changes aimed to build a common system that would work across mobiles, tablets and computer desktops. The overhaul "failed to impress" users, The Guardian notes, many of whom declined to upgrade from the system's predecessor Windows 7.
In fact, before the launch rumours suggested that Microsoft might drop the name Windows altogether. Internally, the project was known as "Threshold".
What does Windows 10 mean for Microsoft?
The launch is a "critical moment" for the company, says the Financial Times. Microsoft reported lacklustre results last week which included a fall in revenue of 22 per cent on operating system licence sales for PCs, but Windows still accounted for $15bn (£9.6bn) in annual income last year, around 17 per cent of the overall total, and a quarter share of profits.
After the disappointment of Windows 8, which was used on just 16 per cent of PCs, the company losing ground fast in a rapidly evolving technology market that is moving away from the traditional desktop computer. Microsoft really needs its new software to create a popular platform across computers and mobile devices.
It is interesting then, that it has decided to give it away and then update it continuously. As the Wall Street Journal points out, the old model of offering it free on new PCs and for a fee to those on older models provided a key revenue stream from licences, which is now effectively gone.
This is no less than a major overhaul in its strategy to mirror some of its rivals, seeking to earn long-term revenue by selling apps, videogames, web-search ads and other add-ons rather than in a one-off burst around a new launch. "Microsoft aims to make money whether or not users buy a new computer," the Journal says.
The advantage of this model is that if the new system is successful then Microsoft will benefit from the same dynamic as Apple and Google with their iOS and Android systems, in that it will have a common platform operating across tens of millions of devices. Sheer weight of numbers of PC users upgrading could even give the company an edge over its rivals in this respect – and one analyst told the FT that Windows could be positioned as the only truly "universal" platform that can "address all devices".
Ultimately, though, success will come down to whether the system wins over users. So far the reception from 'insiders' has been positive, but only time will tell.
Video: 'the best version of Windows yet'
For further advice and help to get your PC ready for Windows 10, subscribe to our sister publication Computeractive
Continue reading for free
We hope you're enjoying The Week's refreshingly open-minded journalism.
Subscribed to The Week? Register your account with the same email as your subscription.