Microsoft on Wednesday released Windows 10, which it is billing as“the last version of Windows”. That doesn’t mean the company is going to quit making it, but rather it doesn’t plan any more massive, overhauled releases of its flagship operating system.
From here on out, Microsoft is treating Windows as a service, rather than as a monolithic piece of software. New features will be added in over time, through the Windows Update mechanism. Windows in 5 years may look different, but it will be a slow evolution getting there.
The Windows 10 upgrade is free to those who are running Windows 7 Service Pack 1 and Windows 8.1, but only for one year. After July 29, 2016, upgrading to Windows 10 will be comparable in cost to previous Windows upgrades. And Microsoft has promised that Windows 10 won’t eventually require subscription costs or fees for new features.
Because it’s free, one major barrier to upgrading is removed for many users. But the question remains: Even if you can upgrade, should you?
As always, the answer to a question like this is: It depends. Consider these scenarios:
▪ If you’re running Windows 8 or 8.1 and aren’t happy with it. A big part of Windows 10’s mission is to heal the wounds created by Windows 8. Microsoft’s developers have made Windows 10 more familiar to fans of the traditional Start menu first introduced in Windows 95, but included some of the better parts of Windows 8, including the use of Live Tiles to show info from key programs. Those who hated the Start Screen in Windows 8 and 8.1 will find it’s still here, but tamed a bit - it’s a part of the old-school Start menu. You can add or remove as many Live Tiles as you like - in fact, you can strip all of them away, leaving you with a very Windows 7-like Start menu.
For that reason, assuming your computer is powerful enough to handle it, Windows 10 may solve the pain of Windows 8 for you, and you should indeed upgrade.
▪ If you’re running Windows 8 or 8.1 and are happy with it. Here’s the classic“if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” scenario. Windows 10’s interface deviates from Windows 8 and 8.1 in that even so-called Modern apps can run windowed; there’s the previously mentioned Start menu reboot; and some gesture features have been removed.
For those who prefer the Windows 8 design, there is an option. Windows 10 switches to Tablet Mode on a touchscreen device when it detects a keyboard is not present, a feature Microsoft calls Continuum. For example, if you’ve got a Microsoft Surface and you remove the keyboard, the interface morphs into something that’s very much like Windows 8, with full-screen apps by default and the tile-based Start screen. But for Windows 8 lovers who want the other benefits of Windows 10 - such as improved security or the ability to stream Xbox One games to your PC - here’s a tip: You can invoke Tablet Mode even when you’re using a mouse and keyboard, on a non-touch-enabled system, from the new Action Center.
I think even contented Windows 8.x users will feel Windows 10 is a decent upgrade. But if you’re happy, it may be worth waiting to take the plunge. You have a full year to take advantage of the free offer.
▪ If you’re running Windows 7 and are happy with it. Many Windows users who wanted to avoid Windows 8 at all costs either never upgraded, or bought newer machines and downgraded to the older OS. Microsoft obviously wants to you move on, but the“you'll get my Windows 7 when you pry my cold, dead fingers off the mouse” crowd may be hard to budge.
Many of the considerations for the“Running Win8.x and don’t like it” scenario apply here. But there are a few other things to consider. Windows 7 is getting long in the tooth. It was released six years ago this month, and Microsoft’s mainstream support ended in January of this year. Extended support ends in January 2020. You’ve got a one-year-free opportunity to jump to a new version, assuming your PC can handle it. And that’s one other consideration. Windows 10’s hardware requirements are modest, and are the same as for Windows 8.
If your computer is five years old or newer, it should run Windows 10 just fine. Even older systems may be able to handle it as well, depending on their specs. When you start the upgrade process, Windows will alert you to any issues with hardware and software.
You should also be aware that if you install Windows 10 on a computer that includes Windows Media Center, it will be removed. Windows Media Center is the component that organizes video and lets you watch TV on your PC with the right hardware. That goes away and there’s no option to re-add it. If you desperately need Windows Media Center, then don’t install Windows 10.
▪ If you’re running Windows 7 and you aren’t happy with it. This scenario is a no-brainer — mostly. You should probably upgrade, assuming your application software and hardware is compatible with it.
Of course, the big caveat here is exactly why you’re not happy with Windows 7. If it’s slow, crashes often, is prone to getting malware or has recurring issues, you may want to take the time to get it in shape before installing Windows 10. If those problems are hardware-based, or have to do with how you use your computer, Windows 10 may not be a panacea.
One final note: If you don’t like Windows 10, you can revert to your previous operating system, which is a break from the past when a new version was forever. A lot of what’s in Windows 10 is Microsoft learning from past mistakes.