It's almost time! Yes, in less than a week Microsoft will be releasing Windows 10, no doubt the finest product to casually jump a sequel since Leisure Suit Larry 4: The Missing Floppies.
It's likely to be much more popular with gamers than Windows 8 was, if only for two reasons: being free, and not being Windows 8. Hopefully the decision to make an OS based on computers we actually have rather than the fancy touchscreen ones Microsoft wants to sell us will pay off. Yes, it's a crazy, crazy idea, but it might... just... work!
The obvious question is what it will offer gamers, and Microsoft has certainly set a high bar for expectations here. Who can forget, for example, past greats like that Hover game that came with Windows 95? Or Vista's hot exclusive, Halo 2, arriving on PC only three years after it hit the Xbox?
I can't think of any reason to be cynical about its renewed desire to support the PC as a gaming platform, except of course for the fact that most of the big improvements revolve around the Xbox One, and that its last big push on the PC, Games For Windows Live, was repeatedly and universally voted the single worst idea since laxative bath salts.
Now, if you do have an Xbox One (if you don't know what that is, it's the less good version of the PS4), you're in luck. And those aren't words you likely hear very often, so enjoy them. For starters, you'll be able hook your PC up to it over a network and stream games from the comfort of your couch to your PC, which is exactly the direction that makes sense and not completely backwards at all.
You'll also be able to use the new Xbox One controller (and the new Elite version), which is a pretty big deal because Microsoft controllers have become the current de facto standard, and the new wireless one will only work with Windows 10.
This is of course because it's simply so advanced that conventional drivers and wireless technologies are unable to keep up with its whole new buttons and exactly the same control layout as before, and absolutely not the most irritatingly petty attempt to push operating system upgrades since the chance to buy Shadowrun to keep Halo 2 company in irrelevance.
X marks the... what?
Luckily, there's more to Windows 10's gaming support than simply trying to shill Xbox Ones faster than the words 'Better With Kinect' became a hilarious joke.
The biggie, though we won't see its impact for a while, is that DirectX 12 is set to be exclusive to Windows 10. This is long overdue, to the point that AMD pretty much made a whole alternative, Mantle, while questioning whether Microsoft was even going to bother with an upgrade. It has after all been six years since DirectX 11, and the state of the art has moved on. A little.
It's easy to understate the importance of DirectX - in our current era of plug-and-play and it-just-works everything, the dark days of all DOS and most early Windows games seem like a lifetime ago. Remember early 3D games that demanded specific cards? Let us never return to that, and yes, I'm looking at you, virtual reality headset makers in particular.
Unfortunately we rarely see developers using it to its full, since card generations remain an issue, with DirectX 9 and 10 still hanging on for a number of games. Still, it's important to keep pushing things forward so that games like Arkham Knight can... wait, no, sorry. So that games like The Witcher 3 can continue to push cards to their most, and also actually bloody work!
DirectX 12 doesn't have a nice snappy 'Just Make Things Look Gooder' button, but it does promise to be a decent upgrade - allowing developers more low-level access to hardware, creating fewer bottlenecks for processing, making it easier to share the workload across modern GPUs and generally allow for better performance. A feature called 'Multiadapter' also lets it tap into multiple GPUs, including of different types, either like-for-like pairing like SLI/Crossfire handles now, or unlinked, as with the motherboard example.
An example of how this can work is one card handling the hefty work of rendering the world, with a weaker one like an embedded GPU handling the post-processing duties. That's the goal, anyway, though it's not as simple for developers as simply pressing a button to make it work. It could well be that the unpredictability of performance makes it too risky to fully embrace. But we'll see. In theory at least, it's a good idea.
Most semi-recent cards should benefit from this reworking rather than demanding a brand new one, hopefully allowing for faster uptake than usual. It would of course be faster if not tied to Windows 10. According to Valve's Steam surveys, gamers heavily favour Windows 7 at the moment - 55.7% of users are in it, compared to just 35.4% for Windows 8. That's including all versions and 32/64-bit editions.
There's of course a whole lot more to Windows 10 than just gaming, and much of it looks pretty good. I'm not counting Cortana as a gaming tie-in, though it probably counts. That's the built in assistant named after the Halo character in case you're wondering, though only in the form of a helpful circle rather than going all the way to create Siri with boobs.
There's a new browser called Microsoft Edge for people who don't know how to download Chrome, some cool window snapping for laptops and desktops, lots of handy devices to take your favourite apps on the move, for both those in the Microsoft ecosystem and characters on TV shows who prominently use Microsoft Surface for one episode and then you suspiciously never see it again, and a lot of performance upgrades when it comes to things like booting up each morning. Valuable seconds saved!
It's actually shaping up to be a pretty decent upgrade, if you're not contractually obliged to be a snarky bastard about things on the internet. Certainly, it beats Windows 8 in one key area - being openly designed around how people actually use computers rather than how Microsoft thinks they should, and I'm looking forward to installing it and taking the release for a proper spin later this month.
The basic deal is that if you've got a copy of Windows 7 or 8.1, you have a year to sign up and snag an upgrade to Windows 10, though it seems quite likely that Microsoft just won't bother charging after that. Apple has already demonstrated the advantages of having users on the latest OS versions, complete with things like stores and having fewer security issues to chase after. The advantages would more than outweigh lost profits from home upgrade sales.
Either way, a year is plenty of time to either give it a shot or watch others kick the tires. It's a good move for Microsoft, and hopefully an indicator that they're moving back from the crazy bring that saw them inflict stuff like Games for Windows Live on the world and then completely lose interest while everyone suffered by it. I hope so. I'm still not buying an Xbox One though. Not even if Cortana herself puts doing so on my To Do list.