Windows 10: release date, price, news and features

Everything we know about the future of Windows

Windows 10 release date news and features

Update: With Windows 10 given a launch, ahem, window and the latest preview build #10041 just released on March 18, the new OS is coming along nicely. The latest: Microsoft makes universal apps easier to understand, plus IE and Spartan move even further apart. More below:

With Windows 8 and now Windows 8.1, Microsoft tried – not entirely successfully – to make tablets part of a continuum that goes from number-crunching workstations and high-end gaming rigs through all-in-one touchscreen media systems and thin-and light notebooks down to slender touch tablets.

The general consensus is that it still has a long way to go to produce a unified OS. Recently, Microsoft publicly made the first steps to doing just that, with Windows 10. Skipping the Windows 9 name entirely, the Redmond, Wash. firm aims to step into the next generation of computing with the right foot forward.

Microsoft's Windows 10 Technical Preview is available through its Windows Insider Program website. You'll need a Microsoft account to get it, and it's worth bearing in mind that it's not the finished product, so it will be a bit rough around the edges.

While information regarding the Windows 10 Road Map slowly trickling through with each reveal event, this is what we know so far regarding the stymied release of Windows 10:

  • Starting with Windows Technical Preview (WTP) for laptops and desktops back in September 2014, the preview build extended to select smartphones on February 12.
  • The latest major WTP build launched on January 23, 2015 and was made available to download through Microsoft's Windows Insider Program.
  • Currently, the WTP is at Build #10041 for those in Microsoft's "Fast ring" for preview build updates.
  • The Technical Preview will end sharply on April 15 of next year, which conveniently leaves right off at...
  • Microsoft's Build 2015 conference next April, at which the company will have even more announcements and likely issue a Windows 10 release date.
  • The company promises a release to consumers and enterprise "in the summer" according to Terry Myerson
Cut to the chase
What is it? A complete update of Windows
When is it out? It could launch as early as June 2015, but definitely this summer
What will it cost? For Windows 8.1 users, it will be free for one year

windows 10
Microsoft's Terry Myerson shows off some impressive numbers

How much will it cost?

Confirming recent reports, Microsoft's Terry Myerson announced that Windows 10 will be free for Windows 8.1 users for its first year. While there's no word on pricing for users still on Windows 7 or an older version, Microsoft confirmed a while ago that the two most recent Windows versions will be able to upgrade to Windows 10 directly.

Microsoft's chief blogger Brandon LeBlanc also confirmed that Microsoft will support those who scored a free upgrade to Windows 10 with security and system updates for the lifetime of those Windows 8.1 devices.

But most recently, Neowin cited sources claiming that Windows 10 will start appearing on consumer hardware this coming June. Simultaneously, news that Microsoft has trademarked the term "Microsoft 365" with the intent of it being a service has folks buzzing about the possibility of a subscription-based Windows to come, though that's not likely to be Windows 10. Oh, we hope not.

What's to come in Technical Preview

The latest WTP build available for all testers is Build #10041. The update brings with it a slew of new features and fixes, namely streamlining the Virtual Desktop experience and giving the Photos app some much-needed functionality.

Of course, the build comes with a number of known issues, too. (Such is the case with "Fast ring" updates.) The most notable issues include a lack of login fields upon booting up and certain apps refusing to install or update due to licensing issues. Check out our full breakdown right here.

Recent developments

Most recently, Microsoft changed its tune a bit regarding universal apps, now referring to them as Windows apps. Nothing about them has changed other than their branding and name – these are still the apps that will work across every platform that will run Windows 10. On the other hand, legacy Win32 apps will now be referred to as "Windows desktop apps," and will only run on PCs.

Microsoft seems keen on eliminating all forms of user confusion in Windows 10, with the company further relegating Internet Explorer to legacy status. The latest sees Microsoft's newer browser, codenamed Project Spartan, getting access to the company's latest rendering engine, EdgeHTML, exclusively.

The engine allows for better support for "modern HTML websites" and brings with it support for unique user experiences, such as annotation, distraction-free reading and Cortana integration. Meanwhile, IE will forever be stuck with Microsoft's current Trident rendering engine. So no, you won't be using IE all that much if at all in Windows 10.

A bit further back, Microsoft made a new ruling on Windows 10's approach to UEFI Secure Boot in its BIOS. Now, Windows 10 hardware makers will have the option to allow users to toggle secure boot – for Windows 8, a secure boot toggle was mandatory. This has the potential to make it more difficult for users to load multiple operating systems on a single Windows 10 device. Look out, Linux lovers.

As for the good news, it has been confirmed that Windows 10 will support a ridiculous range of display resolutions. Specifically, displays with as few pixels as 800 x 600 will be able to run the upcoming operating system. A range of 800 x 600 to 4K-level pixel counts is not too shabby, and will allow an even wider audience to enjoy the new Windows.

Step into Microsoft's new Office

Shortly after a leaked video on WinBeta revealed Microsoft's Universal Office apps in detail, the company issued an update to the Windows 10 Technical Preview with just that. WTP users can now download the new Word, PowerPoint and Excel Universal apps.

Like the whole of Windows 10, these apps are designed to work on Windows 10 laptops, tablets and phones. This update comes in advance of Office 2016, Microsoft's desktop-based version of the suite, which we expect to see debut in the second half of 2015. It's likely that Office 2016 will interact with its Universal app counterparts through OneDrive and other solutions.

Most recently, during MWC 2015, Microsoft squeezed a few more details surrounding the touch-centric Office 2016, namely cosmetic makeovers for Outlook, Word, PowerPoint and Excel. Also, Outlook will be more deeply integrated with its sister apps than ever before. Finally the new Insights and Tell Me features will let users search the internet from within Office and create search-based command prompts, respectively.

Bill Gates's not-so-little secret

The co-founder and long-time former CEO of Microsoft has been working on a secret project for Microsoft known internally as the "Personal Agent," Gates revealed in his third Ask Me Anything on Reddit recently. This Personal Agent is a piece of software designed to remember everything you do on a PC and provide guidance for how to prioritize and assistance in interacting with those apps and files.

"One project I am working on with Microsoft is the Personal Agent which will remember everything and help you go back and find things and help you pick what things to pay attention to," Gates disclosed on Reddit. "The idea that you have to find applications and pick them and they each are trying to tell you what is new is just not the efficient model - the agent will help solve this. It will work across all your devices."

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*Not actual size

Windows Phone users get a sneak peek

Microsoft will soon (if not already) issue a major update to Lumia devices running the latest version of Windows Phone 8.1, codenamed "Denim". The Denim update will bring just a taste of the features that Windows 10 will employ heavily on Microsoft's phone lineup, namely Cortana.

This, of course, is in addition to a host of more features, like Live Folders, a Glance Screen tool, enhancements to Internet Explorer and the camera app among others. You can check out all the details in our in-depth Lumia Denim update explainer.

Soon after, Microsoft's VP of Operating Systems Joe Belfiore teased that more information regarding Windows 10 on phones is coming within the next two weeks as of this writing. The new details will come in a video, according to Belfiore.

Most recently, images of the new mobile OS leaked through NokiaPowerUser, revealing the settings pane and notifications interface. Much of these features seem to be more of the same, but expanded, like native VPN support and a do not disturb function. The full Windows 10 for phones preview is expected to land sometime in February.

Actually, Microsoft is planning a March 2 event, which could be an in-depth look at what's inside the preview build that would have launched by then on a limited set of phones. This event – during MWC 2015 in Barcelona, might we add – could mark a wider launch of the preview as well. Don't, you'll get all the details from TechRadar no doubt.

windows 10
We doubt you'll be outfitting your living rooms with this one...

Microsoft reveals something huge

Like, 84 inches huge. Microsoft has developed an entirely new device to showcase the features and capabilities of Windows 10, called the Surface Hub. Redmond team members revealed and demoed the device during its January 21 reveal event.

The device is an 84-inch, 4K touchscreen that is designed for enterprise users – generally meeting rooms. The Hub also features stylus support similar to the Surface Pro 3 with a pen specifically made for the device.

The device is designed to offer a holistic solution for meetings from web conferencing to whiteboarding and document sharing. No word on price or release date was given.

windows 10
This is where Microsoft thinks the PC is headed

... and something intangible

During its January 21 event, Microsoft revealed Windows Holographic and Microsoft HoloLens, a brand new headset and hologram system designed to blow the concept of augmented reality wide open. Every Windows 10 device will support holographic computing APIs.

Windows Holographic is Microsoft holographic computing platform, while HoloLens is the proof-of-concept for the firm's holographic computing initiative. The company built a brand new holographic processing unit (HPU) to process terabytes of data from every sensor packed into the HoloLens.

Through the HPU, HoloLens can run completely independent of any other device. Microsoft demonstrated the technology on stage, creating a 3D model using holograms and later 3D printing that exact specification. There was no word on when HoloLens will launch and how much it will cost, but Microsoft promised that it will be ready for the public launch of Windows 10.

windows 10
You're a cheeky one, Cortana

Cortana is warping to the PC

That's right, Windows 10 will see the spread of Cortana, Microsoft's Siri and Google Now competitor, into all versions of the new OS, including desktops, laptops and tablets. Microsoft's Joe Belfiore showed off the new PC-centric features within Cortana during its January 21 reveal event.

Namely, Redmond developed PC-specific functions into Cortana for easier access to files, apps and more. Belfiore demonstrated colloquial queries like, "Show me photos from December," to which Cortana summoned images within that time period immediately. The idea here is to make key pain points in interacting with a PC easier than before through voice.

windows 10

Microsoft's Universal approach

During its January 21 reveal event, Microsoft's Joe Belfiore revealed exactly what the company meant by "Universal apps" when it first showed off Windows 10. Basically, the company is developing special versions of its key apps, like Office, for Windows 10 phones and tablets under 8 inches.

Apps like Word, PowerPoint, Excel and Outlook will look and feel nearly identical to their desktop counterparts, but be optimized for touch and screen size. And through Microsoft's cloud infrastructure, all of your files will be accessible through those devices regardless of where it was created.

Belfiore also detailed a brand new photos app accessible from any Windows 10 device, pulling down images from the company's OneDrive storage service. The new app aggregates images from both local and cloud storage, eliminating duplicates and enhancing photos automatically.

Finally, the universal photos app will also automatically create photo albums based on not only when and where photos were taken, but the subjects of those photos. The idea here is for managing photos to be simpler and more automated, taking things a few steps further than rival solutions.

Following the January 21 event, Microsoft went on to confirm that its most important suite of Universal apps, Office 2016, will launch in the second half of 2015. This potentially puts Office 2016 ahead of Windows 10 in terms of release.

Keeping in touch

During the January 21 event, Belfiore demonstrated its "continuum" approach to computing with Windows 10 – not just through different devices, but 2-in-1 products as well. Using a Surface Pro 3, the OS chief showed off what it will be like changing use cases on a Windows 10 device.

When the tablet was connected to its keyboard cover, the Surface Pro 3 acted as if it were a laptop, which it technically is. Then, as soon as Belfiore removed the keyboard, a small icon appeared in the lower right of the screen, asking him whether he'd like to activate tablet mode.

Doing so changed all of the apps to full screen, made icons slightly larger and allowed users to access the Start screen a la Windows 8, albeit much updated. As soon as he reconnected the keyboard, the device offered to revert back to its original mode, which then repositioned and resized the windows and icons as they were.

windows 10
How long do we have until '300' jokes go stale?

This ... is ... Spartan (browser)!

Belfiore went on to detail Project Spartan, the company's revamp of Internet Explorer, during the January 21 reveal event. He detailed unique features, like the ability to mark up webpages before sharing them with others, and to comment on those same pages at the software level.

Once pages are marked up with drawings and comments, that page is frozen in time with live links and open for sharing through Windows 10's built-in sharing features. Spartan will also support built-in offline reading and PDF support, not to mention Cortana.

Microsoft's virtual assistant will be baked into Spartan and pop in with recommendations and help based on your browser behavior. Belfiore in particular demoed a scenario in which a user is en route to a flight. Upon opening the browser to find flight data, Cortana will pop in with that info before the user even needs to look it up.

Since the big reveal, Microsoft's Group Program Manager for Internet Explorer, Jason Weber, confirmed one big question: Spartan is not a replacement for Internet Explorer, but rather a second browser. Weber went on to explain that, while his team is heavily focused on making Spartan work with the rest of the web, IE11 will be kept for compatibility with legacy and enterprise websites.

Microsoft's @IE Dev Chat account on Twitter later confirmed that the Project Spartan team is working on bringing extension support to the new browser. Furthermore, Microsoft confirmed to The Verge that the team is also working on a way for users to import Chrome extensions directly to Spartan.

Finally, it's said that Windows Insiders will get to test out Project Spartan in the next upcoming WTP build, #10022. That build is expected to launch sometime this month, and could very well be the last preview build before the WTP ends on April 15 in time for, you guessed it, Build 2015.

You shall not pass(word)

Microsoft has announced that it is adding support for the Fast Identity Online (Fido) standard to Windows 10, which should allow it to introduce the ability to sign into applications without using a password.

According to Microsoft, Windows 10 will bake standards-based two-factor authentication into every device which will "effectively neutering most phishing attacks and password database breaches". At its most basic level, the feature will allow PC, tablet or phone users to enroll their devices as trusted for authentication. Laters, passwords - it was nice knowing you.

windows 10
Finally united, and it feels so good

Windows 10 and Xbox unite

For an interesting, forward-looking projections and reactions to the gaming announcements on January 21, check out Jake Muncy's take right here.

Microsoft's Xbox lead Phil Spencer took the stage during Microsoft's big January 21 event, detailing the Xbox app on Windows 10. The app collects all games played on any Xbox or Windows 10 device, a universal friends list and an activity feed. Every Windows 10 device will have the Xbox app pre-loaded.

Users will be able to record game sessions through the Game DVR tool and share them across the Xbox network. Essentially, Windows 10 will bring the automated recording featured in Xbox One to games played on Windows 10 – even those launched through other apps, like Steam.

Spencer also briefly showed off Microsoft's next collection of graphics and gaming APIs, DirectX 12. Namely, support for the platform expanded to the Unity game engine, and DX12 enables low-power graphics processing for Windows 10 mobile devices.

Plus, Spencer and a Lionhead Studios representative demoed what it's like to play the same game through a Windows 10 PC and an Xbox One with friends at the same time. Basically, cross-platform multiplayer gaming is coming to Xbox One and Windows 10.

Finally, Spencer demoed the ability to stream any Xbox One game to any Windows 10 device from within the home over Wi-Fi. The Xbox lead also teased that several Windows 10 features will find their way onto Xbox One, but was mum on the details.

Most recently, during GDC 2015, Microsoft's Xbox chief let loose a few more details regarding the increasingly intimate relationship between Windows 10 and Xbox One. For starters, Spencer revealed that soon all wireless Xbox One accessories will work on Windows 10 PCs.

Later during the show, we learned that Microsoft is "investigating the possibility" of streaming PC games to Xbox One. Currently, Microsoft is only committed to allowing the inverse, for all Xbox One games to stream to Windows 10 PCs.

And just recently, Microsoft updated its Xbox One app for Windows 10 with the ability to access Xbox One game clips, search for friends and interact with the Xbox Live activity feed. Furthermore, the app can now better deal with window size changes, plus users can control the Xbox One through a virtualized remote control within the Xbox One app on Windows 10.

Paving the way for enterprise

The crux of the September 30, 2014 event was to speak to enterprise users and get it in front of them first. "Windows 10 is a very novel approach of separating corporate and personal data across all devices," Myerson said on stage. "Windows 10 is going to be our greatest enterprise platform, ever."

Microsoft didn't exactly please its enterprise audience with Windows 8.1 – adoption has been awfully slow. (And now will likely halt with this new version on the horizon.) To that end, Belfiore even noted that the company is "looking to find the balance, so that all the Windows 7 users get a familiar experience on the devices they already have."

As of early February, Microsoft issued its plans for rolling out Windows 10 to enterprise users: through Windows Software Assurance program. While this program will offer several methods for enterprise users to upgrade their fleets of systems to the new OS, that also means it will not come free like it does for consumer versions of Windows 10.

The SA program is designed to give enterprise customers more control over when and how updates are pushed to their range of machines. Of course, the idea here is a focus on security and flexibility for IT through additional Long Term Servicing branches that provide security and critical updates only – barring new feature updates.

Windows 10
Windows Phone called. It wants its notifications back

Phoning in features

Shortly after the initial Windows 10 reveal back in September 2014, Microsoft released a fresh feature to the Windows 10 Technical Preview, but on that's not new to Windows Phone: notifications. Known as the Action Center on Windows Phone 8.1, Notifications on Windows 10 operate in much the same way.

Featured as a button on the task bar, Notifications collects alert data from plenty of sources. "You'll see notifications from the system and apps - from new emails and invites to IMs, Facebook posts and more - all in one place, so you don't miss a thing," Microsoft Director of Windows Program Management Gabe Aul wrote in a blog post.

Speaking of new features, Microsoft's Joe Belfiore teased new trackpad gestures that will come to Windows 10 during his TechEd Europe keynote in October 2014. Much similar to the gestures that Mac users are used to, the new OS will soon respond to three-finger swipes in three directions.

Swiping downward with three fingers will return you to the desktop from within any app, while an upward gesture will summon the new task view. Swiping with three fingers either to the left or right will switch between open apps. Users will also be able to resize snapped windows with a unique three-finger gesture.

Most recently, some striking similarities were found between Microsoft's Skype integration into the Windows 10 messaging platform and Apple's iMessage system. Basically, Skype will serve as an intermediary for SMS and other text message formats, taking those messages and storing them for access on any Windows 10 device. However, Apple's solution is bound to Apple devices, while Skype is available on just about any mobile or computing platform.

Shooting for security

Running the world's most ubiquitous OS, Microsoft has always taken security quite seriously, often releasing patches daily to its various versions of Windows. Now, the company looks to take its security measures for Windows 10, with two-factor authentication (2FA) coming standard on enterprise versions of the OS, the company announced during its September 30, 2014 reveal.

Microsoft also intends to protect user identities by storing user access tokens in a secure container that runs on top of Hyper-V technology, isolated from the rest of the OS. Windows 10 will also offer a data loss prevention solution that will allow users to separate their corporate personae from their non-work ones.

... and for your data?

Short after the release of the Windows 10 WTP, the OS was pegged for collecting user data. While this is a beta preview, and as such should be collecting feedback data, claims from a number of news outlets pointed to more even more sensitive information.

The Technical Preview reportedly has the capability to track and log keystrokes, capture voice data and more. This may be cause for caution, but keep in mind that almost all, if not all, modern operating systems track and log some level of usage data. Though, it's almost always anonymized.

Windows 10 release date
One operating system designed with every device in mind

It's still all about unity

Windows 10 will be "one application platform" for all the devices that run Windows, Microsoft Windows head Terry Myerson declared during the September 30, 2014 reveal, with one store to rule them all. (So to speak.)

While on stage at the event, Microsoft showed images of the new operating system running on everything from desktop PCs to smartphones. In fact, Myerson confirmed that Windows 10 will be the driving OS behind its smartphone platform as well.

Myerson was mum on the naming conventions (e.g. whether Windows 10 on phones would be known as Windows Phone 10, et. al). But what matters is this: Windows 10 will be behind every device that Microsoft has a hand in.

Yes, that includes the Internet of Things

Based on CEO Satya Nadella's recent comments during Gartner's Symposium ITxpo in October 2014, Windows 10 is almost certainly being developed with the Internet of Things in mind.

"Windows 10 is a very important step for us." Nadella said on stage. "It's the first step in a new generation of Windows as opposed to just another release after Windows 8. General purpose computing is going to run on 200 plus billion sensors. We've architected Windows where it can run on everything."

Windows 10
Windows 10: The Start Menu Strikes Back

The Start menu: bigger, better, stronger

The return of the Start menu that Microsoft teased during its Build 2014 conference earlier in 2014 was shown off in full force at the September 30, 2014 event. Replete with a merging of the traditional Windows 7-style interface and Windows 8 Live Tiles, the new Start menu is designed to please both camps: touch and mouse users.

"They don't have to learn any new way to drive," Belfiore said, referring to Windows 7 business users. That said, customization will also be featured throughout, first with the ability to resizing the Start menu itself along with the Live Tiles within.

The Start menu features empowered search capabilities as well, able to crawl your entire machine, not to mention web results. (Through Bing and not Google, we'd imagine.)

Click on through for a detailed look at the rumors and leaks leading up to the first and second Windows 10 announcements. On the third page, we projected what Windows 9 – err – Windows 10 would be like, or at least what we had hoped. Read on to see how much we got right.