Update: With the release of the Windows 10 Anniversary Update just around the corner, Microsoft is no longer making significant changes to the current rendition of the OS, save for Insider Preview members. Read on into "Latest news" to find out more.
Windows 10 is an entirely fresh version of Microsoft's veteran Windows operating system (OS) – a version that is make-or-break for the company.
It was released on July 29, 2015 in seven versions, which I'll tell you much more about below, as well as giving you techradar's final verdict on all aspects of the new OS. Note that we've published a distinct Windows 10 Mobile review, which we've recently given a full upgrade.
Even though Windows 8.1 did improve a lot, there's no escaping that, with Windows 8, Microsoft was hugely complacent, riding on the coattails of Windows 7. It drastically misread its audience with a fundamentally different interface that didn't make any reasonable sense and was hard to learn. It failed us. It failed itself.
Thankfully, 2016 Microsoft is starkly different from 2012 Microsoft. The key management of the company has shuffled. It has realized that people can choose other OSes. It's been creating software for Mac OS X, Linux, iOS and Android. As you'll see, it's allowing apps from other systems to be easily ported to Windows, too.
Almost 10 months after release, Microsoft has continued to deliver on its promise of Windows as a Service, announcing its first Redstone (as it's reportedly known internally) update at its largely positive Build 2016 in the form of the Windows 10 Anniversary Update.
Earlier in the year, unfavorable press swarmed the internet, publicizing controversial decisions including Windows 10's arguably invasive collection of data, forced adoption of the OS on the latest hardware and a Windows 10 update recommendation app that was not asked for.
In an attempt to patch things over, Microsoft revealed at its conference a suite of stylus optimizations (and apps to use them with) in Windows Ink, Android notifications and a full-on Linux development environment built right into the OS among much more.
- Stuck? Here's how to use Windows 10
By automatically scheduling upgrades without alerting users, the "Get Windows 10" app could rub Windows users the wrong way. Not only does the app repeatedly pop up asking Windows 7 and 8 users if they're ready for an upgrade, but as of late, closing out of the program by clicking the 'X' button at the top actually provokes a Windows 10 install automatically, without direct consent on behalf of the user.
Microsoft later challenged some of these reports, specifically those from The Register, deeming them inaccurate to which ZDNet's Mary Jo Foley agreed, calling them a "false alarm."
On a lighter note, despite the adoption rate slowing down, 300 million installs in 10 months is nothing to scoff at, nor is the title of most used operating system in North America and Northern Europe. Though, how Windows 10 will fare once the price is raised from $0 to an entry-level cost of $119 is anyone's guess.
Moreover, Microsoft is trying to entice its Xbox fanbase by adding more gaming-centric features to Windows 10. Among these is a cross-platform initiative, dubbed by Microsoft as Xbox Play Anywhere, which came by way of E3 2016. From here on out, any supported game from the Windows 10 Store gives you access to the title on both Xbox One and PC a la Gears of War 4
Now, with the Windows 10 Anniversary Update just around the corner, Microsoft has confirmed that little more than bug fixes and security patches will be issued leading into its release. Fortunately, though, the company did take the time to address bloatware issues in Windows 10 by giving Insiders access to a tool that wipes a computer clean of all non-Microsoft applications.
And, in Insider Preview build 14371, Redmond made license reactivation easier for genuine Windows 10 installs following substantial hardware changes. From here on out, Windows 10 licenses will be attached to your Microsoft account, (hopefully) keeping issues like this at a minimum.
Windows is more than just an OS
Microsoft believes the future of Windows is as a platform for all. Like Android, the strength of Windows is in the thousands of companies that develop for it (see the section about Universal apps for more on the relationship with developers) and use it in their products.
That's why Windows 10 is no longer just an operating system for 32 and 64-bit PCs. It will also run on the ARM platform for smaller tablets and smartphones. Windows 10 is going to run on phones – it's the new version of Windows Phone, but it's not that clear whether Microsoft will brand new Windows Phones as 'Windows 10' or not. If you know what Windows RT was, then don't worry, because it's nothing like that.
Universal apps will run not only on PCs, but on Windows 10 phones, Windows 10 for IoT devices and Xbox as well.
Like Windows XP, Vista, 7 and 8 before it, Windows 10 is part of the Windows NT family.
From the Windows 10 Preview to RTM
We are part of the Windows Insider program, which gives people early access to Windows 10 updates through various phases of its development, even after release. The majority of this critique is based on build 10240, made available on July 15. It is the RTM – or Release to Manufacturing – version. RTM will also be on Windows 10 PCs you buy in-store or online.
RTM doesn't have the usual 'Windows 10 Insider Preview' text on the desktop, and it has also been released to everybody in the Windows Insider program – even those who didn't want the latest updates (the "slow" ring as opposed to the "fast" ring).
Even now Windows 10 is released, the Windows Insider program will continue, and Microsoft will release Windows 10 updates to members of the program first.
While it's natural that Windows 10 is considered as "finished" by reviewers (us) and consumers, Microsoft doesn't subscribe to this point of view, and says it will carry on developing the OS with additional tweaks.
Joe Osborne and Gabe Carey have also contributed to this review