Windows 10 review

New look, new apps, new browser – meet Microsoft's pivotal OS

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Our Verdict

Feature-wise, Windows 10 is the new Windows 7. It's robust, pleasant to use and – perhaps best of all – free.

For

  • Start menu is functionally excellent
  • Action Center features are handy
  • Settings app is finally a Control Panel replacement
  • Universal apps are higher quality

Against

  • Will devs embrace Universal apps?
  • Some Windows 8.1 features may be missed
  • Expensive without free upgrade

Update: After a California woman brought Microsoft to court over Windows 10's automatic upgrades, the company has slowed down on unsolicited installs. 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.

Latest news

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. However, more recently, as Windows 10 growth has begun to stall heading into the expiration of its free upgrade offer, Microsoft has enacted strong measures to keep its numbers on the rise.

By automatically scheduling upgrades without alerting users, the "Get Windows 10" app could rub Windows users the wrong way. Microsoft later challenged some of these reports, calling out their inaccuracies. Still, it didn't stop one California woman from making $10,000 (about £7,515, AU$13,554) off a lawsuit, which of course led the company to hit the brakes on its controversial practices.

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. Microsoft is even trying to entice its Xbox fanbase by adding more gaming-centric features to Windows 10, such as cross-platform initiative Xbox Play Anywhere, revealed by way of E3 2016.

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.

Although, in Insider Preview build 14371, Redmond made license reactivation easier for genuine Windows 10 installs, attaching them to your Microsoft account rather than to the hardware itself.

Things are looking up for Windows 10 as it is now, but how it will fare once the price is raised from $0 to an entry-level cost of $119 is anyone's guess.

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.

Windows 10 review

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).

Windows 10 review

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