Microsoft Windows 10 is live: here's what you need to know
Microsoft starts rolling out its new operating system, Windows 10 to customers around the world today, with members of its 'Insider' programme being the first to receive the free upgrade.
Following a hostile reception to Windows 8, which launched in 2012 and introduced the concept of 'live tiles' for touch-based computing, Microsoft decided to bypass Windows 9 and jump straight to Windows 10, combining what it describes as the "best elements" of Windows 7 and Windows 8.
Live tiles still feature in Windows 10, offering shortcuts to the user's favourite applications, but are far less obtrusive than in Windows 8. Microsoft has also brought back the Start menu from Windows 7, allowing users to browse through a list of their most-used programs.
Unlike with previous versions, there will not be a separate Windows Phone 10 operating system. Instead, Windows 10 will be used across all Microsoft devices, including PCs, tablets and smartphones – as well as the Xbox games console and Microsoft's holographic headset, HoloLens.
A feature called Continuum means that the software automatically detects whether there is a keyboard attached to the device and selects the most appropriate mode.
The company has killed off Windows Media Center – its software for recording and playing TV, music and video – and replaced it with modified versions of Xbox Music and Xbox Video, which have been renamed as 'Groove' and 'Movies & TV' respectively.
This means users can start watching a video or listening to a playlist on one Windows 10 device, and then pick up where they left off on another device.
There is a new web browser called Edge, which allows users to annotate web pages, save them to read later, or select "read mode" to strip out adverts and sidebars. Windows 10 also comes with Microsoft's virtual personal assistant, Cortana, which pops up with notifications and suggestions, and learns the user's preferences over time.
Windows is available as a free upgrade for Windows 7 and Windows 8.1 users. Anyone who is still on Windows 8 will have to upgrade to Windows 8.1 to qualify for the free upgrade. Everyone else will have to pay $119 for Windows 10 Home and $199 for Windows 10 Pro.
People who have pre-registered for the upgrade, by clicking the Windows icon on the right-hand side of their taskbar, will be notified by Microsoft once the operating system has been downloaded onto their computer and is ready for installation.
However, not everyone who has pre-registered will get the new software today. Microsoft said that it will start notifying reserved systems in waves, slowly scaling up after July 29. When the time comes, Microsoft will scan their computer to check it is compatible, and then download Windows 10 automatically.
In order to run Windows 10, users need a PC or tablet with a 1GHz processor or faster, 1GB of RAM and 16GB hard disk space for 32-bit machines or 2GB and 16GB for 64-bit machines, a DirectX 9 or later graphics card with a WDDM 1.0 driver and an 800 x 600 display or better.
Windows 7 currently has a 61 per cent share of the global operating system market, according to NetMarketShare. Windows 8.1 accounts for 13 per cent and Windows 8 for three per cent. Windows XP, which launched in 2001 and is no longer supported by Microsoft, still accounts for almost 12 per cent.
It is thought that the rollout of Windows 10 will break internet traffic records, due to the high volume of downloads, and could result in some problems with network performance over the next week. Microsoft has reportedly reserved up to 40Tbps (terabits per second) of capacity, in an attempt to ensure it runs smoothly.
"Around the world, millions and millions of people have registered for the upgrade, so we need to do this in a responsible way using the bandwidth of the internet," said Michel van der Bel, Microsoft UK CEO.
"At the same time of course, we need to be sure that people get bits in the right order and get a great experience. Windows users in New Zealand will be the first to get access to the code on the 29th, and we'll be watching very closely to see how we can improve the experience as we go along."
Although Windows 10 begins rolling out to PCs and tablets today, Microsoft is yet to announce plans for launching Windows 10 on smartphones. Microsoft said that is was keen to see how the PC rollout goes before embarking on the next phase, but some analysts have expressed concern.
"Microsoft will face a long road ahead to gain Windows share in mobile," said Forrester analyst Frank Gillett in research on the new OS.
"While it will win a growing share of enterprise tablet purchases, the plans for Windows 10 don't show enough potential to create a differentiated mobile experience that will draw developers and customers away from iOS and Android."