Microsoft on Wednesday rolled out its much-anticipated Windows 10 operating system in 190 countries as a free upgrade, organising special celebration in 13 cities around the world, including New Delhi, to mark the role of fans in its development.
Members of Microsoft’s Insider programme will be the first to receive the free upgrade.
The new OS follows Windows 8, which launched in 2012 to severe criticism from pundits and users. The previous OS introduced the concept of “live tiles” in an effort to make it touch-friendly, but it lost out on desktop usability in the process.
“A new era of Windows starts today. From the beginning, Windows 10 has been unique – built with feedback from over 5 million fans, delivered as a service and offered as a free upgrade," said Terry Myerson, Microsoft’s executive vice president for Windows.
The Redmond giant skipped Windows 9, as though to distance itself from Windows 8 and its criticisms.
It announced last year it had decided to bypass Windows 9 and jump straight to Windows 10, combining what it described as the "best elements" of Windows 7 andWindows 8.
Microsoft described Windows 10 as “more personal and productive, with voice, pen and gesture inputs for natural interaction with PCs”. It is designed to work with Office and Skype and allows users to switch between apps.
Windows 10 includes built-in, enterprise-grade security so that customers can replace passwords with more secure options, protect corporate data and corporate identities and run only the software they trust.
Live tiles still feature in Windows 10, offering shortcuts to some applications but are far less obtrusive than in Windows 8. The biggest change is that Microsoft has brought back the much-loved “Start Menu” from Windows 7, allowing users to browse through a list of their most-used programmes.
Free upgrade programmes will be available on Wednesday, while Windows 10 software will be available in stores around the world between mid-August and September.
Microsoft's last operating system, Windows 8, was widely criticised for its user interface as the firm tried to modernise personal computers even as smartphones and tablets grew more popular around the world.
Windows 8 steered people toward tablet-like touch commands, even on desktops and laptops that had keyboards and mouse controls. Apps that weren't designed for touch – including Microsoft's Office – got shoved into the desktop mode.
In Windows 10, everyone gets along. There are still separate desktop and tablet modes, but users can largely stick with one or the other depending on whether they have a keyboard.
Unlike previous versions, there will no separate Windows Phone 10. Instead, Windows 10 will be used across all Microsoft platforms, including PCs, tablets, smartphones, the Xbox games console and HoloLens, Microsoft's augmented reality headset.
Microsoft hopes to make the transition between multiple form factors as seamless as possible with a feature called Continuum, which automatically detects whether a device is being used with a keyboard, mouse or a touchscreen and adjust accordingly.
The firm 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.
Users can start watching a video or listening to a playlist on one Windows 10 device and pick up where they left off on another device.
Microsoft Edge and Cortana
In an effort to recapture the web browser market it ceded to Google Chrome, Windows 10 has 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. Cortana responds to voice commands, similar to Apple's Siri, and has been touted as one of the core features of Windows 10.
Free for Windows 7/8.1 users
Windows 10 is available as a free upgrade for Windows 7 and Windows 8.1 users. Users with Windows 8 will have to first upgrade to Windows 8.1 (which too is free) to qualify for the free upgrade. For everyone else, the OS will retail for $119 (£99) for Windows 10 Home and $199 (about £131) for Windows 10 Pro.
People who 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 OS has been downloaded on to their computer and is ready for installation.
However, not everyone who has pre-registered will get the new OS on Wednesday. Microsoft said it will start notifying reserved systems in waves, slowly scaling up after July 29. When the time comes, Microsoft will scan computers to check if it is compatible, and then download Windows 10 automatically.
Windows 10 comes with a fairly forgiving set of requirements: Users need a PC or tablet with a 1GHz processor or faster, 16 GB hard disk space and 1GB of RAM for 32-bit machines or 2GB of RAM for 64-bit machines, a DirectX 9 or later graphics card and an 800x600 resolution display or better.
This essentially translates to any PC bought in the last five to six years.
According to Netmarketshare.com, Windows 7 currently has a 61% share of the global operating system market while successors Windows 8.1 and Windows 8 account for only 13% and 3% respectively. Windows XP, which launched in 2001 and is no longer supported by Microsoft, still accounts for almost 12%.
It is thought the rollout of Windows 10 will break internet traffic records, and could result in some problems with network performance over the next week. Microsoft has reportedly reserved up to 40 Tbps (terabits per second) of capacity in an attempt to ensure it runs smoothly.
Though Windows 10 begins rolling out to PCs and tablets on Wednesday, Microsoft is yet to announce plans for launching Windows 10 on smartphones. Microsoft said it is keen to see how the PC rollout goes before embarking on the next phase.
(With inputs from agencies)