And so it happens once again: at the end of this month, Microsoft begins rolling out a new Windows operating system. This time the software juggernaut is jumping straight from Windows 8 (whose release was greeted with a reception somewhere between that of New Coke and Star Trek: Into Darkness) all the way up to Windows 10.
Whether you’re a techno-whiz ready to coordinate the new system between all your platforms or a Luddite still struggling to program your VCR, here are 10 important things to know about the latest OS (operating system) to end all OS’s.
What is it?
Windows 10 is Microsoft’s latest (and according to the company, last) operating system, and is designed to be the one system that spans all of your devices: desktop, laptop, tablet, smartphone and even Xbox. The OS has been tested in a beta version by more than 1.7 million people who have generated 800,000 pieces of feedback on more than 200,000 topics—so we’re keeping our fingers crossed that all the bugs have been worked out by now.
When will it debut?
Microsoft will begin to roll out Windows 10 in waves to customers who have signed on for the upgrade beginning July 29.
Who will get it?
The upgrade will be available to anyone using Windows 7 or Windows 8.1. To register for your upgrade, all you have to do is click the Windows logo that’s mysteriously appeared on the right-hand side of your taskbar. (How can you tell if you’re using Windows 8 or 8.1? Go to the search box on your home screen, type “WinVer,” and press ENTER. A box will pop up. If it says “Version 6.3,” you’ve got Windows 8.1; if it says “Version 6.2,” you’re running Windows 8. You’re welcome.)
How much will it cost?
If you’re running Windows 7 or Windows 8.1—it’s free! Nada! Zip! Zilch! Congratulations! (If you’re running Windows 8, you’re going to have to upgrade to Windows 8.1, but that’s also free.) The free upgrade will be available for a year; after that, you’re going to have to reach for your wallet.
Welcome back, Start Menu!
Remember when you got your new computer with Windows 8, and you couldn’t figure out how to run the damned thing? Well, good news: the Start Menu, the pop-up list of stuff your computer can do, is back in its familiar spot in the lower left-hand corner. In Windows 8, Microsoft tossed away the old menu and replaced it with “tiles,” in an effort to get more people to use the touch screen. Resizable tiles will still be a part of Windows 10, but they’ll appear after the user opens the Start Menu.
Say hello to Cortana—no, go ahead, say hello. She might say hello back. Cortana is a personal assistant tool that responds to voice commands, like Apple’s Siri or Google’s Google Voice. Previously available on Windows phones (and named after a character in the mega-popular Halo game), Cortana will now be available on your desktop and laptop.
Are you a gamer? You win!
The designers of Window 10 must love to blow up virtual stuff, because the system was designed to improve the overall gaming experience. Windows 10 will allow for cross-platform gaming—meaning that if you’re running an Xbox, you can now play with (and against) your buddies running games on a desktop, and vice-versa. Let the mayhem begin!
Screens in a snap!
A feature that’s a personal favorite of mine, the ability to “snap” screens (a management system that allows you to work on two open screens side-by-side) will now be doubled, and allow users to “snap” four screens at once. Now I can write FOUR articles simultaneously. Woo-hoo!
So long, Microsoft Explorer
Yeah, I can’t say I’m sorry to see this clunky old browser go, since once of the first things we Windows users used to do with new computers was download Mozilla’s Firefox or Google’s Chrome. Window’s new browser will be the zippier Microsoft Edge.
You’re still using floppy drives? Really?
Step into the 21st century, pal—preview versions of Windows 10 don’t support USB floppy disc drives. To run your old-fashioned floppy disc with the new system, you’ll have to download the latest driver from Windows Update, or from the hardware manufacturer’s website.
Bad news also for fans of Windows Media Center (who are a decidedly small yet vocal minority)—that feature, too, is going the way of the rotary telephone. Fortunately, though, there are alternate programs you can download to take its place.
Windows 10: The Missing Manual by David Pogue (O’Reilly Media, Sept. 5)
Not only does Windows 10 streamline all the gimmicks that freaked out so many people with the introduction of Windows 8, the new system introduces features of its own that Microsoft hopes will become the standard of PC usage. New York Times columnist and Missing Manuals creator David Pogue blends his trademark wit and technical know-how to guide both beginners and veteran PC users through all the myriad bells and whistles of the new operating system.