Windows 10 release date, features, devices and free upgrade: Everything you need to know about Microsoft's new OS

Now Windows 10 counts 100 million devices, but its adoption rate is slowing down...

Windows 10 at-a-glance

Windows 10 launched globally on 29 July, with Windows 7, 8, and 8.1 users, as well as Windows Insiders, all starting to receive their free upgrade to the new OS. Here's our round-up of everything you need to know about Windows 10.

  • Windows 10 started rolling out on 29 July 2015 as a phased release
  • Read our full review of Windows 10 here
  • Enterprise users can manage company-wide rollouts for Windows 10 updates
  • Microsoft Edge replaces Internet Explorer as Windows 10's default browser
  • Windows 10 is available as a free upgrade during the first year after launch for Windows 7 and Windows 8/8.1 consumer edition users
  • If they don't upgrade within the year, consumers will be charged from £100
  • Android and iOS apps will run on the new OS

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Windows 10 latest news

05/10/2016: The latest Windows 10 adoption figures have revealed its growth is slowing, but 100 million devices were running the operating system as of 30 September.

US analytics company Net Applications measured the number of people utilising the platform, revealing Windows 10's user share grew 1.4 per cent in September, taking the total up to 6.6 per cent of web users.

Windows 7 is still the most widely used of Microsoft's computer operating systems, with around 925 million devices using it, while Windows 8 is trailing far behind at around 230 million.

Windows 10 accounts for 7.3 per cent of all Windows devices accessing the internet, compared to 6.6 per cent of all devices, which also includes Mac OS X and others with smaller shares such as Linux.

However, Microsoft has neither confirmed nor denied these figures, preferring to keep its download numbers close to its chest.

29/09/2015: Terry Myerson, VP of the Windows and Devices Group at Microsoft has taken to the official Windows blog to try and allay some of the continuing concerns around privacy in Windows 10.

"From the very beginning, we designed Windows 10 with two straightforward privacy principles in mind:

  1. Windows 10 collects information so the product will work better for you.
  2. You are in control with the ability to determine what information is collected.

With Windows 10, information we collect is encrypted in transit to our servers, and then stored in secure facilities," Myerson said.

Myerson broke down the data the company does and does not collect into three segments: Safety and reliability, personalisation, and advertising.

For safety and reliability, Myerson said Microsoft collects "a limited amount of information to help us provide a secure and reliable experience".

While this may include anonymised device information, Myerson said, "[it] doesn't include any of your content or files, and we take several steps to avoid collecting any information that directly identifies you, such as your name, email address or account ID".

Personalisation is something that has caused particular concern with regards to security, but Myerson has sought to allay these fears by pointing out that users "are in control of the information we collect for these purposes and can update your settings at any time".

"Note that with new features like Cortana which require more personal information to deliver the full experience, you are asked if you want to turn them on and are given additional privacy customisation options," he added.

Finally, while the Scroogled campaign may be dead, its spirit certainly lives on. The under the third section heading, labelled simply "advertising data we don't collect", Myerson writes: "Unlike some other platforms, no matter what privacy options you choose, neither Windows 10 nor any other Microsoft software scans the content of your email or other communications, or your files, in order to deliver targeted advertising to you."

25/09/2015: Microsoft is said to have missed a self-imposed deadline to release its Skype messaging apps for Windows 10, according to this report by The apps were supposed to be in preview stage by the end of summer.

The report said that Skype suffered downtime earlier this week due to a "larger-than-usual configuration change” that some versions of Skype were unable to process correctly. It was further suggested that the downtime and delays in releasing the apps were related to each other.

22/09/2015: Microsoft's latest version of its flagship Office productivity suite, Office 2016, includes several new Windows 10 focused features - most notably integration with Cortana and Hello.

Cortana will integrate with Outlook in particular and show information on meetings, including agenda and location stored in the Outlook calendar. Additionally, she will take into consideration live travel conditions, for example, when a user is traveling to a remote location and advise them when to leave accordingly.

Windows Hello, meanwhile, is used as a single sign-on for Windows 10 and Office 365, meaning the user will be automatically connected to the cloud when they use facial recognition to log in.

11/09/2015: Some Windows 7 and 8 users have started to find an unwelcome visitor squatting on their system - the installer for Windows 10.

An Inquirer reader reported finding the full download of Windows 10 in a folder on his PC, despite not asking for the upgrade or even "reserving" a copy, as Microsoft has been hassling many users to do via a pop-up.

The reader was sure of this as he has no plans to upgrade, but discovered a hidden folder taking up 6GB of space after his internet connection slowed to a crawl for a week.

The auto-download is no bug - Microsoft admitted it's intentional. “For individuals who have chosen to receive automatic updates through Windows Update, we help upgradable devices get ready for Windows 10 by downloading the files they’ll need if they decide to upgrade," the company told The Guardian.

09/09/2015: Dell has agreed to sell the Surface Pro range alongside its own tablet offerings, as Microsoft pushes the Windows 10-running device at the enterprise.

The hardware giant will start selling the tablet in its US and Canada stores from October, before selling it at later in the year. The partnership will be rolled out to 28 other geographies starting in early 2016.

Redmond has also signed agreements with Avanade, HP and Accenture under its Surface Enterprise Initiative to sell more Windows 10 devices to business users. Around 75 million devices already run Windows 10, according to the company.

02/09/2015: Native translation support for Cortana in Windows 10 is now available in the US and China, allowing users to translate English and Chinese words and phrases into a total of 38 languages.

The same blog post states that more versions of Windows 10 will be supported "in the near future". Specifically, Microsoft says it is planning to bring the digital assistant to Mexico, Brazil and with French support in Canada by the end of 2015.

For 'Insider Program' users (with Build 10532 or later) in Canada, Australia and Japan, Microsoft has made Cortana available via an optional download. Users in India can already use Cortana in English.  

02/09/2015: VMware is set to speed up business deployments of Windows 10 with a new product titled Project A2 (pronounced A-squared).

The initiative, currently in preview, combines app virtualisation and enterprise mobility management technologies to virtualise then install Windows 10, before managing all applications and devices via a single view.

Sumit Dhawan, VMware's senior VP and general manager of desktop products for end-user computing, wrote in a blog post: “Most of our current customers deploy and manage Windows images and distribute applications as part of the image updates or via tools that are used in concert with image management.

“This often leads to difficulty in managing application lifecycles that include updates and rollbacks. This is why we announced Project A2, a solution that has two key components: VMware App Volumes for real-time delivering and managing applications, and AirWatch for managing Windows 10 environments and devices.”

27/08/2015: Windows 10 has been installed on 75 million devices just four weeks after it was publicly released, according to Microsoft. The company's marketing chief, Yusuf Mehdi, said the operating system is being downloaded and installed faster than any previous version of the platform.

Mehdi also said that over 90,000 unique PCs and tablets had been upgraded in 192 countries, Xbox One users had streamed 122 years of gameplay to Windows 10-enabled PCs and the Windows 10 store had experienced six times as many downloads per device compared to Windows 8.

The free upgrade has been rolled out gradually to Windows 7 and Windows 8 users, although in the first 24 hours of its release, figures show 14 million PCs had been upgraded.

26/08/2015: Windows 10 automatically tells parents what their children are doing on the internet in a default weekly note.

The feature means parents can spy on their children’s online activity, leaving young users of the operating system with very little privacy concerning their online activities.

Microsoft’s weekly updates include details on which websites kids have visited, how many hours per day they have spent on their computer, and how long they have used various apps for, if customer reports are to be believed.

It has led to concerns voiced on Twitter that LGBTQ children could be outed by parents accidentally, while others said the move threatens kids’ privacy.

24/08/2015: Torrent trackers are banning Windows 10 from their communities because of fears the operating system will share people’s illegal download histories with anti-piracy organisations.

The concerns stem from a single line in Microsoft’s Service Agreement stating the company can apply configuration changes and download software updates to stop people “playing counterfeit games”, according to Torrent Freak.

The full clause said Windows 10 “may automatically check your version of the software and download software updates or configuration changes, including those that prevent you from accessing the services, playing counterfeit games, or using unauthorized hardware peripheral devices”.

But while this condition covers a multitude of Microsoft products, torrent hosts are not taking any chances, with reports of trackers including iTS banning the OS for fears it will share user data with authorities.

21/08/2015: Microsoft will no longer detail all of its Windows 10 updates, it has been reported, only offering customers information on the most important patches and fixes.

"As we have done in the past, we post KB articles relevant to most updates which we'll deliver with Windows as a service," Microsoft told The Register.

"Depending on the significance of the update and if it is bringing new functionality to Windows customers, we may choose to do additional promotion of new features as we deploy them."

This change was first flagged by the third cumulative Windows 10 update released last week.

21/08/2015: The growth of Windows 10 has slowed significantly over the last week, according to StatCounter. 6.6 per cent of the world was using Microsoft's newest operating system last Saturday and this slipped to 5.7 per cent by Wednesday.

However, this doesn't mean fewer people are using the operating system, but it does tell us a lot about the types of people using it. The majority of those upgrading to Windows 10 are consumers who use Windows 10 at home during the weekend. Then, when they head to work, they use computers with older operating systems, meaning numbers decrease between Monday and Friday.

On 12 August, StatCounter's numbers showed Windows 10 adoption had increased by 55 per cent since it was launched at the end of July, indicating the move to the operating system is growing, albeit slowly.

19/08/15: Users on the Windows Insider programme can now get access to Build 10525. This is the first new build since the release of Windows 10.

The new build allows users to change colours to whatever they want. This option is off by default, but users can enable this by toggling this setting (Settings > Personalization > Colors).

Another new feature is called Memory Manager, which compresses unused pages instead of writing them to disk when the machine is running low on memory. This will allow Windows 10 to maintain more applications in physical memory at a time, according to the Microsoft blog.

18/08/15: Microsoft Edge, the new browser introduced with Windows 10, is available to test in virtual machines on Windows, Mac and Linux. The release is targeted at developers, in particular, to allow them to test their apps and websites with the browser's new rendering engine.

Currently supported virtualisation platforms are HyperV_2012, VirtualBox on Windows, Parallels, VirtualBox and VMware on Mac, and VirtualBox on Linux.

Support for Vagrant boxes, QEMU and other platforms will be made available gradually over the next few weeks.

17/08/15: Oracle has confirmed it will certify support for Windows 10 on its Database 12c product by October this year.

The 32-bit version of Database 12c for Windows 10 Pro, Enterprise and Education will support both 32-bit and 64-bit versions of the new OS while the 64-bit model will run on 64-bit Windows 10 only.

However, the company did caution that some enterprise server features, such as Real Application Clusters, will not be supported.

It is possible, although not confirmed, that Oracle is waiting for the release of "Threshold 2" - the first update to Windows 10 - which is expected to roll out in October as well.

14/08/15: New native apps for Windows 10 have been rolling in thick and fast in the two weeks following the operating system's official launch. Following Mozilla's announcement of Firefox for Windows 10, fitness company Fitbit has also launched a new universal app, with integrated support for Cortana and Continuum. Once Windows 10 Mobile and Xbox's new interface are officially launched later this year, the new universal app will also be available for those devices.

Another new native app for Windows 10 is Stardock. This app was first launched for Windows 8 and returns the Start menu to the classic Start menu of old.

But perhaps the biggest news is Apple's roll out of Boot Camp support for Windows 10. The software supports upgrading from Window 7 and 8.1, meaning dual-boot users should be able to take advantage of Microsoft's free upgrade offer. A clean installation can also be performed, but you will need an ISO and key.

Full instructions on how to install Windows 10 on a Mac, as well as a list of compatible devices, are available here.

12/08/15: Mozilla's Firefox Browser has received a new update and facelift for Windows 10. The new look, announced in a blog post, includes interface adjustments to give the browser "a streamlined feel", along with more window space.

The company has also created documentation detailing how to switch your default browser to Firefox after chief executive Chris Beard slammed Microsoft's decision to include its Edge software as the de facto option.

Fans of third-party add-ons will also be pleased by this development. As opposed to Edge, which has blocked add-ons entirely for security reasons, Firefox has instead chosen to make them safer whilst still permitting them.

The company has announced a forthcoming certification process to give people informed guidance about which add-ons have been deemed safe, but until then, warnings will appear next to unsigned plug-ins.

"In future releases of Firefox," the company says, "any third-party add-on that has not been certified will be disabled by default."

03/08/15: Mozilla's chief executive Chris Beard has criticised Microsoft for making its own Edge software the default browser on Windows 10.

In a letter to Microsoft's CEO, Satya Nadella, Beard said he is disappointed by the decision, claiming Microsoft won't let customers choose the browser they want to use.

"These changes aren’t unsettling to us because we’re the organisation that makes Firefox. They are unsettling because there are millions of users who love Windows and who are having their choices ignored, and because of the increased complexity put into everyone’s way," Beard said.

"We strongly urge you to reconsider your business tactic here and again respect people’s right to choice and control of their online experience."

29/07/15: Windows 10 has started rolling out to consumers across 190 countries today, with registered Windows 10 insiders receiving the update first. Windows 7, 8, and 8.1 users who have pre-registered for the upgrade will also receive the update within the coming days and weeks. Those who have not opted to upgrade yet can still do so now by clicking the alert button in the bottom right-hand side of the toolbar, however during the initial roll-out period they may still have to wait for their upgrade to become available to download.

Windows 10 release date

Windows 10 started to roll out to consumers on 29 July 2015, as Microsoft announced at the beginning of June.

The news of a July release came as little surprise to Microsoft watchers. The company had stated the release would come this summer, and AMD's CEO Lisa Su tipped the world off to a July launch thanks to a slip of the tongue during an earnings call in April.

The RTM build was delivered to OEM partners to image new devices on 15 July, and another build is being delivered to retailers to upgrade unsold devices currently running Windows 8.1.

The first end users to get the finished version of the product were the five million Windows 10 Insiders using the operating system in preview. Following that, Redmond began offering the upgrade to Windows 7, 8 and 8.1 users.

Volume licensing customers are able to download Windows 10 Enterprise and Windows 10 Education from the Volume Licensing Service Center (VLSC).

System requirements for Windows 10 can be found here.

Fast and slow track releases

Windows Insider Program subscribers can sign up to either the Fast Ring or Slow Ring of releases. As the names indicate, the Fast Ring receives builds as soon as they become available. This has the benefit of allowing users to get their hands on the latest build straight away, but the disadvantage of having more bugs.

Those on the Slow Ring will not receive builds for a while after they become available to the Fast Ring, but they will be more polished with fewer performance issues or potential vulnerabilities. It is also possible to move between the two if you find Fast Ring too buggy or Slow Ring too slow.

Windows 10 different versions

As with its predecessors, Windows 10 is available in various different versions: Windows 10 Home, Windows 10 Mobile, Windows 10 Pro, Windows 10 Enterprise, Windows 10 Education and Windows 10 Mobile Enterprise.

Windows 10 Home is the standard edition of Windows for consumer PCs, tablets and hybrids such as the Surface 3 and upcoming Surface Pro 4. This version of the OS features personal assistant Cortana, Edge browser, Continuum and Windows Hello facial recognition, as well as standard Universal Apps like Mail, Calendar, Photos and Maps.

Windows 10 Mobile, which had until now been known as Windows 10 for Phones, "is designed to deliver the best user experience on ... smartphones and small tablets", according to Microsoft. It will have many of the same features as Windows 10 Home although Continuum will only be available on large mobile devices.

Windows 10 Pro is aimed at small businesses and includes all the features of Windows 10 Home plus device and app management, data protection services, and support for remote and mobile working.

Windows 10 Home, Mobile and Pro are eligible for a free upgrade for Windows 7 and 8.1, and Windows Phone 10 will be made available to Windows Phone 8 users with the appropriate hardware within the first year after launch.

Windows 10 Enterprise

Microsoft is doing everything it can to ensure that Windows 10 retains its core market of enterprise users.

One of the major shake-ups that Windows 10 will bring to the standard Windows formula is the system of regular, incremental updates, rather than large periodic overhauls.

However, a constant series of rolling upgrades can be a huge headache for IT departments. In order to combat this, Microsoft has introduced Update for Business, which allows IT managers to fine-tune which devices and systems in their company receive Windows updates at which time.

The tool, which was announced at Microsoft's Ignite conference in early May, allows the specification of maintenance windows in business environments, which can be used to designate when and when not to apply updates. This ensures that systems will be available at critical times and that machines can be unobtrusively kept up to date.

Microsoft has also addressed potential compatibility queries, stating that the new tools will fully integrate with existing management software like System Center and Enterprise Mobility Suite. This will include support for Azure Rights Management in Office Mobile "with the Windows 10 Enterprise release in the fourth quarter of 2015".

Additionally, Windows 10 will let users apply software updates and app downloads by utilising a network of other Windows 10 users, essentially peer-to-peer updates.

However, the P2P model could raise security issues, with users potentially downloading updates from PCs whose safety hasn't been verified by Microsoft, so there will also be the usual model of having Windows Update servers spit out upgrades straight to your device.

Project A2 (pronounced A-squared), a mobile-centric product that aims to speed up business adoption of Windows 10, has been announced by VMWare. 

The product deploys VMWare's application delivery software to aid IT departments in moving physical Windows applications into the cloud, and EMM software AirWatch to manage applications and devices.

Windows 10 Enterprise was available for bulk order as of 1 August.

In early September, Dell agreed to sell the Surface Pro range alongside its own tablet offerings, as Microsoft pushes the Windows 10-running device at the enterprise.

The hardware giant will start selling the tablet in its US and Canada stores from October, before selling it through later in the year. The partnership will be rolled out to 28 other geographies starting in early 2016.

Other Microsoft agreements with Avanade, HP and Accenture under a Surface Enterprise Initiative will push more Windows 10 devices to business users.