Windows 10 release date, specs and pricing announced

Windows 10 download will be a free upgrade for existing users

  • Windows 10 will be a free upgrade for Windows 7 and Windows 8/8.1 users during the first year.
  • If you do not upgrade in the first year, you will be charged. There has been some confusion around pricing - but Microsoft is expected to charge a one-off license fee and NOT move to a subscription model.
  • Windows 10 will launch in late-2015. The Technical Preview will end on 15 April 2015.
  • Microsoft also debuted the 84in Microsoft Surface Hub and Windows Holographic. The latter will allow users to create 3D models via a custom-built HoloLens.
  • Microsoft confirmed Cortana and the Spartan web browser will be introduced across all Windows devices.
  • Microsoft's share price dropped by 1.55 per cent after the launch.

The Windows 10 Consumer Preview made its debut at Microsoft's launch event on Wednesday 21 January, where Redmond announced multiple hardware and software updates.

The company revealed that Windows 10 will be free for Windows 7 and Windows 8.1 users for the first year. During a Q&A after the presentation, executives declined to comment on the pricing structure after this time frame.

An 84in device - the Microsoft Surface Hub - was also revealed along with the rumoured "Spartan" web browser.

Windows-as-a-Service will allow developers to work across all Windows devices, as well as improving security.

In terms of appearance, the task bar appears streamlined on Windows 10, and the Start Menu can be made full screen with a touch. Settings has also reverted back to look like the traditional Control Panel of old.

The Charms Bar also has a new look, with users able to swipe from the right to find a notifications panel. Swiping down will close all apps - not just Metro.

When the keyboard is removed from a hybrid device, the user will be asked whether they want to enter tablet mode, after which apps switch to full screen.

Microsoft's "personal assistant" is coming to Windows PCs and will be accessible via a search panel in the task bar. As demonstrated at the launch event, the app has the ability to learn about the user. You then have the ability to edit this information with Cortana Notebook.


 

Universal apps include Microsoft Office, designed specifically for Windows 10 on devices including smaller tablets.

The new universal Outlook app will use the full Word engine providing complex editing capabilities, and will introduce common swipe commands such as left to delete and right to flag.

At the Mobile World Congress, Microsoft gave a sneak peek of new Windows 10 apps, including Excel, maps and Outlook, showing how they will appear on a smartphone display. The cross-platform capabilities of these apps were demonstrated specifically, using a Lumia 640 XL and Surface Pro 3 tablet.

Stephen Elop, CEO of Nokia, told attendees: “Developers can build universal experiences and deliver them across different types of Windows devices. It is our hope that our cross-platform initiatives deliver not only across our platforms, but those of others.”

The photos app has been refreshed, and a new social network aggregation app and music app introduced.

Spartan - Microsoft's refreshed web browser - will arrive on PCs first before rolling out to Windows Phone.

Users can annotate pages with a finger or pen in 'Note Taking Mode' before sharing it or saving to OneNote. There's also a 'Reading Mode' for offline viewing with support for PDF files.


Cortana is built into Spartan, and will attempt to predict and answer queries (e.g. restaurant information) straight from the browser.

The 21 January event also saw Microsoft announce the 84-inch Surface Hub device, with advanced sensors, pen input support, dual cameras and a 4K display. It appears to have been specifically designed for enterprise customers, with various meeting features demonstrated at the event.

The new super-sized device comes with Skype built-in, can detect when users walk up to it and automatically activates OneNote when users pick up the stylus.

Apps will sync with devices and PCs, which makes sharing content from meetings with participants much easier.

The new Windows Holographic headset ('HoloLens') was also revealed, and will work with all Windows 10 universal apps.

The glasses have see-through lenses (and so the image will be overlayed onto the real world), spatial sound, advanced sensors and a holographic processing unit.

Users can create holograms using gestures, vision and voice commands, with the wireless headset working independently of a PC.

Microsoft has since the 21 January event shed further light on how it plans to secure Windows 10 for users, by including support for Fast Identity Online (FIDO) in the operating system.

This is part of an industry-wide push to increase the security of computer systems by moving away from traditional passwords for user authentication purposes.  

As such, Windows 10 Technical Preview users can take advantage of password-less two-factor authentication technology to access Windows devices and cloud-based services supported by Azure Active Directory. 

Windows 10 consumer launch: 21 January

The event was billed by Microsoft as "The Next Chapter". Ahead of the announcement, market watcher Forrester revealed its high hopes for the new operating system, claiming it could become the real successor to the top-selling Windows 7. A feat Windows 8 never managed to quite pull off. 

"Windows 10 will enable Microsoft to retain its leading position in PC computing, especially in the enterprise, where the PC remains a critical work tool," said Forrester's Frank Gillett.

"Challenges for Windows 10 will come in the mobile arena," he added. "While it will give developers the unprecedented ability to develop apps that work on PCs, tablets, and smartphones with a single application development effort - it does not show enough potential for a differentiated mobile experience that will draw developers and consumers alike away from iOS and Android."

Windows 10 pricing

The rumours that Windows 10 will be free for existing Windows 7/8.1 users has been confirmed. 

Microsoft's COO previously hinted that the software giant may charge for the OS once it goes on general release.

Kevin Turner made this admission during a Q&A at the Credit Suisse Technology Investment conference, adding that a subscription model could be a possibility for Windows 10.

"We haven’t announced the Windows 10 pricing framework yet. The one thing I can tell you that we’ve not had any conversations on is Windows 10 being a loss leader for us," Turner said.

"The business model stuff will be out — probably the early part of 2015."

Windows 10: Latest builds

Earlier this month, details emerged about a further Windows 10 build (dubbed 9888), which reveals even more about what users can expect from the OS when it finally arrives next year.

The build has was intended to be a partner-only release that was not scheduled to be formally pushed out to the public, but since then has been leaked online.

According to a report on Winbeta, the build has popped up on various file-sharing sites, but users are being advised against installing it because it was never intended for public release.

Therefore, it's uncertain if those that do will be able to install other builds or Windows 10 updates as and when Microsoft releases them.

A follow-up report from tech site Neowin suggests users that do opt to install build 9888 will not be excluded from future Windows 10 updates, but - because the release is not supported by Microsoft - may experience problems when coming to update it later down the line.

The 9888 build features new-look animations, introduces the concept of unified context menus and makes the zPC settings app the default means of applying new settings. 

In the meantime, the November update (build 9879) for the Technical Preview of Windows 10 (which is widely considered to be the last Microsoft will push out in 2014) has been making its way to those signed up to the "Slow Ring" within the Windows Insider programme in recent days.

As part of the programme, the software giant lets users choose how quickly and often they receive the build updates. Those who opt for the "Fast Ring" will receive more frequent updates that carry with them a higher risk of bugs. 

Meanwhile, those who sign up for the "Slow Ring" will reportedly receive fewer updates and the ones they do get should be more stables as many of the bugs in them will have been picked up already by members of the "Fast Ring."

The 9879 build has since been updated too, to fix some functionality issues within the Windows 10 Explorer function.

Windows 10 Tech Preview launch: September 2014

The Windows 10 launch event was presided over by Windows chief Terry Myerson at the end of September 2014, who confirmed the OS will be called neither Windows 9 nor Threshold, despite numerous reports to the contrary. 

During his time on stage, he talked up the importance of Windows to the enterprise, before going on to explain the new OS will work on the "broadest" range of devices possible.

"Enterprises need to evaluate Windows early, and we're starting our dialogue with them today," he said.

Myerson also spoke about how Microsoft wants the development of Windows 10 to be more collaborative that previous iterations of the software.

Download the Windows 10 Technical Preview

Requirements: Users must first sign up for the Windows Insider programme using a Microsoft ID or Outlook email address.

What hardware?: Microsoft claims the preview should work on any system that comfortably runs Windows 8.1, but warns users they might need to re-install or update some of their existing software after installing it.

It's also warning users off installing the preview onto their everyday computers, and advises participants using Windows 7 or Vista-based PCs to create recovery media from a recovery partition on their devices before upgrading, as this will make it easier for them to revert back, should they need to.

For Windows 8/8.1 users, the company is advising them to create a recovery USB drive, pre-update.

Once that's sorted, users are then clear to click "Get Upgrade" within the Insider Programme portal and install the Technical Preview.

"We're planning to share more than we ever have before... earlier that we have before," he said.

This sharing will be done through the newly-launched Windows Insider Programme, which will provide users with a forum to share feedback on beta versions ahead of its general release in 2015.

The Technical Preview is aimed at developers, and is designed to allow them to get a taste of what it has to offer ahead of its general release. 

Joe Belfiore, the corporate vice president of the operating systems group at Microsoft, used the event to walk attendees through the many new features Windows 10 has to offer.

These include a new multi-tasking feature called Task View, which showcases all the apps that are currently up and running on the system. 

Another, enterprise-friendly feature of the operating system is that it also features multiple, virtual desktop that users can switch between.

Furthermore, users can call on Task View to help them switch between them and the apps being used on these desktops.

As suggested by various sources and leaks in the run up to the launch, the OS sports a re-worked Start Menu.

He then talked about how the new-look OS will work on two-in-one devices, with users able to initiate a "tablet mode" by simply tapping the touchscreen.

Windows 10: Release date

During his time on stage, Belfiore suggested Windows 10 was very much a work in progess, hinting that the April 2015 release date mooted by some may be a little optimistic. 

Further doubt was cast on a possible, rumoured April 2015 release date during a Q&A at the event, when attendees were told Windows 10 won't be shipping until "later" in 2015.

Windows 10: Specs

The company also confirmed that Windows 10 will support all of the apps currently offered via the Windows Store.

Expectations for the next-generation operating system are high, as Microsoft looks to win back PC users put off by Windows 8 (and Windows 8.1) and entice more Windows XP users to ditch the aged operating system for good.

A preliminary page hosting what appears to be download links to both the 3.16GB and the 4.10GB versions of the operating system appeared ahead of the launch event, according to Beta News, confirming its file size. 

Microsoft took the wraps off the technical preview at a launch event in San Francisco on Tuesday 30 September.

During the event, it revealed the new operating system would feature the return of the traditional start button, which disappeared with Windows 8 to much dismay from users. The new start menu houses apps and an enhanced search function as well as the layout we all remember.

Continuum will make the Windows 10 interface adapt to its device and situation, acting accordingly whether it’s on a tablet, a hybrid or a desktop PC.

Multiple desktops will also be a feature of the operating system, and Microsoft set out a list of new keyboard shortcuts that would help users manage this.

A unified app store is something that has been rumoured for a while, and it will arrive with Windows 10. Developers will now be able to create one app that runs across all Windows devices.

Security updates will now be easier to manage, with consumers alerted to monthly updates and businesses able to opt-in for a faster cycle.

Multitasking is a big feature of Windows 10 that Microsoft has been keen to push, with a quadrant layout that allows users to snap up to four apps together and a smart suggestions feature for any dead screen space.

MDM will be built into the new operating system, allowing admins to manage devices both through traditional methods and via the cloud.

According to WinBeta, third-party developers will be able to create unique lock screens with Windows 10, and apps such as Data Sense and Battery Saver will come over from Windows Phone.

The Notification Center is also one of the 7,000 reported improvements, along with new security features such as multi-factor authentification, and a built-in way of separating business and personal data for encryption.

New leaked screenshots from an internal build of Windows 10, Build 9879, from ithome (via WinBeta), shows off more options added to the UI such as the choice to hide the ‘Search and Task View’ option. The build is a recent one, according to the site.

File Explorer has also been tweaked, with users now able to pin things to the Home area, and the charms bar button in modern apps shows in the “hamburger-style” rather than as three dots as before.

The site also reports that the windows animations have been made smoother for Windows 10, and that the Notification Center button has been moved from the taskbar to the tray beside the clock.

Windows 10 for Phone

This will be optimised for use on screens that are 8in and below.

Devices with screens below 8in will have to do without the traditional desktop view, however, according to corporate vice president of Microsoft's Operating Systems Group, Joe Belfiore (via PCWorld). They will instead, sport the phone version of the operating system.

Leaked screenshots of Windows 10 for Phones have surfaced courtesy of Kiran Kanade's (@s1z33) Twitter account (via Nokia Power User), and show Settings and Action Centre redesigns.

The Continuum feature, which allows users to switch to desktop-esque mouse and keyboard functions when the device is docked, will work for devices smaller than 8in.

The Action Centre on Windows Phone will sync with PCs, while the settings menu, as shown in the leaked images, has been given a makeover with Windows 10.

There will be an integrated messaging hub for Skype, texts and other IM services on phones running on Windows 10, though the feature was not ready to demo at the event.


Windows 10: Will it be a success? 

Forrester analyst David Johnson said there is a lot riding on Windows 10 for the enterprise, and Microsoft will be keen to do all it can to ensure it has mass appeal to users in that space.

"Only about 1 in 5 organisations is offering Windows 8 PCs to employees right now, and with Windows 7 extended support running until January 2020, Microsoft needs to give enterprises reasons to move to a new version before it becomes a crisis, like it did for so many firms running Windows XP last year,” he said.

Meawhile, Johnson's Forrester colleague Frank Gillett, said Microsoft will need to showcase how much better Windows 10 is than Windows 8 to ensure it is a success.

“It must show that it will be much easier to upgrade and update Windows, that the new OS will be easier to learn and use for traditional PC users than Windows 8 is, and that they've preserved mobile capabilities for tablets and phones," he said.

"It's a very tall order for Microsoft, but they have to reinvigorate Windows in order to remain relevant in the mobile first/cloud first world that it is aiming for.”

This article was originally published on 16/09/14 and has been updated multiple times (most recently on 17/02/15) to reflect new information that has become available since publication.