Everybody can finally exhale a sigh of relief: Windows 8 is going away, and it's once again safe to upgrade your PC's version of Windows. Windows 10 is nearly here, and a major thrust of its design is to be more familiar to users of pre-8 versions of Windows. It's a chance for everyone who missed out on all the performance and feature advances in Windows 8 and 8.1—and believe it or not there are plenty, many of which are included in this list—to get caught up. Not only that: It's free!
You can't upgrade to Windows 10 quite yet (unless you want to be a guinea pig and install the Technical Preview), but you can already make a decision to start the process rolling. How? By clicking on the new-style Windows logo in your system tray that Microsoft has added to all machines eligible for the free upgrade. Doing so enrolls you in the upgrade program, which starts on July 29. Unless your computer is part of a corporate network, or you haven't upgraded recently, you've no doubt seen this icon.
Tablet users may want to hold off, since they'll lose the Charms, which give all-the-time access to frequently needed functions like search, settings, share, and changing display devices. But the vast majority of update candidates will be running existing versions on laptops and desktop PCs, for which the new OS is mostly better suited than the much maligned Windows 8/8.1.
Did I mention that upgrading to the new operating system will be free? If you have a valid license for a Windows 7 SP1 or 8.1 Update installated, then you're golden. The offer lasts for a year, and if you've joined the Windows Insider program, you'll be first in line to get the completed update. Windows Insiders can also continue testing pre-release software or settle down to the release track.
Note that the new operating system sheds some features that weren't used by a large enough audience for Microsoft to continue offering them. Things like Windows Media Center, Windows 7 desktop gadgets, and a few more trifles. You can read more about what's going away and how to replace it in 6 Features Disappearing in Windows 10 (and How to Replace Them)
An underlying reason to upgrade, aside from any features listed here, is to take advantage of advances that come with newer technology; simply experiencing the little conveniences and updated design that accompany any new operating system can be refreshing. Several of the advantages listed below were also features of Windows 8.1. But a major goal of Windows 10 is to be familiar and not require learning new techniques the way Windows 8 did. From that standpoint, Windows 10 aims to give you the best of both worlds, embracing both familiarity and innovation.
Without further ado, here is why you should upgrade that old Windows box:
Startup and more. If you never made the move to Windows 8 or 8.1, you've missed out on one of the best things to hit Windows operating systems in forever: Fast startup. There are even comparison videos showing that Windows 8.1 actually starts up faster on a MacBook than OS X. And that's compared to a fast booting operating system. Compared with Windows 7, the newer Microsoft OSes leave the older one at the gates. Another speed boost mostly aimed at gamers will come from DirectX 12, the new 3D engine that will get game developers closer to the metal for a new level of immersive performance.
2. The Start Menu
The loud voices in the tech community have long clamored for the return of the Start menu after its replacement by the Start screen in Windows 8. Which is kind of funny, since the same group scoffed at Start when it first appeared in Windows 95, as something too noob-like to bother with. Anyway, Microsoft has heeded the cries for its return, but given it a tile-based appendage, so as not to lose live tile info, and to make the OS still touch-enabled.
It's nice to be able to talk to your technology. If you've used an Xbox One$394.99 at Amazon or talked with Siri and her friend Google Now, you know how convenient it can be to interact with your technology hands-free. "Hey Cortana, play music," or "take a note" are just for starters. You can get more specific with reminders that will show up on any device running Cortana—which will soon include Androids and iPhones along with Windows Phones. You can say, "Remind me to buy milk when I'm near a supermarket," or "remind me to ask my wife about her mother when she calls." And Cortana isn't just about voice commands: Her Notebook keeps track of your interests, popping up info such as your favorite sports team scores, local weather, and even traffic conditions for your commute home. For more, check out How to Use and Customize Cortana.
4. Universal Apps
If you use Windows 7, you don't have an app store. Windows 10 lets you find software you need for large and small tasks, and you can run apps either windowed or full-screen. Windows 10 also comes with slicker and more powerful productivity and media apps, including new Photos, Videos, Music, Maps, People, Mail, and Calendar. The apps work equally well as full-screen, modern Windows apps using touch or with traditional desktop mouse and keyboard input.
Just about every screen in your life these days is a touch screen—your smartphone, your tablet, even your car navigation system. So why not your desktop or laptop PC? I've heard the whining about fingerprints on the screen, but why is that more of a problem than on a smartphone, where a fingerprint takes up a much larger percentage of the surface area? I've used the all-in-one PCs like the Lenovo Horizon 2s$975.00 at Amazon, the Surface Pro 3£949.00 at Amazon convertible tablet, and a tower with an Acer T232HL$299.99 at Amazon, and I can tell you that, while touch isn't my primary way to input to the computers, it can be darned convenient at times.
6. Action Center
Your smartphone pops up notifications for messages, updates, and even breaking news, so why shouldn't your PC? With Windows 10 it does. Similar to the Mac OS X Notification Center, the Action Center shows messages from email, the system itself (you've installed an update, for example), and from apps. You may see a weather warning, or a birthday reminder. An advantage of these over Windows 8/8.1's Toast Notifications is that you can always go back and looks at the entries you missed. The same holds for Windows 7's ephemeral system tray notifications.
7. A Better Browser
Formerly known as Project Spartan, Microsoft Edge brings the OS's default browser into the modern world of browsers. That means improved compatibility and speed, and add a few helpful new capabilities like webpage markup and reading mode. Read all about the new browser in 6 Reasons to Try Microsoft's Edge Web browser
Windows 10 inherits the Secure Boot feature from Windows 8 and makes it even more secure. This requires any code that runs right when the OS starts be signed by Microsoft or the hardware maker. Unlike Windows 8, Windows 10 PCs can be set up so that this feature may not be bypassed. Three new security feature for Windows 10 are Device Guard, Microsoft Passport and Windows Hello, which you can read about on the Windows for Your Business blog.
9. Virtual Desktops
For years, some of the more-sophisticated Mac users have found the ability to switch among several virtual desktops useful. Windows 10 finally brings the capability to Microsoft's desktop operating system. In Windows 10, the feature is incredibly easy to use: You simple click or tap the task-switching icon next to the Cortana search box in the taskbar.
10. Xbox App
If you're a gamer, you'll love the integration with Xbox that comes in Windows 10. Not only does the Windows 10 Xbox app let you keep track of your friends and achievements, you'll also be able to stream games from the console to the PC and play multiplayer games from your PC against other players on Xbox.