What is Windows 10? [June 2015]

Last September Microsoft gave technology press a small glimpse of what it was planning for its Windows 10 operating system. At the time, Microsoft was only willing to confirm some broad details about Windows 10 and tidbits about its plans for universal apps and the Windows Store. Since January, Microsoft has rolled out new versions of Windows 10 at a steady pace, adding new features and making changes when necessary.

Today, we’re more equipped than ever to answer the question on user’s minds as they begin getting notifications about a free Windows 10 upgrade. What is Windows 10? Windows 10 is anything you want it to be.

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Windows 10 is Windows Unified

Fundamentally, Windows 10 is Microsoft expanding on its vision of convergence. With the iPad, iPhone and Mac, Apple believes that users need different types of machines with different operating systems depending on what tasks they need to complete. Windows 10 is Microsoft’s bet on a different future than what Apple sees down the road. Microsoft is betting that one operating system across multiple devices is the future.

To be fair, that’s the same vision the company had with Windows 8, which turned out to be a huge batch of must-have features and advances tucked into a disastrous interface. Windows 10 will run on notebooks, desktops, tablets and phones. The big difference is that Microsoft is removing some of the silliest elements of Windows 8 to make all of these must-have old features easier to find.

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Read: Windows 7 vs. Windows 10 – What You Need to Know

The Start Screen and fullscreen apps are still present in Windows 10, but you can turn them off with the push of a button. In fact, a new feature called Continuum manages that for you. If you don’t have a touchscreen Windows 10 will behave like Windows 7, only it’ll boot faster, include a dedicated store, have a personal assistant and the best suite of Microsoft apps we’ve seen yet. Owners of 2-in-1s and tablets can have their device automatically switch to Tablet Mode for a fullscreen Start Screen experience and fullscreen apps like they get with Windows 8.1. Tablet users with Intel processors won’t get a Desktop and Start Menu experience unless they plug in a mouse and keyboard and switch Tablet Mode off manually.

The Charms Bar, the set of commands that floated out from the right side of your screen when you swiped the touchpad or placed your mouse cursor in the right corners of your display is dead. Those commands show up in the title bar for each app. There are other useless things from Windows 8 tossed into the dust bin for Windows 10 too. App bars that require users to swipe along the top or bottom edges of their display or touchpad are gone.

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Holding all of these different form factors together is the Windows Store. In Windows 8.1, the Windows Store is useless for anyone who doesn’t want to run fullscreen apps. The new Windows Store is what users have wanted all along: a quick, easy and safe way to get apps and games onto their devices. The new Windows Store will support touch-centric apps for tablets just as it did before. Joining those apps are Windows Phone apps and Windows Desktop apps. Any app that’s downloadable in the new Windows Store will be easily removable and sandboxed to prevent damage to your PC – including Desktop apps. Say goodbye to Download.com.

Read: Can Your Computer Handle the Windows 10 Upgrade?

When you purchase an app or game in the Windows Store, it’ll unlock any companion versions available for your phone, tablet and beyond. Windows 10 has lots of other nifty features — like the Cortana personal assistant — but the most important thing to know about it is that it’s Microsoft’s play at device harmony. The promises Microsoft made about having one device to do everything are finally coming to fruition. One device, one store, one unified set of services.

Windows 10 is Windows as a Service

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Think about Netflix, Comcast and any other services that you use for a moment. You count on them to be available across anything you purchase. You expect that for one low monthly price you’ll get access to a wealth of live television or on-demand video. In a way, Windows 10 is exactly the same way.

Microsoft is transitioning Windows into a service with Windows 10. Besides making the upgrade to Windows 10 free, users who are able to install Windows 10 will get free upgrades to newer operating systems for the life of their device.

Microsoft plans to update Windows 10 and the apps that it comes with on a continuous basis, adding new features and fixing issues with updates large and small. In fact, an update for Windows 10 is expect to come sometime next year and be codenamed Redstone.

If you download Windows 10 you no longer have to worry about prices for future upgrades. Microsoft will keep your PC current and fresh and it’ll do so quietly.

Microsoft plans to release the Windows 10 upgrade on July 29th. Windows Phone 8.1, Windows 7 and Windows 8.1 users will get the upgrade absolutely free for the first year it’s available.