How to get your PC ready for Windows 10

Posted on July 28, 2015


by Bradley Matthews, editing by Alex JS

Original article, 7/28, (you’ll find a new update below) ==========

It’s almost Christmas morning for Microsoft Windows users. Come Wednesday, many will be treated to a whole new operating system, Windows 10. There’s a lot to love about the new OS: It’s sleek, there’s a collection of new bells and whistles and hey, the Start menu is back.

If you’re a Windows user running Windows 7 or Windows 8.1, Microsoft will start to push out the free upgrade to users at midnight ET, early Wednesday morning. Users will get a pop-up alert, letting them know about the upgrade, in waves (so there isn’t a mad rush), but those who signed up to be a part of the Windows Insider Program will get it first. Others may have to wait days — perhaps days or weeks — to be invited to upgrade, so for some, it’ll be an exercise in patience.

Ultimately, it’ll be available not only for Microsoft PCs but on tablets and smartphones, too.

Microsoft typically charges a fee for an upgrade, so it’s a big deal to get it gratis. The move stems from Microsoft slowly scaling back on how it will do software in the future: After Windows 10, there won’t be a Windows 11. Instead, it’ll just be Windows, and with that comes an annual subscription with rolling updates.

However, the clock is ticking: Users only have one year to get Windows 10 for free. After that, the subscription upgrades kick in.

While there are so many reasons to upgrade to Windows 10 now, there are a few things you need to keep in mind before doing so. Here are a few tips to get your system ready:

First, back it up

Upgrading software is never an exact science, so it’s strongly recommended to back up your system beforehand. For tips on how to back up a Windows device, click here. If you have Microsoft’s OneDrive cloud service, your important files should already be backed up there.

How can you get it?

Only users running Windows 7 or Windows 8.1 will be able to get the upgrade, but the good news is most Windows users are currently using those versions. (Sorry, Vista users.)

To get the upgrade, visit the Windows icon in the system tray (it’s on the right — not the Start button on the left) and make sure you’ve reserved a copy — you’ll get an alert when yours is ready. When the pop-up comes, you’ll need to follow the prompts. Plan on the installation to take about an hour — it’ll go faster (about 20 minutes) on newer devices, according to Microsoft.

Windows 10 backgroundWhile it’s possible not to upgrade — maybe you prefer the look and feel of Windows 8.1 and aren’t ready for a change — Microsoft has a new tool that will hide notifications for new upgrades.

However, if you’re using an older computer and hope to get Windows 10 on a new device this week, you’re out of luck. It’s only available as a free upgrade, so even if you buy a brand new computer, it will likely be running Windows 8 and you can upgrade to Windows 10 soon after. You can certainly hold off and buy a Windows 10 machine, but you’ll have to wait a bit.

windows2Even if you meet the Windows 7 or Windows 8.1 requirements to participate in the upgrade, you’ll need to make sure your computer is healthy enough to handle the install and has enough storage to complete it. To see if you have the system requirements and enough storage, click here.

If your computer is old enough to have ever run Vista, for example, it may be a little too old to endure the upgrade. In addition, all third-party software needs to be up to date too, so make sure you go ahead and check for updates before installing Windows 10.

Why would you even want it?

Windows 10, which skips a number in its sequential order (many believed it would be called Windows 9), is the first major update since Windows 8, which was considered a failure by many and virtually ignored by businesses.

Windows 10 features customizable live tiles in the new Start menu — its removal on Windows 8 was among one of the biggest criticisms of the platform.

Meanwhile, Cortana, Microsoft’s digital voice assistant, will make its first appearance to the PC after getting a start on the Windows Phone, too. As Microsoft’s answer to Apple’s Siri, Cortana is deeply infused in Windows 10 and users will be able to make a series of hands-free requests via the feature on laptops.

In addition, Microsoft’s latest software will support Xbox One integration, so you can stream games to Windows 10 devices. The Xbox app on Windows allows users to record gameplay and later edit it on the PC. It will also mark the arrival of Microsoft Edge, the company’s Internet Explorer replacement.

Although you may have to sit tight for your free upgrade to arrive, it’s very much worth the wait.


New update (7/29) ==========

Meet Windows 10, a Throwback With Upgrades in Software and Security

Windows 10, the next version of Microsoft’s operating system, arrives on Wednesday, and it will have a familiar look and feel to the more than one billion people who have touched a Windows computer in the last two decades.

That is a stark change from the last time Microsoft made a big revision to its operating system, in 2012 with the release of Windows 8 — a release that didn’t go so well. Many customers were confused by the flurry of changes that were designed for so-called hybrid devices that doubled as PCs and tablets. Microsoft’s chief executive, Satya Nadella, said last year that the company “got a few places wrong in Windows 8.”

With Windows 10, Microsoft is offering something of a throwback to the earlier versions. The software also comes with an enticing price tag for users of Windows 7 and 8: free. But perhaps more than anything, there are a handful of new features that might make users consider making the switch.

The Trusty Start Button

Back is the classic Start button, the one-touch access to a main menu, including shortcuts to a user’s list of apps and documents. Like old times, it can be opened with the click of a mouse or by pressing the Windows shortcut on a keyboard. (The Start button was still available in Windows 8, but some users were confused because it was hidden from plain sight.)

Microsoft made efforts to modernize the Start menu with a fresh design. Clicking on the Start button brings up groups of tiles that can be tailored to your preferences. For example, I easily created a group of tiles labeled “Productivity” and pinned some of my most frequently used software for work, including apps for email, web browsing, Twitter, a calculator and Microsoft Word. Removing unwanted apps from the group is easy — you just choose to “unpin” the tile.

For longtime Windows users, the more intimidating part to get used to will be tablet mode. With hybrid tablets, such as the Microsoft Surface, you can detach the keyboard from the screen and switch into a different software interface optimized for tablets. In tablet mode, apps consume the entire screen; the tiles of the Start section are enlarged to be easier to see and touch.

Fortunately, interacting with Windows 10 on a touch screen is generally the same as with most modern touch-enabled devices. Pinch outward to zoom in, swipe up to scroll down, swipe left to pan right. And even in tablet mode, the trusty Start menu remains there to remind you this is still Windows you’re dealing with.

A Virtual Assistant

A new addition right next to the Start button is Cortana, Microsoft’s virtual assistant. A user can do a search by typing in a query or speaking a command into the microphone. Saying commands like “Remind me to buy milk on Tuesday” sets up a reminder notification that will alert you on that day, and “Schedule meeting tomorrow at 3 p.m.” creates an appointment in your calendar.

On other questions, like finding a place to eat, Cortana often falls back to doing searches on, Microsoft’s search engine, which is less proficient than Google’s search engine. In tests, Cortana generated mixed results. Asking Cortana to look up a place to eat nearby retrieved a list of Bing search results for the term “Find me places to eat nearby,” which included the website, as opposed to showing a list of restaurants. (By contrast, the same query on Siri, Apple’s virtual assistant, brought up Yelp listings of popular restaurants within half a mile from me here in San Francisco.)

On the other hand, Cortana did respond adequately to some other commands, like “Show me showtimes for ‘Trainwreck,’” which loaded a schedule of movie theaters showing the movie nearby.

A big hole in Cortana is the mobile phone experience. Cortana is built in to Windows phones and the problem is, you probably don’t own one. To date, Microsoft’s Windows Phone platform has 3.5 percent market share in the United States, according to Kantar Worldpanel.

Microsoft says that Cortana will eventually be available as an app on devices running Google’s Android and Apple’s iOS mobile software. For now, though, Cortana will primarily live on computers and tablets, limiting its usefulness.

It’s difficult to imagine that while on the go, people will yank a Windows tablet or computer out of their bag to ask Cortana to schedule a calendar appointment or create a reminder. In addition, the idea of using a voice assistant on a stationary computer in a typical office environment, where colleagues will overhear you over their cubicle walls yapping to Cortana, seems off-putting. As a result, in its current state, Cortana is a promising start, but it’s far less useful than its direct rivals, Siri and Google’s Now, which are widely available on smartphones worldwide.

More Built-In Security

Microsoft has made some bold promises about improvements to security in Windows 10. Chris Hallum, a senior product marketing manager for Microsoft, said in an interview that because of all the security enhancements in Windows 10, consumers and businesses won’t have to install additional security software to protect their machines. “We include a full-fledged antivirus solution in Windows,” he said.

Microsoft has been including these deeper security features since Windows 8. But with Windows XP and Windows 7, far more popular versions of the software, it was practically a requirement to buy and install third-party antivirus software from McAfee or Norton, unless you wanted to be eaten alive by hackers.

Mr. Hallum said Microsoft was taking a multifaceted approach to protecting user identities as well as blocking malicious software. For one, Microsoft Edge, the default browser in Windows 10, includes a feature called SmartScreen, which can identify malicious websites by scanning them for suspicious characteristics. The Edge browser also keeps some add-on software for the browser, like Adobe Flash, up-to-date to safeguard you from the latest vulnerabilities. Another feature, Windows Defender, can identify potentially harmful software you’ve downloaded and warn you before you run it.

Are you really safe not installing additional antivirus software? As we should all know by now, almost all computer systems have some vulnerability. Still, Charlie Miller, a security researcher, said Windows 10’s security features should work as well as other antivirus software. He noted that Windows Defender had been a strong security program for some time.

The Upgrade Process

Beginning Wednesday, Microsoft will be releasing the operating system over the Internet in waves, starting with people who signed up to test early versions of the software as part of its “insiders” program. Later, Windows 7 and Windows 8 users who receive alerts notifying them of the upgrade will be able to download it.

At the time of my testing, ahead of the public release of Windows 10, I encountered a number of bugs. To name just two examples: In one incident, Microsoft’s Edge browser blocked me for an entire night from using Google Mail, after mistakenly identifying it as a malicious website — though the next morning I was able to log in. I also had a frustrating time trying to compose a document inside Google Docs, when the Edge browser occasionally failed to detect when I was hitting the space bar; Microsoft confirmed it would fix the issue shortly after release.

Combine the early bugs with the spottiness of Cortana and the fact that third-party app developers are still updating their Windows apps for Windows 10, and the operating system still has a little ways to go before it becomes a solid all-around upgrade. But the improvements to security, along with the familiar user interface, should be reasons to grab this upgrade sooner than later (especially if you’re on Windows 7 and lacking up-to-date security tools). The upgrade will be free for up to a year — after that, Microsoft may begin charging for it.

For to-be switchers, Microsoft offers a web tool where users can check if their apps are compatible with Windows 10 before making the switch. If you’re eager to get in line for an upgrade, you can reserve a download on Microsoft’s website.

image:Getty for The New York Times