Windows 10 will be released on July 29, 2015. Microsoft is already advertising it to Windows 7 and 8.1 users using a system tray pop-up. This is a free upgrade, and will probably be a good one for Windows 7 and 8 users alike.

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Microsoft wants to get all recent Windows machines on the same operating system, providing a standardized Windows platform and pushing the “universal apps” offered by the Windows Store. After the mess of Windows 8, Windows 10 is looking pretty good.

Yes, It’s Free (For Most People)

Windows 10 will be a free upgrade, assuming your computer runs Windows 7 Service Pack 1 or Windows 8.1. As long as you upgrade to Windows 10 within the first year, you won’t have to pay a cent. Despite some confusion online, you won’t have to pay anything. As long as you upgrade to Windows 10 within the first year, you can continue using Windows 10 and getting updates for the “supported lifetime of the device.” It’s a full copy that will continue to work.

If you have an older computer running Windows Vista or a previous version of Windows, you won’t get a free upgrade. You may want to buy a new computer if you have such an old computer, anyway. If you have a pirated (“non-genuine“) copy of Windows, you may be able to upgrade — but you’ll continue to have a “non-genuine” copy of Windows 10.

If you’re building your own computer or purchasing a copy of Windows 10 to run in a virtual machine, you’ll have to pay $110 for Windows 10 Home or $199 for Windows 10 Pro. If you want to upgrade an old computer to Windows 10 after the first year and you miss out on the free upgrade offer, you’ll need to pay for a copy of Windows too — unless Microsoft extends the offer.

How to Upgrade

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Update: You can download the ISO image for Windows 10 directly from Microsoft’s web site.

You’ll be able to upgrade via Windows Update when Windows 10 comes out. Microsoft rolled out a “Get Windows 10” application that prompts you to “reserve” your copy of Windows 10, and you’ll be seeing those notifications in your system tray on Windows 7 SP1 and Windows 8.1 computers. Yes, that Windows 10 pop-up in your system tray is real, legitimate, and from Microsoft. It was added to your existing Windows systems via a Windows update.

“Reserve” your copy of Windows 10 and your Windows computer will automatically download Windows 10 in bits and pieces before the release date. When Windows 10 is good to go, you won’t have to download a massive installer from Microsoft at the same time everyone else does. It’s a bit like preloading a game or movie before the release date.

If you plan on upgrading when Windows 10 is released, reserve it now. You don’t actually have to reserve — you’ll be able to upgrade for free for the first year. Reserving your copy will just save download time later. Microsoft will likely have a website that walks you through upgrading when Windows 10 is released.

While the upgrade process shouldn’t erase your personal files, it’s always important to have backups anyway. If you have hardware or programs that won’t work with Windows 10, the upgrade application will inform you of any possible problems you might experience.

What’s New – and Should You Upgrade?

RELATED: Why I’m Excited About Windows 10 (And You Should Be Too)

Microsoft wants Windows 10 to be a worthy upgrade to both Windows 7 and Windows 8.1 users. It builds on Windows 8’s base, offering its desktop improvements and security features. But Microsoft has relented on the most hated aspects of Windows 8. The charms bar is gone. The pop-up Start menu is back — it has live tiles on it by default, but you can remove those if you like. That “modern” or “Metro” interface is now confined only to a special tablet mode, and all applications run in windows on the desktop on normal PCs. If you’re using Windows 8 on a non-touch device, this is a huge improvement. The desktop interface makes sense again.

If you’ve been using Windows 7, you get access to all the improvements found in Windows 8 with an interface that makes more sense. Windows 10 includes other useful features, including “Task View” virtual desktops and even enhancements to the Command Prompt, that should make Windows 7 desktop users pretty happy to upgrade. Microsoft’s new “Edge” browser is a new default browser, meaning even Windows users who stick with the default browser will have a better experience. Modern versions of Internet Explorer aren’t as bad they used to be, but Edge is still a big improvement. Microsoft’s Cortana assistant is integrated — if you’re in one of a handful of supported countries, at least. Windows 10 is packed with other useful improvements, and — unlike some of the more annoying features found in Windows 8 — they can be disabled if you don’t want to use them.

Microsoft is also pushing the Windows Store for desktop users in Windows 10, as those fancy new “universal apps” now run in desktop windows and could actually be a bit useful. That’s a big reason Windows 10 is free — to build a large platform app developers will want to target and get Windows users on the same software.

Microsoft’s Plans for Windows 10

Microsoft is pushing the idea that Windows 10 will be different than previous releases, and it’s even been called “the last version of Windows.” Microsoft plans on releasing frequent updates that polish Windows 10 and add features, although they did also say this about Windows 8.

Microsoft plans on this being the last major operating system upgrade you’ll do, with new features and improvements regularly being rolled out via Windows Update rather than waiting for a once-every-several-years release. Even many of the included applications will be updated separately via the Windows Store.

Windows 10 looks like a good upgrade. Currently, less than two months from its release date, the Windows 10 preview releases are still a bit buggy. Assuming Microsoft can polish Windows 10 up in just a few more weeks, Windows 10 will be a worthy and recommended upgrade.

Yes, there are live tiles, universal apps, and Microsoft account integration features — but you can avoid these if you don’t want them. Better yet, all these new features actually integrate with the Windows desktop rather than fighting with it, as they did in Windows 8.

Profile Photo for Chris Hoffman Chris Hoffman
Chris Hoffman is Editor-in-Chief of How-To Geek. He's written about technology for over a decade and was a PCWorld columnist for two years. Chris has written for The New York Times and Reader's Digest, been interviewed as a technology expert on TV stations like Miami's NBC 6, and had his work covered by news outlets like the BBC. Since 2011, Chris has written over 2,000 articles that have been read more than one billion times---and that's just here at How-To Geek.
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