Windows 10 is finally out — kind of. Microsoft initially promised that everyone could take advantage of the free upgrade offer on July 29, but you may have to wait a while before Microsoft offers the upgrade to your PC.
We recommend holding off on Windows 10, at least for a little while. Wait and see how stable Windows 10 is on other people’s PCs before you make the leap. That’s how Microsoft itself is choosing to roll out Windows 10, too.
Update: since we wrote this article, Microsoft has released the ISO images for anybody to download for a clean install. It’s definitely a surprise and goes against everything they said before, but it’s a good surprise. That said, you should really read the rest of this article, because we don’t necessarily recommend that everybody upgrade immediately.
When Microsoft announced Windows 10 would be a free upgrade, it said: “On July 29, people can get Windows 10 for PCs and tablets by taking advantage of the free upgrade offer.”
The reservation system — that “Get Windows 10” pop-up you’ve probably seen on your Windows 7 or 8.1 PC — was just a way to pre-download much of Windows 10 so you could have faster access on release day.
Microsoft has since backtracked from this. Here’s what will actually be happening, starting July 29:
“Starting on July 29, we will start rolling out Windows 10 to our Windows Insiders. From there, we will start notifying reserved systems in waves, slowly scaling up after July 29th. Each day of the roll-out, we will listen, learn and update the experience for all Windows 10 users.
If you reserved your copy of Windows 10, we will notify you once our compatibility work confirms you will have a great experience, and Windows 10 has been downloaded on your system.
If your system is not ready yet for your upgrade to Windows 10, we will provide more details during the upgrade experience.”
In other words, most people won’t actually be able to upgrade to Windows 10 on the vaunted July 29 release date. This isn’t actually a bad thing — by slowly rolling out the update, Microsoft can identify problems and fix them before they affect a larger amount of people. Rather than immediately dumping Windows 10 on a billion PCs, Microsoft can be more careful and fix bugs — especially bugs that only affect specific hardware. Devices that aren’t capable of upgrading properly can be blocked from doing so.
Windows 10 isn’t like Windows 8. Sure, you can choose to dislike the Microsoft account integration and live tiles — but you’re free to use a local user account and remove all those live tiles from your Start menu. Windows 10 even nags you less if you choose to use a local user account.
Windows 8 had a solid core, but the vision was all wrong. People resisted upgrading to Windows 8 for good reason — it wouldn’t even let you boot to desktop on a desktop PC until Windows 8.1 arrived later.
Windows 10 isn’t like that. Conceptually, Windows 10 is solid. Microsoft returns to a desktop-focused interface for PCs, and even those new apps formerly known as “Metro” apps can run on the desktop. For tablet devices, Windows 10 offers a “tablet mode” interface without forcing it on everyone. Windows 10 includes great new features like Task View and virtual desktops. It’s faster.
Sure, you can nitpick — those white window title bars are obnoxious — but, overall, Windows 10 is a great operating system. It’s an especially worthy upgrade if you’re using Windows 8.1 on a laptop or desktop PC. For Windows 7 users who are probably more satisfied with their operating system, it’s less urgent — but still offers many improvements. For touch-based Windows 8.1 devices, Windows 10 is still an upgrade and touch largely works as well as it does on Windows 8.1.
It’s impossible to provide a full picture here without shedding light on the Insider Preview program, through which Microsoft provided testing preview builds of Windows 10 to anyone who wanted to test them.
The Windows 10 Insider Preview program didn’t inspire a lot of confidence up until the last minute. Just a month before Windows 10 was supposed to launch, the Insider Preview builds still had major issues. This included the Start menu crashing regularly and the computer needing a reboot before it would open again. Apps wouldn’t launch reliably. Depending on your hardware, people had all sorts of other problems. Many testers were pessimistic about whether Windows 10 would be ready. Microsoft was still adding features and making big changes late in the “beta” period, a time when software projects generally focus exclusively on finding and squashing bugs.
Just a few weeks before the July 29 launch date, the quality and stability of the insider builds began to improve dramatically. Windows 10 build 10240 — the build that will be available to everyone starting July 29 — is actually quite solid. However, this seems like the shortest bug-testing period any version of Windows has ever undergone before rolling out to a larger audience.
Windows Insiders who have been using Windows 10 build 10240 for a few weeks are still experiencing bugs on some hardware. Microsoft will continue patching and improving things — but even the final build isn’t perfect. Microsoft is still releasing bugfix updates for Windows 10, and they’ll continue doing this after July 29. The longer you wait, the more stable things will get.
If you have reserved your Windows 10 upgrade, you don’t actually have to go through with it. Likewise, if you haven’t reserved the Windows 10 upgrade yet, you can open the Get Windows 10 window and reserve it today to become eligible. The same Get Windows 10 interface will tell you if any of your hardware or software won’t work on Windows 10.
We recommend you don’t upgrade immediately. The free Windows 10 upgrade offer lasts an entire year. Now that Windows 10 is beginning to roll out, sit on the sidelines for a bit and see what other users report after upgrading. If there are widespread issues — or issues on your particular model of laptop, for example — you can avoid them. At the very least, wait a few weeks to see what the general experience of people upgrading to Windows 10 is before taking that leap.
After all, even if you want to upgrade, you may end up sitting on the sidelines for a while. Microsoft seems to agree that it’s crazy for a billion devices to upgrade on the same day, and that slower-than-promised Windows 10 rollout is designed to find bugs and fix them before more people encounter them. Hang back for a bit and you won’t be one of those early users who function as testers and find those initial bugs.
Of course, if you really want Windows 10, you can go grab the ISO image from Microsoft’s website and start the manual install process. And you should really consider creating an image of your PC before you upgrade to Windows 10, so you can more easily revert back to exactly where you were, and backups are never a bad thing. Backup your computer before upgrading!
Windows 10 seems like a worthy upgrade — once it’s stable enough. If you have a spare PC lying around that you tinker with and don’t use for anything important, it’s also a great place to install Windows 10 first. You’re also free to uninstall Windows 10 and revert back to Windows 7 or 8.1 if you encounter any problems, so even an upgrade to Windows 10 isn’t final. You just have to downgrade in the first month. You can upgrade to Windows 10 again in the future, once more problems have been ironed out.
Windows 10 is an unprecedented release. Not only has Microsoft spent less time stabilizing and bug-testing the release version of Windows than ever, they’re also rolling that new version of Windows out to a billion devices that shipped with older versions of Windows.
Previously, most Windows devices would just keep using the version of Windows they came with. People who actually upgraded their Windows PCs were rare. Now, everyone will be doing this. Microsoft is bound to encounter issues on some hardware, even if those issues are caused by buggy third-party drivers.