Microsoft has kicked off the Windows 10 public testing period, but the company wants the fearless enthusiasts willing to participate in the Insider Program to be aware of a number of things before they jump in.
1. The Technical Preview version of the new OS you'll be installing is raw and buggy
This is by design, because Microsoft wants to incorporate testers' feedback early on in the development process so it can avoid a Windows 8-like flop. So this isn't an OS you want to install on your primary PC.
How bad can it get? "Unexpected PC crashes could damage or even delete your files, so you should back up everything. Some printers and other hardware might not work, and some software might not install or work correctly, including antivirus or security programs. You might also have trouble connecting to home or corporate networks," reads a Microsoft FAQ.
Even those installing Windows 10 Tech Preview on a Windows 8.1 PC might need to update or reinstall applications and peripherals.
Make sure any PC you use to test the Windows 10 Technical Preview meets the minimum criteria. System requirements include a 1GHz or faster processor, 1GB of RAM for the 32-bit version and 2GB of RAM for the 64-bit version, and 16GB of free hard disk space.
2. You must roll with the changes and have tech nerd cred
Your threshold of tolerance for change should be high, because the OS will undergo major modifications between now and the day it ships commercially, which Microsoft expects will be by the middle of next year.
You also should have higher-than-average PC tech knowledge. This means, in Microsoft's frank words, that you must "really know your way around a PC and feel comfortable troubleshooting problems, backing up data, formatting a hard drive, installing an operating system from scratch, or restoring your old one if necessary."
Got that? Just to be clear, Microsoft adds: "We're not kidding about the expert thing. So if you think BIOS is a new plant-based fuel, Tech Preview may not be right for you." Alrighty then.
3. Wallflowers need not apply
If you're shy about expressing your opinion, this program ain't for you. Microsoft's main motivation behind making pre-release versions of the OS available to anyone interested in test-driving them is to hear back from them regarding what they don't like, what's not working right, how things can be improved and so on.
Also, you should be comfortable with letting Microsoft poke around your system "because if your PC runs into problems, Microsoft will likely examine your system files" and grab and transmit data to its systems, in some cases without alerting you nor giving you the option of stopping the information transfer.
Specifically, after installing the OS, Microsoft will collect information about you, your devices, applications and networks, and how you use them. "Examples of data we collect include your name, email address, preferences and interests; browsing, search and file history; phone call and SMS data; device configuration and sensor data; and application usage," according to the privacy statement for the program. Peruse this privacy statement carefully so you know what you're agreeing to.
In addition, Windows Update will be set to automatically install important updates on your PC as they become available. "You won't be able to turn off automatic updates in Windows Technical Preview," the FAQ reads.
4. The focus is on business use of Windows on Intel/AMD PCs with keyboards and mice
Anyone can participate, but this particular program is aimed at crafting Windows 10 so that it's a success in workplaces among employees and IT pros using the OS in x86 PCs with mice and keyboards.
Microsoft plans to address the consumer features of Windows 10 later on, most likely after the year-end holiday shopping season, so as to not hurt even more the standing of lame-duck Windows 8/8.1 in that market. At that time, Microsoft is expected to address in detail the use of Windows 10 in tablets and in hybrid tablet/laptop computers, including those running ARM chips, which currently use the RT version of Windows 8.
"Technical Preview works with touch, but some things will be rough and unfinished. More touch-friendly improvements are on the way. In the meantime, let us know what it's like to interact with Windows and apps in the preview," reads the FAQ.
There will be two versions of the OS available: Windows 10 Technical Preview and Windows 10 Technical Preview for Enterprise. According to a spokeswoman for Microsoft, both have the same functionality, but the Windows 10 Technical Preview for Enterprise also includes current enterprise capabilities such as Windows To Go, DirectAccess, BranchCache and AppLocker, so it's intended for IT pros.
"Those added benefits will help businesses evaluate the Windows 10 Technical Preview in their environments while continuing to benefit from the capabilities they currently have with Windows 8.1 Enterprise today," she wrote via email.
5. Rolling back the OS to the one you had before won't be a cakewalk
If you get fed up with testing Windows 10 and want to revert the PC to the OS you were running before, it won't be easy. The previous Windows OS will have to be reinstalled from the recovery or installation disk -- typically a DVD -- that came with the PC. Absent that, Windows 7 and Windows Vista users should create a recovery disk from a recovery partition on their PC using software provided by the hardware vendor, while Windows 8 or 8.1 users "might be able" to create a USB recovery drive.
6. It'll put a crimp in your entertainment options
Installing the Windows 10 Technical Preview disables the PC's ability to play DVDs using Windows Media Player, and it removes Windows Media Center from PCs running Windows 8 Pro with Media Center. It's not clear why this is. Maybe Microsoft wants you focused on the testing, and not spending time watching movies or listening to music.
7. The Tech Preview is currently available in only three languages, and the implications of that go beyond linguistics
Currently, the OS comes in English, Chinese Simplified and Brazilian Portuguese. People moving from Windows 7, 8 and 8.1 in those languages will be able to keep their Windows settings, personal files and "most" apps. If the Windows 7, 8 and 8.1 OS interface is in any other language, they'll only be able to keep their personal files when upgrading, and they will have to reconfigure the settings and reinstall their apps.
And if you're moving from Windows Vista? You're fried. "You must boot from media and perform a clean install," the FAQ says.
Juan Carlos Perez covers enterprise communication/collaboration suites, operating systems, browsers and general technology breaking news for The IDG News Service. Follow Juan on Twitter at @JuanCPerezIDG.