Windows 10

10 things you should know about upgrading to Windows 10

We offer some info on upgrading to Microsoft's new OS -- because it's not as simple as you might think.

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Windows 10

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Want the inside info on upgrading to Windows 10 on your PC? You'll need it -- because the process is not as simple as you might think.

To begin with, not all machines are eligible for the upgrade and not all eligible machines will actually run it. And it's only the PC and larger tablet versions of Windows 10 that get released today -- the smaller tablet and phone versions will come some time later, possibly in late September.

Wait, there's more: Even if your computer or tablet is eligible and can run Windows 10, there's a good chance you might not be able to upgrade to the new OS for a while. But don't fret -- if you need to know when you might get it, how to install it, system requirements, what's new and more, we've got you covered.

Here are ten things to know before you install Windows 10.

1. It may not be available for you right away.

The shipping version of Windows 10 is now available -- but that doesn't mean that you can upgrade to it today. In fact, most people won't be able to. It's only available as an upgrade to those who previously signed up to for Microsoft's Windows Insider program. In fact, Microsoft Windows chief Terry Myerson said in a recent blog entry that it would become available "in waves, slowly scaling up after July 29th." Microsoft isn't saying how slow those waves will be, so there's no way to know how long you'll have to wait.

You can, however, buy a new PC today with Windows 10 on it. Dell, Hewlett-Packard, Lenovo and Acer have all announced that their Windows 10 machines will be available as of today -- and in some cases, if you pre-ordered ahead of time, the systems will be delivered to you today. You also may be able to buy them from brick-and-mortar retailers.

2. There are rules for the free upgrade.

Microsoft is pushing Windows 10 hard -- so hard that millions of existing machines are eligible for free upgrades. To get the free upgrade, you need to have a machine with Windows 7 SP1 or Windows 8.1 --- and it needs a valid license. No license, no upgrade. If you have a machine with Windows 7 that has not yet been upgraded to SP1 or a Windows 8 machine that hasn't been upgraded to 8.1, you've got to get those upgrades first via Windows Update -- then you can move to Windows 10.

And keep in mind that there is a time limit on the free upgrade --- do it before July 29, 2016. After that, Microsoft says, it'll cost you --- $119 to upgrade to Windows Home and $199 to upgrade to Windows Pro.

3. Using Windows RT? You're out of luck.

If you've got a Windows RT device, such as the Surface tablet, you won't be able to upgrade to Windows 10. (The Surface Pro line, which is based on true-blue Windows, can be upgraded to Windows 10, though.) However, some sort of RT upgrade was promised "around the time of Windows 10 release," according to Microsoft's Windows 10 FAQ -- so stay tuned.

4. Make sure to reserve a copy.

If you've got an eligible machine, you need to reserve a copy of Windows 10 in order to be included in one of the upgrade "waves" mentioned previously.

To reserve your copy, look for the Windows icon on your machine's taskbar -- what Microsoft calls the Get Windows 10 app. Click it and you can walk through a short series of screens to reserve your copy. If you want a confirmation that you're signed up, go to the small menu at the top left of the screen and click "View confirmation."

At some point, you'll get a notification that Windows 10 is ready to install, along with instructions. If you don't want to install yet, don't worry. Simply don't install.

If you get cold feet after you reserve your copy of Windows 10, you can cancel it. Right-click the Windows icon on the taskbar and select "Check your upgrade status." Then click the menu at the upper left of the screen and choose "View confirmation." Click "Cancel reservation." That's all it takes.

5. Yes, there are minimum system requirements.

If you've bought your PC or tablet in the last three years, it most likely will run Windows 10. However, devices bought before then may not run it if they don't meet Microsoft's official minimum specs:

  • OS: Windows 7 SP1 or Windows 8.1 Update
  • Processor: 1GHz or faster
  • RAM: 1GB RAM for a 32-bit system or 2GB RAM for a 64-bit system
  • Hard drive space: 16GB for a 32-bit system or 20GB for a 64-bit system
  • Graphics card: DirectX 9 or later with WDDM 1.0 driver
  • Display: 1024 x 600 resolution

6. Windows 10 is available in multiple configurations.

As with earlier versions of Windows, Windows 10 comes in multiple configurations. What follows is a brief description of what each iteration offers -- you can also download a full PDF comparison table from Microsoft's site.

If you're upgrading from Windows 7 Starter, Home Basic or Home, you'll be upgraded to Windows 10 Home. Machines with Windows 7 Professional or Windows 7 Ultimate will be upgraded to Windows 10 Pro. If you upgrade from Windows 8.1 you'll be upgraded to Windows 10 Home. And if you upgrade from Windows 8.1 Pro or Windows 8.1 Pro for Students, you'll be upgraded to Windows 10 Pro.

  • Home includes what Microsoft calls the "core experiences" -- basically, the guts of the operating system with the primary features, including the Start Menu; Windows Defender and Windows firewall; digital assistant Cortana; fingerprint, facial and iris recognition; virtual desktops; and the new Edge browser.
  • Pro includes everything in the Home version, plus additional business and advanced features, such as Bitlocker encryption, Domain Join, Group Policy Management and Remote Desktop.
  • Enterprise is the most complete version of Windows, and includes everything in the Home and Pro versions, plus additional features such as Windows To Go Creator (which lets you create a USB drive with Windows on it), AppLocker (which creates rules that allow or deny applications from running) and security tools such as Enterprise Data Protection.
  • Education is the same as the Enterprise edition except that it doesn't have a feature called Long-Term Branching Service, which controls the way in which Windows versions are delivered to users.

7. Your tablet may be getting Windows 10 now --- or not

Do you have a small tablet running Windows Phone? Then you're temporarily out of luck. Microsoft is developing two versions of Windows 10: one for desktops, laptops and larger tablets (typically with screens measuring 8 in. and more); and one for mobile phones and smaller tablets with screens under 8 in.

This is because larger tablets, such as the Microsoft Surface Pro or the Lenovo Yoga Tablet 2, run true-blue Windows 8.1, not Windows Phone. So if you have one of those, or a similar tablet that runs either Windows 8.1 or Windows 7, and that meets the requirements for running Windows 10 outlined earlier in this article, you'll be getting the upgrade.

If, however, you have a smaller tablet (or a phone) that runs Windows Phone, you'll have to wait for the upgrade; current expectations are that it won't be available until the fall.

8. Look for a new -- and old -- browser.

As mentioned before, Microsoft is introducing a new browser called Edge, built from the ground up, with a new page-rendering engine. It's Chrome-like with a simple, stripped-down interface, and is faster than Internet Explorer. Edge supports extensions and integrates with Cortana. There are a slew of other new features, including a Reading Mode that strips out ads and other unnecessary information from pages, and the ability to annotate and share Web pages.

As for Internet Explorer, it's still in Windows 10 -- solely for compatibility reasons, because many enterprises have built applications on top of it. But Edge is Windows 10's default browser, and will be the focus of Microsoft's future browser development efforts. Expect Internet Explorer to eventually go away.

9. The new Start Menu is not just Windows dressing.

One of the greatest criticisms of Windows 8 was the elimination of the Start Menu. In Windows 10, it finally comes back -- with a vengeance. In addition to doing all the things it used to let you do, such as running desktop applications and searching, you can also run what are now called Windows apps (in other words, "normal" Windows applications) and Cortana.

In fact, users of non-touch desktops and laptops need never pop into the touch-formatted Start Screen, because everything they need to do is accessible from the Start Menu.

10. Use touch? Don't use touch? Windows 10 can handle it.

Windows 10 is a shape-shifting operating system. Using a technology that Microsoft calls Continuum, the OS accommodates itself to the device you're using. So on a tablet, Windows 10 defaults to the touch-based Start screen interface, while on a non-touch device, it defaults to the desktop and Start Menu interface.

If you're using a hybrid device such as a Windows Surface Pro tablet with a keyboard, it defaults to the desktop when you have a keyboard attached and to the Start menu when there's no keyboard attached. If you're using your device with a keyboard and then detach the keyboard, Windows will ask if you want to switch to tablet mode. Similarly, if you are using your device as a tablet and you attach a keyboard, it will ask if you want to switch to non-tablet mode.

Ready to move to Windows 10? You'll find lots more detail about Windows 10 in our full hands-on review. We have more in-depth coverage coming up as well, including a get-started guide, handy tips and other useful information. So stay tuned.

Copyright © 2015 IDG Communications, Inc.

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