Microsoft Launches 'New Era' with Broad Availability of Windows 10

The Microsoft client operating system enters a "new era" Wednesday with broad availability of Windows 10.

Microsoft's Windows 10 countdown clock ticked to zero at 8 a.m. ET/5 a.m. PT for the release milestone, which marks the first time Microsoft has broadly offered an upgrade from certain older versions of Windows to the latest version at no additional cost for most consumers. Those who upgrade to Windows 10 will be able to keep their Windows OS current with future releases for as long as the underlying device is supported.

While heavily caveated, the significant licensing move is part of Microsoft's ambitious goal to get 1 billion users on the Windows 10 platform by 2018.

"A new era of Windows starts today. From the beginning, Windows 10 has been unique -- built with feedback from over 5 million fans, delivered as a service and offered as a free upgrade," said Terry Myerson, executive vice president of Microsoft's Windows and Devices Group, in a statement. "Windows 10 delivers on our more personal computing vision, with a natural, mobile and trusted experience. Along with our partners, we're excited to deliver the best Windows ever, which will empower people and organizations around the world to do great things."

Some observers predicted a significant load on not just Microsoft servers but on Internet infrastructure worldwide as potentially millions of eligible users attempt to download the sizable upgrade starting Wednesday. More than 5 million Windows Insiders alone participated in tests of pre-release builds, according to Microsoft. Hundreds of millions more Windows 7 and Windows 8/8.1 users will be eligible for the upgrade.

A complete upgrade of an RCP test machine from the Windows Insider preview build 10130 all the way to the full release, including several interim hotfixes and security updates, took about an hour-and-a-half on Wednesday morning, counting installation time:

The upgrade opportunity begins slightly later for volume licensing customers. Windows 10 Enterprise and Windows 10 Education are set for availability on Aug. 1, Microsoft said in its announcement.

The new operating system blends the familiar and popular UI of Windows 7 with the touch capabilities that many users found bewildering in Windows 8/8.1's clean-break-from-the-past interface. In addition to better usability for touch, major feature enhancements in Windows 10 include integration of the Cortana personal digital assistant (see image below), a brand-new browser called Microsoft Edge, new security features, more flexible windowing for multi-tasking, and new deployment and management options.

[Click on image for larger view.] The new Windows 10 desktop is more like Windows 7 than Windows 8. A notable change is the Cortana search box on the Taskbar, shown here with Cortana expanded to display the personalization options.

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella has repeatedly called "more personal computing" a key pillar of Microsoft's future and points to Windows 10 as the prime example. "The feature I'm most excited about in Windows 10 is this Continuum," Nadella said earlier this month at a keynote for the Microsoft Worldwide Partner Conference (WPC) in Orlando. The key use case for Continuum on launch day is a clean experience for users in switching between tablet and PC modes for the increasingly important 2-in-1 device category. Over time Continuum will span more types of Windows 10 devices.

"Windows 10 is going to run on everything from a Raspberry Pi to phones to tablets to PCs to Surface Hubs and to even the HoloLens. We're going to have this one unified platform, one unified experience, and that to me is a key differentiator of what Windows stands for," Nadella said at WPC. Release dates haven't been discussed for HoloLens, the augmented reality headset, while the Surface Hub, the meeting room-optimized big-screen device priced at $7,000 or $20,000 depending on size, was supposed to be available on Sept. 1 but has been delayed.

"You're going to be able to interact with it in the most natural of ways. You're going to be able to speak to it like you interact with Cortana. You're going to be able to touch. You're going to be able to ink. You're going to be able to do mouse and keyboard. You're going to have the ability to do things like the holographic output. That natural interaction is going to be a unique capability of this one operating system that spans all these device types," Nadella said.

Other major new features and ecosystem elements available Wednesday included a new Windows Store; a Windows Software Development Kit; an integrated Xbox app that allows streaming of games from the console to a tablet or PC, among other features; companion apps for iOS, Android and Windows Phone; and new Office Mobile apps.

The free nature of the upgrade and support for older PCs means it is an open question as to how big a spark Windows 10 will provide for PC sales, but some features will require new hardware. The most notable is Windows Hello, a relatively recently announced feature set that allows password-free log-ins via face, iris or fingerprint recognition, depending on the hardware. Meanwhile, a sticker unveiled earlier in July (see below) was intended to assure buyers that new systems running Windows 8.1 would be freely upgradeable to Windows 10:

More than 2,000 devices or configurations are already in testing, according to figures provided by Microsoft on Wednesday. PCs on display in a Microsoft Store in suburban New York City on Wednesday morning had Windows 10 installed, as did a few at a nearby Best  Buy.

Microsoft has planned launch events around the world to mark Windows 10's launch. Nadella tweeted his arrival in Kenya Tuesday in readiness for launch festivities there:

In addition to Nairobi, special events were scheduled for 12 other cities: Sydney, Tokyo, Singapore, Beijing, New Delhi, Dubai, Berlin, Johannesburg, Madrid, London, São Paulo and New York City.

Retailers worked with Microsoft to get ready for launch-day customer interest in new systems or upgrades and data migration services, with participation from Best Buy, Bic Camera, Croma, Currys/PC World, Elkjøp, Jarrir, Incredible Connection, Media Markt, Staples, Wal-Mart, Yamada, Yodobashi and others. Some 110 Microsoft Stores in the U.S., Canada and Puerto Rico planned promotions and workshops, with sports stars and other celebrities attending events at nine locations.

Windows 10 will be a hit with babies, Microsoft's big pre-launch ad suggested.

The launch follows a TV ad blitz in the last week dominated by a commercial featuring babies and toddlers, who, a narrator noted, would never need to remember passwords or obsess about security and who would expect to touch every screen and scribble on every Web page. The ad's theme is "a more human way to do."

Also Wednesday, many Microsoft employees will be out of the office kicking off a year-long "Upgrade Your World" community volunteering initiative.


About the Author

Scott Bekker is editor in chief of Redmond Channel Partner magazine.


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