Windows 10 release date, download preview & get it for free - USB copies on Amazon

When is Windows 10 going to be out, where can you get it from and how to get it for free

Windows 10 platform

Page 1 of 3Windows 10 release date, download preview & get it for free - USB copies on Amazon

Windows 10 is almost here, and it looks pretty exciting. The new OS has a chance to succeed where Windows 8 failed by being both a traditional desktop operating system for PCs and laptops, and an OS which works properly on smartphone and tablet touchscreens. In fact, Windows 10 will be designed to be a truly universal operating system, with apps working across computers and mobile devices.

Microsoft's Build 2015 conference at the end of April gave us an even better idea of what to expect from Windows 10 and the direction the new operating system is taking, and so far we're certainly impressed. The opening keynote revealed a number of new features, and that the fact that Microsoft is planning to make it easier for developers to port Android and iOS code to the platform means the number of apps available, a current sticking point for Windows Phone and Windows 8, should rocket. For more details on what was unveiled at Build, see page 2 of this article.

Here we describe in detail what to expect from the new OS, including how to download and install the Insider Preview, and how to get Windows 10 for free when it arrives.

What is it?

Microsoft's latest and supposedly final version of Windows for PCs, laptops and tablets

When is it out?

29th July though it will rollout slowly to customers over a couple of weeks

How much will it cost?

It's free! or at least it's free if you're running Windows 7 or Windows 8

What's new?

Loads. The Start Menu is back, there's virtual desktops, better touchscreen support and lots more

In Detail

Windows 10 is RTM, launching July 29

We've had official confirmation that Windows 10 will be released to the public on July 29th for a while, but it has now official been released to manufacturers. This shows that Microsoft thinks the operating system is effectively "done", but the perpetual release nature of Windows 10 (see "No more versions", below") means there will likely be several more updates between now and July 29th. 

The company also took the time to re-iterate that the free upgrade to Windows 10 from Windows 7 or 8.1 will be available for one year from the launch date. After a computer has been upgraded to Windows 10, Microsoft will support it and provide updates for it for the life of the product, at no additional cost. Users that want to register to upgrade to Windows 10 can do so now, following our handy guide on how to claim your free Windows 10 upgrade.

To reserve your free upgrade of Windows 10, current Windows 7 and 8.1 users should look for a small Windows icon in the notification area in the bottom right hand corner of their screen (see the image below). This is the 'Get Windows 10 App', and all you need to do is simply click on the icon and click ‘Reserve your free upgrade’ in the app window. You’ll need to enter your email address if you want confirmation of the reservation, but it’s as simple as that. You’ll then get a notification when your upgrade is ready and you’ll be able to install it at a time that’s convenient for you. You can also cancel your reservation at any time.  

Although Windows 10 will launch on 29th July, Microsoft has yet to confirm full details of availability, though it looks likely a download will be available as well as USB copies, see below. We've asked Microsoft for clarification and will let you know when we hear back. There's a good chance that subscribers to MSDN (the Microsoft Developer Network) will get copies slightly earlier, as the ISO files are typically made available when the software is Released to Manufacturing (RTM); in other words, when the final software is locked down and ready to go. As soon as we've got a copy we'll bring you our full review.

Windows 10 reservation icon

Price and USB copies

If you don't qualify for an upgrade, because your PC is running an ancient version of Windows or your copy of Windows isn't genuine, then you'll still be able to get Windows 10, at a price. At present we believe that Windows 10 will cost £100 for a single license of the Home Edition to install on any device of your choosing. This price is taken from the upgrade page that comes up when you reserve your free copy of Windows 10. 

Get Windows 10 app for free upgrade

With many laptops now built without DVD drives, Microsoft has taken the sensible decision to distribute physical copies of the new operating system on USB flash drives. The drives are already available to pre-order on Amazon US but apparently they won't be available to ship until the 30th if August, so those wanting to buy the new operating system (rather than recieve a free upgrade) and who don't want to download it, could be in for a wait.

Windows 10 hardware requirements

There is a caveat, however. Microsoft has recently revealed that you may not be offered Windows 10 if your PC has incompatible hardware or software. According to the Microsoft operating system chief Terry Myerson, you'll only be offered the upgrade if Microsoft has done its "compatibility work" and has confirmed that your PC will give you a "great experience".

What Microsoft appears to mean by a "great experience" is that none of your hardware or currently installed applications are incompatible with the new OS. If the Windows 10 installer finds any problems, it will put you on to the relevant hardware or software company in order to help you find a fix. However, Myerson has also said that incompatibilities may not necessarily mean the upgrade will be a failure; you may be allowed to carry on regardless, and "find alternative compatible solutions in the Windows Store after you upgrade". 

You can do a clean install of Windows 10

Once you've registered with the free Windows 10 upgrade application mentioned above, it is implied that the upgrade will then download in the background, in a similar way to how Windows 8 updates to Windows 8.1. However, along with the current lack of clarification about how potential users will be able to buy Windows 10 (see above), some users are worried that there won't be a way to do a clean install of Windows 10 from scratch; we're generally not fans of in-place operating system upgrades, as we find they can cause performance and stability problems. 

However, there has recently been some clarification from Microsoft on this front. Neowin spotted a tweet from the head of the Windows Insider program, Gabe Aul, confirming that "Once you upgrade W10 w/ the free upgrade offer you will able to clean reinstall Windows 10 on same device any time". To us, this seems to imply that you'll have to perform the in-place upgrade, then perform an operating system refresh from within your upgraded Windows 10 installation in order to have a properly clean new operating system. 

Of course, this had led to some other questions, such as what will happen if you need to reinstall Windows 10 from scratch further down the line. We doubt Microsoft will make you reinstall your original Windows 7 or 8 operating system then download the Windows 10 update again, particularly as the upgrade offer will only be available for a year after Windows 10 is launched on 29th July. In response to a question about wiping disks completely before a reinstall, Gabe Aul did say this was possible, which makes us think a Windows 10 ISO image will eventually be available for download.  

You can get Windows 10 TODAY (if you’re brave)

Microsoft launched the Technical Preview last year, and has now renamed this early version of Windows 10 the Insider Preview. This is still early software, but we've found it to be pretty reliable so far. If you want to see Windows 10 in action, our in-depth guide on how to install the Windows 10 Insider Preview shows you how to get it running on a fresh PC, with a dual-boot configuration and on a virtual machine.

Windows 10 will be FREE for Windows 7 and 8 owners

For the first year after launch, anybody running Windows 7, 8 or 8.1 will be able to upgrade to Windows 10 for free. It’s a good move from Microsoft, as it helps manufacturers and system builders sell computers and laptops now, with consumers safe in the knowledge that they’ll get the new OS when it launches for no additional cost.

There was some speculation that Windows 10 would also be available as a free upgrade for those running "Non-Genuine" (pirated) versions of Windows 7 and 8, but this has been debunked by Windows chief Terry Myerson. Essentially, Microsoft plans to offer "attractive Windows 10 upgrade offers" to those running pirated Windows, possibly with the hope of at least getting some money out of those who are averse to paying for their Windows.

There was originally some good news for those who had taken the plunge and installed the Windows 10 Insider Preview; Microsoft had said that they would get the full version of Windows 10 for free when it was released. However, since then the picture has become rather muddled. On 19th June Microsoft released a blog post, which was also posted to the "Insider Hub" within Windows 10. This stated that:

"Windows Insiders running the Windows 10 Insider Preview (Home and Pro editions) with their registered MSA [Microsoft account] connected to their PC will receive the final release build of Windows 10 starting on July 29th"

And that: 

"As long as you are running an Insider Preview build and connected with the MSA you used to register, you will receive the Windows 10 final release build and remain activated. Once you have successfully installed this build and activated, you will also be able to clean install on that PC from final media if you want to start over fresh."

In other words, as long as you have a Microsoft Account connected to your Windows 10 Insider Preview installation, you'll be patched up to the final build of Windows 10, and will be able to merrily install the full version of Windows 10 from scratch, using your Microsoft Account to activate it. However, in an update to the blog post the next day, Microsoft then went back on itself, saying that only those running full Windows 7 or 8 would be eligible for a full Windows 10 licence, leaving anyone who had done a clean installation of Windows 10 Insider Preview out in the cold.

Finally, in a third update to the same blog post, Microsoft changed its mind again, saying that those on the Windows 10 Insider programme would continue to receive experimental builds, but will still need to have upgraded from a full Windows 7 or 8 installation in order to receive the final Windows 10 build. This means that if you had installed Windows 10 Insider Preview from scratch, you'd need to reinstall Windows 7 or 8 (hope you kept your product key), then perform the upgrade to Windows 10. Otherwise, you'll be stuck on flaky rolling Insider builds for ever. An amazingly confusing situation all round.  

No more VERSIONS

Rather than waiting years for a big update, Microsoft is promising more regular updates. Terry Myerson announced the news at Microsoft's press conference in California. Myerson also said that the question of "what version are you running?" will soon cease to exist, as Microsoft aims to keep developing Windows 10 for the foreseeable future, suggesting it could be "one of the largest internet services on the planet" in the next couple of years.

This is great news for consumers, as it could signal the end of big drastic OS upgrades every few years. It's also good news for developers as it means they'll be able to target all device types with just one application, providing greater parity across PC, laptop, mobile and Microsoft's Xbox One games console ("the most fun games console ever", according to Myerson). How a constantly updated OS will affect consumers and business is another matter, however, but we have some ideas.

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