It’s only been a few hours into Microsoft’s Windows 10 preview event, and already one of the hottest questions about the future of the OS has been answered: Upgrading to Windows 10 will be free to Windows 7, Windows 8.1, and Windows Phone 8.1 users, up to a year after the OS launches. The question had been raised shortly after Windows 10 was announced last year, drawing comparisons with Apple’s hefty but gratis OS X Mavericks update.
Windows 10 is shaping up to be a strong, confident apology letter to all those who were let down by the promises of its predecessor. Many people consider Windows 8 to be a failed experiment in attempting to provide a unified experience for PCs and tablets, with the fullscreen Metro UI praised on mobile devices but heavily criticized on laptops and desktops. The supposedly unified Windows Store remains split between PCs and mobile phones, and is still a relative ghost town compared to the rich ecosystems of iOS and Android.
Windows 10 addresses all of this, with the return of the Start menu on PCs, in a fascinating hybrid of the familiar list of Start commands and shortcuts, paired with a miniature Metro start screen. PCs will also launch Metro apps in resizable windows, unlike Windows 8’s invasive fullscreen apps. Meanwhile, Microsoft has introduced a universal Windows app framework, which will enable developers to write code that can easily be deployed to all Windows platforms, each release tailor-made for a desktop, touchscreen, tablet or phone UX. Other new features like the Cortana voice assistant, a good import from Windows Phone 8.1, as well as the availability of Windows 10 apps on the Xbox One platform, are icing on what’s looking to be a very rich and tasty cake.
Even with all these improvements, however, Windows 10 is still more of an evolutionary release than a revolutionary one. This is precisely why the option of a free upgrade is such a good idea for the company – it’ll certainly build up an install base very rapidly, encouraging developers to make use of the new universal apps development framework, which in turn may, over time, extend to greater sales of future Windows devices, both PC and mobile. In addition, enterprise users who stuck to Windows 7 will definitely appreciate the no-cost upgrade to the new operating system, with Windows 8 having been a rather unpopular and expensive upgrade back when it was released in 2012.
It remains to be seen whether Windows 10 will prove to be the saving grace for Microsoft, in a time when PC sales are down and Windows Phone’s market share is in the low single digits. There’s no denying, however, that the future looks bright.