Windows 10 promises to be the best Windows yet, combining the advantages of both Windows 7 and Windows 8 while once again taking desktop users into account. Famously sporting a return of the Start menu while retaining the live-tile interface, Windows 10 aims to provide a seamless transition between the old and the new interface by taking the changes that came with the Windows 8.1 update that bit further. Launching to the general public on July 29, 2015, Windows 10 will be available for free to anyone running Windows 7 or 8 for the first year of its release, and Microsoft has attempted to make the upgrade process as smooth as possible.
Upgrading vs. Clean Install
Any computer expert will tell you that performing a clean install of any major operating system release is preferable to upgrading. On the other hand, upgrading without first wiping your system drive allows you to keep all of your programs, documents and settings intact, effectively making the process little different to installing any other Windows Updates, albeit quite a bit longer.
Microsoft has repeatedly stated that it has made the upgrade process smoother than ever before, and it is now considered to be the default way to upgrade to Windows 10. Upon release, Windows 10 will be available through Windows Update just like any other update.
In spite of the fact that the vast majority of users won’t be performing a clean install, experts will invariably recommend that you wipe your computer first and install Windows 10 as the new operating system that it is. Doing so will eliminate many potential compatibility problems, get rid of any obsolete content on your hard drive and eliminate a whole range of problems such as malware and junk software.
Windows 10 will initially only be available as an upgrade in the form of a 3GB download through Windows Update, after which a clean install may be carried out as many times as required. Head of Microsoft’s Windows Insider program, Gabe Aul, has stated that anyone who gets a free upgrade to Windows 10 during the first year will be able to perform a fresh install whenever they want.
In the last weekend of May, 2015, Microsoft activated their Windows 10 reservation system for users running Windows 7 or 8. This reservation allows consumers to take advantage of the free upgrade as soon as it becomes available on July 29. Those using pre-release versions of the operating system will also be able to upgrade to the full edition, although a clean install is highly recommended in these cases.
Those who reserved their free upgrade will obtain the update automatically, and it will install in much the same manner as the free Windows 8.1 update or any other major update or service pack. However, you’ll still want to make a few important preparations before proceeding. After all, Windows 10 is still a brand new operating system, and the upgrade process is rarely as simple as it’s made out to be.
Fortunately, the system requirements shouldn’t present a problem for anyone who is eligible for the free upgrade, since they are much the same as those for Windows 7. You’ll need a 1GHz processor, at least 1GB of RAM and 16GB of hard disk space for the 32-bit version. In other words, Windows 10 should run without a hitch on any modern desktop, laptop or Windows-based tablet computer.
The Windows 10 reservation app, made available to eligible consumers in the end of May, will let you know if there are any compatibility issues with your existing apps or hardware devices. For the most part, any hardware that worked with Windows 7 or 8 shouldn’t present a problem with Windows 10, although there are always going to be a few exceptions.
The most important step to take before upgrading (or installing any major operating system update for that matter) is to ensure that your files are backed up, either on an external storage device or an online storage service such as Microsoft’s OneDrive. After all, there is always a good chance that certain important files and settings will not correctly migrate to the new operating system.
As is inevitable with any operating system upgrade, a few sacrifices will be involved. If you’re upgrading from Windows 7, the desktop gadgets and preinstalled games (Solitaire, Hearts and Minesweeper etc.) will disappear. Windows 8 users who upgraded to the Windows 8/8.1 Pro with Media Centre will also lose Windows Media Centre, which will be replaced by a new app for playing movies.
Microsoft has also stated that the upgrade process may remove some OEM software that came with your computer, which might not be an entirely bad thing, since a lot of such software is useless bloatware anyway. However, if you have an important utility that came with your computer, you might want to check with the manufacturer to see if an updated version for Windows 10 is available.
Device drivers used to present a major problem when upgrading to a new edition of Windows, since they were rarely interchangeable between versions. However, in an effort to make the transition as easy as possible, drivers should not present a significant concern, since Windows 10 will update them as required. Nonetheless, you may still want to install the latest drivers after the upgrade is complete.
Performing a Clean Install of Windows 10
Even those who intend to perform a fresh install of Windows 10 will still have to upgrade first through Windows Update in order to claim their free copy of the operating system, though there are likely to be ways around this. Fortunately, the upgrade process is quick and simple, and it shouldn’t take more than around 20 minutes on a typical modern computer.
The upgrade process is simply a matter of following the steps in the Windows Upgrade Assistant, and minimal user interaction is required, since all of your files, programs and settings are already present for Windows to migrate to the new version. If you do intend to perform a clean install afterwards, you’ll need to create a bootable USB flash drive or DVD and copy over the Windows 10 installation files.
By far the easiest way to install Windows 10 is to use a bootable USB flash drive. For this process, you’ll need a copy of the Windows 10 ISO image, an 8GB USB flash drive or larger and Rufus or a similar application for creating a bootable flash drive. Rufus is a freeware application that also works with previous editions of Windows.
Connect your USB flash drive, and make sure that no important data resides on it, since it will be formatted during the process. Select “ISO Image” beside “Create a bootable disk using…,” and select your Windows 10 ISO file. Be sure to choose the GPT partition scheme if your computer uses a UEFI boot environment (pretty much any computer made in the last three years). Leave the other options at their default values, and click “Start”.
After 20-30 minutes, the drive should be ready to use. With the drive connected, restart the computer. Enter the UEFI or BIOS setup utility, and change the boot device order so that the computer boots up from the USB drive first. If you cannot enter setup by tapping DEL or F2 when starting the computer, log into Windows and hold SHIFT while clicking on “Restart” to access the UEFI firmware settings option from the Advanced Startup screen.
The actual Windows 10 installation process is almost identical to that of Windows 7 or 8. You’ll need to choose your language settings, and you’ll have the opportunity to format and arrange your hard disk partitions. Remember that the disk will be formatted, wiping its contents entirely, so you may want to disconnect any additional hard drives inside your computer before proceeding.
The installation wizard is very straightforward, and will be instantly familiar to anyone who has installed a previous version of Windows. The process takes around 20 minutes, and once complete, you’ll want to download and install any available updates for Windows before installing all necessary hardware drivers and, finally, your applications.
Windows 10, particularly if you only go down the upgrade route, is the easiest version of the operating system to install yet. However, advanced users may also want to try setting up a dual-boot environment, whereby Windows 10 runs alongside another operating system, such as an older version of Windows or something else entirely. Alternatively, you may want to give Windows 10 a risk-free test run by installing it on a virtual machine using a solution like VirtualBox or VMWare Player.