Windows 10 is different. Not just because it's "new and improved", but because it's being offered as a free upgrade by Microsoft to all licensed owners of Windows 7, Windows 8, and Windows 8.1. That's really quite unheard of in the Windows world, although it's relatively standard in the world of MacOS. One of the reasons Microsoft decided to borrow a page from Apple's playbook is that Windows 8 adoption was shockingly low. A lot of that had to do with the universally-derided user interface, and it caused major headaches due to the billions of Windows users around the world simultaneously using three different operating systems in nearly equal numbers: Windows XP, Windows 7, and Windows 8/8.1. Something had to change, and it did: the user interface has been fixed, and Microsoft is now rolling out the red carpet for everyone to upgrade.

Well, we decided it would be helpful to walk our readers through the upgrade process, even if it's a relatively easy decision to accept a free upgrade. We'll also point out a few major differences between Windows 8.1 and Windows 10, and conclude with a few baseline performance numbers to show you how it will affect your user experience.

Upgrade start

The Upgrade Process

If you have a Windows 7 or Windows 8.1 PC, you'll eventually be greeted by the welcome screen shown here (assuming you have Windows Updates turned on, which will download the upgrade app). While Windows 10 was released on July 29, 2015, as of our publication date, it's not yet available on all PCs. One of the issues in any operating system rollout is compatibility, and laptops in particular have a lot of proprietary, non-standard components. For this reason, they are on a delayed upgrade schedule. Here at TBG, we have eight test systems, and all have been offered the update except for our two laptops. If you've never seen the Windows Upgrade App on your system, or you can't figure out where to access this screen, just go to the Windows Update control panel. It will allow you to upgrade to Windows 10 if the OS is available for your device. Another option is to download the Windows 10 image directly from Microsoft. That's handy if Windows 10 hasn't been "approved" yet for your PC, or if you just want to initiate the upgrade on your own schedule without having to download it to each of your PCs. 

After accepting the "invitation" to upgrade, things move pretty quickly, so pay close attention or you may get stuck with an upgrade you weren't quite ready for. You'll be asked to accept the license agreement (feel free to read through the legal terms if you wish), and then you'll get to schedule your update. Microsoft has users on a pretty tight leash here, in part because it really, really wants to get these upgrades rolled out. Just a month after its release, it was reported that over 75 million users had upgraded to Windows 10, and that's a number that probably made Microsoft very happy, even if it didn't earn a penny from the process. As you can see here, if you'd like to schedule your upgrade, you'll have all of three days to choose from.


Assuming you're not ready, or you need time to back up your data, you might want to cancel the upgrade and come back to the Windows Upgrade App later on. We actually cancelled the update multiple times, because we just didn't have time to sit through the process and record all these screenshots when Microsoft wanted us too! Luckily, it was easy enough to ignore Microsoft's constant pop-up reminders until we were ready, and we actually went ahead and chose to upgrade immediately once presented with this screen.

Once you choose to upgrade, there's no going back (although you actually can restore a previous version of Windows after the fact if you really want to). On our Intel quad-core computer equipped with a speedy solid-state drive, the whole upgrade took only 14 minutes (Windows 10 had already pre-downloaded in the background). We wouldn't be surprised if that's faster than installing it from scratch, which is pretty amazing considering all the file shuffling required to make the upgrade possible.

There's one important step along the way (it came at minute 13 out of 14 of the upgrade) when you have to provide some input to Windows 10 on how to proceed. You can choose "Express Settings," but be forewarned - Windows 10 will be collecting a lot of your data by default, and privacy advocates have been pretty up in arms about this since the Windows 10 launch. We recommend you choose to customize your settings and turn off most if not all of the Windows 10 data collection routines. If you miss this step, or haven't quite decided how much of your data you'd like to hand over to Microsoft, you can make the exact same changes once the OS has loaded, from the following Control Panel:


Microsoft will collect data via your keyboard, camera, microphone, and location, so flip through each item to make sure you're comfortable with what's happening in the background. We're just thankful that Microsoft gives users the option to turn off data collection - if it were a mandatory data dump, we'd be a little less enthusiastic about the Windows 10 upgrade. Surely Microsoft is planning on monetizing Windows 10 through this data collection, but heck, it's our data, so whether we give it away should be our choice. Luckily Microsoft agrees, although we'd bet that the vast majority of users won't know that they have any options regarding their data, or that the data is even being collected.

OK, now that we're through the upgrade process, we'll pass along a few tips and tricks, as well as discuss how Windows 10 performance compares to Windows 8.1.

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