The first of the expected 1-billion downloads of Windows 10 started this morning as the production version of the first operating system developed by crowdsourcing went live. All Windows 7, Windows 8 and Windows 8.1 users can upgrade to the new Windows 10 for free over the next few months.
Users in the Insider Programme are able to download their copies from today, while users who have reserved their upgrades will receive them over the next days and weeks. Other users can go online to reserve their upgrades from today.

Microsoft is confident that as many as 1-billion copies of the multi-device operating system will be downloaded within a year of its release.

Companies, many of which have only just, reluctantly, migrated off the popular Windows XP platform, are showing an interest in making an early move to Windows 10 for its enhanced security, management and multi-device features.

Importantly, Windows 10 has been developed with the active participation of users, with frequent versions rolled out to Insider Programme participants and the features suggested by them included in updates.

As it rolls out across the world, analysts have given Windows 10 a cautious vote of approval.

“This is a very important launch for Microsoft,” says Craig Stice, senior principal analyst at IHS Technology. “After the failures of Windows 8, Microsoft has to come back with an operating system that the consumers can transition to, feel comfortable about doing so, and understand that there will be a positive outcome by doing so.

“Both Android and iOS have driven the market into a free upgradable software generation. Microsoft has been caught behind so, as they move into this new generation of OS upgrades, they must execute, be user friendly, and be free of major bugs.”

Stice adds that the days of the operating system on its own driving demand are long gone, but that Windows 10 may well resonate with corporate IT departments.

“The days of a new operating system alone driving new PC demand or replacement are long gone, especially now that Microsoft is offering Windows10 as a free upgrade,” he says. “However, the hype around Windows 10, the advertising and the marketing campaigns will bring much needed attention to the PC consumers.

“Windows 10 is a landing pad for the commercial markets, although these markets will typically take 12 to18 months before a refresh, as they will wait to ensure all the bugs are worked out.  Additionally, many commercial markets just went through a refresh last year following the Windows XP retirement.”

Windows 10 is more than a PC operating system, though, being offered as the same system across PC, tablet and smartphone devices. This could be a smart move, says Ian Fogg, director of mobile analysis at IHS Technology.

“Microsoft has lost the smartphone OS war to iOS and Android. Now, Microsoft is pursuing a strategy clearly inspired by that understanding. It is prioritizing the PC version of Windows 10 for delivery first, not mobile. And, Microsoft is offering its flagship apps such as Microsoft Office and Halo for the rival smartphone OS, which have the bulk of the users.”

Windows 10 aims to give users a familiar experience that is easy to use. It includes many of the popular features from Windows 7, including the Start menu. It also starts up and resumes fast, has more built-in security, and is designed to work with the users’ existing software and hardware.

Importantly, millions of people are already using Windows 10. The Insider Programme is a global community of users who have contributed to making Windows 10 the system they want.

The new operating system incorporates a new browser, Microsoft Edge, that lets users move quickly from browsing to doing. Users can write or type notes directly on to web pages and share them with others, read online articles without distraction, and save their favourite reads to access later,

Improved desktop management lets users snap up to four windows on to one screen or to create additional desktops for different workloads or to display on multiple monitors.

The new Windows Store has been introduced with Windows 10, offering users a unified shopping experience across their devices. It allows users to browse the store using their PC, tablet, or phone and easily download digital content including apps, games, music, movies, and TV shows.

Windows 10 comes with a number of built-in apps like Maps, Photos, Mail and Calendar, Music, Movies & TV. These apps use OneDrive to back up information and sync seamlessly across Windows 10 devices.

The  new operating system can be customised to suit both the user’s needs as well as the screen that’s in use at the time. As a true multi-device operating system, Windows 10 ensures that apps look and work effectively in all modes and on all devices.

It also allows the smartphone to start acting more like a PC. Users can connect to a monitor, mouse and keyboard to use your Windows 10 phone like a PC.

The system also adapts to how the user wants to interface with their device, offering the ability to touch, type, write or speak – whichever works best for the specific application.

Cortana is available on Windows 10, although the South African-specific version hasn’t been rolled out yet.

Windows 10 includes a number of security features that will make it popular with individuals and companies. With Windows Hello, the device authenticates and recognises the user based on their presence and using a combination of technologies that include facial recognition and thermal imaging.

Additional security features built into Windows 10 protect the user’s identity, and lock down content regardless of the device.

The launch of Windows 10 is a smart move by Microsoft is making an early bid for the massive Internet of Things market, says Richard Edwards, principal research analyst at Ovum.

“Microsoft is pinning its future hopes on Windows 10 too, but this isn’t about recapturing the important mobile operating systems market, it’s about gaining a strong foothold in the next multi-billion dollar market: the Internet of Things,” he says.

“Windows 10 will underpin Microsoft’s foray into the Internet of Things (IoT) by providing an operating system and ancillary services for ‘things’ that do not resemble traditional computing devices. Microsoft was caught wrong-footed when Google harnessed the Linux kernel to produce the Android operating system that now dominates the smartphone market, but this time, with cloud-savvy Nadella at the helm, Microsoft is ready for action.”

The company has developed three distinct flavours of the Windows 10 operating system to target specific categories:

* Windows 10 IoT for small devices with X86 or ARM processors, 256MB RAM, 2GB storage, no Shell, and universal apps and drivers.

* Windows 10 IoT for mobile devices with ARM processors, 512MB RAM, 4GB storage, Modern Shell, and universal apps and drivers.

* Windows 10 IoT for industry devices with X86 processors, 1GB RAM, 16GB storage, Desktop Shell, Win32 apps, and universal apps and drivers.

“Microsoft continues to remind partners and device builders that Windows 10 IoT is free for small devices, and is urging manufacturers to consider the Windows operating system as they build their new, intelligent, connected devices. These might range from familiar micro kiosks and home automation units, to new industrial machines, robotic systems, and innovative medical devices,” Edwards says.