Windows 10 wants you as a guinea pig

Since the end of last month millions of PC users in Britain have been invited to download a new version of the Windows operating system.

Click on the new Windows icon at the bottom of the screen and, for users of Windows 7 and 8, a free version of Windows 10 is on offer. But what is Windows 10, and should you upgrade? Here’s our guide to what Microsoft is calling its last big upgrade to the world’s most used operating system.

What is Windows 10?

An OS meant to run not just on PCs but on phones, tablets and the Xbox too, 10 restores many features lost in Windows 8, notably the Start menu for quick navigation around the computer. Windows 8 was not well regarded, which explains why there’s been no Windows 9: Microsoft wants to put clear blue water between this new OS and the last version.

How do I get it?

Click on that Windows icon and you’ll be put on a waiting list for the new software. Microsoft is staggering the release, so your computer will inform you once the 3GB download has been completed — it may take a few weeks. You will then get the option to install. Before you click the OK button be aware that you will be a guinea pig — an unpaid tester for Microsoft as it tries to produce a “one size fits all” system for thousands of hardware configurations.

Are there any dangers?

I upgraded a Dell laptop from Windows 8.1 to the new system. The process took around an hour and preserved my personal data. All appeared to go well until I tried to listen to something and I realised the upgrade had killed the audio on my machine. PC makers are scrambling to update their drivers, the programs that control components such as audio cards — Dell included, it seems. It took a further hour to locate the correct driver online and install it, which is not something a casual user will want to do. If you encounter a problem you are unable to fix, you will have to wait for a patch to come from the manufacturer, which could take weeks or months.

What about privacy concerns?

Microsoft’s privacy statement has recently been updated to explain the nature of the personal information it collects from your PC when it is running Windows 10, including payment details, your interests and contact information. If you are concerned about this, opt out of the Express Settings privacy defaults during the upgrade and select Customise instead, to select how much personal information you provide to Microsoft. Or, after the upgrade, go to the Start button, select Settings and then Privacy and set your customisation.

Is the upgrade worth the hassle?

The new OS is definitely a step up from Windows 8, but if you’re happy to wait six months, you’ll get a more advanced version with, one would hope, no driver problems. The upgrade to 10 will be free for Windows 7 users until July 2016, and free for ever if you’re starting from Windows 8.