Will you claim your free copy of Windows 10?

Windows 10 restores the old start menu - with added tiles
Windows 10 restores the old start menu - with added tiles
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SOONER than expected – perhaps within the next four months – Microsoft will unveil its latest version of Windows, and it will be a launch like no other. Recognising that to most people an operating system alone has no value, the company will give it free to users.

Though this business model is a game-changer for Microsoft, which has depended for decades on sales of Windows for a large slice of its immense revenue, it’s hardly a surprise to anyone else. Apple has long been giving its updates away, and the idea of having to purchase a box of software that is in most respects similar to the one it’s replacing is a throwback to the days when the computer itself was a novelty and the prospect of a new file manager an event to behold.

Windows 10, in fact, will be more similar to Windows 7 than its successor, the widely disliked and commercially under-performing Windows 8. In designing that one, the familiar Start button was jettisoned in favour of a tablet-style “tile” interface, forcing users on to a steep learning curve they had paid to navigate.

It’s believed in some quarters that the product is called Windows 10 as “Windows 9” would have sounded too much like the old Windows 95, and may have been mistaken for it by other software.

You will have at least a year from the launch date to claim your free upgrade, offered as a download to users of Windows 7 and 8. But will you even want it? Microsoft’s track record on new releases is poor – with Windows ME and Vista even bigger flops than version 8, often hobbling PCs that were perfectly functional before.

There are also some exceptions to the free upgrade policy. Microsoft says “enterprise” customers – mainly businesses – won’t qualify, but the other small print is awash with ambiguity. If you do take the plunge, here are the three top features…

1 A new browser, currently called Spartan, will replace Internet Explorer. Most of us, however, may prefer to stick with Chrome, Safari or Firefox.

2 The Windows 7-style start menu is back, enhanced with a column of tiled icons to the immediate right. The tiles will be familiar if you have a Windows phone.

3 Cortana – Microsoft’s impersonation of Apple’s “personal assistant” Siri – is likely to migrate from Windows Phones to Windows 10. This lets you talk to your computer and get answers in real time.