To Upgrade or Not Upgrade

For most Indians, upgrading to the latest version of Windows has always been a task filled with trepidation. Besides the obvious concerns of potential compatibility issues – hardware- and software-related – the biggest source of hesitation is the price. Not many are excited with the idea of having to pay thousands of rupees for software, which in the case of Windows, has ranged anywhere between a starting price of `6,000 (for OEM/Home Editions with a student dis- count) rising up to exorbitant rates of even `18,000 (for Professional and Ultimate Editions).

Fortunately, the tech gods have blessed us with some excellent news. For the first time in history, Microsoft is providing users running an activated copy of Windows 7, 8, or 8.1 with the option to upgrade to Windows 10 via a digital download for FREE. That’s right. Windows 10 will not cost you a single rupee (unless you factor in the bandwidth cost of downloading a 3 GB file).

Excited? Of course you are! Skeptical? Well you should be; especially since this is the same company that just a few years ago charged its users $199 to upgrade to a Professional Edition of Windows 7.

Furthermore, Microsoft has stated that this version of Windows will be the “last”. While it goes without saying that users will continue to receive updates for optimizations and bug fixes, the general interface and feature list may remain largely the same.

To help alleviate your fears of upgrading to this latest and (in all probability) final retail version of Windows, we have taken the trouble of answering some common questions you might have before you click that “Upgrade Now” button.

Why has Microsoft taken such a philanthropic turn? Surely there must be some catch as to why this upgrade is “free”.

Surprisingly, no. And for this, there are a number of reasons. According to some analysts, offering a free upgrade is bound to spur consumer adoption, which in turn will ultimately benefit Microsoft. Furthermore, the faster Windows 10 expands its active user base, the more non-Windows users will be encouraged to purchase a copy of Windows. Further, as more users shift to Windows 10, the number of Windows 7/8/8.1 users will gradually reduce.

Yes, it really is free. And no, there is no subscription model

As a result, these versions will receive fewer updates as Microsoft shifts their focus to improving the overall user experience of Windows 10. This will eventually force users to upgrade their systems to an operating that will undoubtedly be better supported. As we discussed in the first chapter from a fiscal point of view, the decision to allow existing users to upgrade for free might not hurt Microsoft as much as people think. Microsoft will still continue to make money from the sales of new PCs that will come preloaded with a copy of Windows 10.

In fact, most home users will be running an OEM version of Windows 7/8/8.1, which unfortunately cannot be reinstalled on a new/upgraded system. In essence, OEM licenses are tied to the system/motherboard on which they are installed. So users buying an upgraded system with Windows 10 will invariably be paying for the new OEM copy they are receiving.

How we missed you, Start Menu

The tides of technology are slowly turning. The rise of the smartphone has seen users pining for an integrated ecosystem where they can get a unified experience across all their devices. Apple is trying to answer this call with iOS and OSX catering to all iPhone, iPad, iMac and MacBook users. Similarly, Google has delivered an extremely popular and versatile smartphone platform with Android.

However, they are still miles behind Microsoft when it comes to providing a productive desktop-based OS (Chromium just doesn’t cut it). Enter Microsoft and their master plan of mobilizing its user base to a single, unified platform. This unification will translate to reduced efforts toward maintaining software compatibility across multiples operating systems while providing easier deployment of security fixes.

For users, this means a more seamless multi-device experience. Imagine working on a presentation at home on your desktop, adding the finishing touches on your phone while on the way to the meeting, and using your Surface tablet to control the slide show. It is easy to foresee users purchasing Windows devices if they are promised such an integrated, hassle-free multi-device experience.

Are there any exceptions as to who can receive this upgrade for free?

Yes. The upgrade is only valid for Home and Pro editions of Windows 7/8/8.1 (OEM included). So entrepreneurs or business owners who plan to upgrade their organization’s systems to the Windows 10 ecosystem will have to negotiate for a renewed Enterprise license deal. Similarly, home users running a copy of Windows XP or older will have to shell out full price for the upgrade.

As it stands, Microsoft has no plans to offer any discounts to those using licensed copies of legacy versions.

How do I know if my PC qualifies? First, there’s the question of minimum system requirements.

Fortunately, you are spared the need to upgrade your system’s configuration if it was already capable of running Windows 7 and above as Windows 10 has the exact same requirements. On the other hand, if you plan on installing it on a system running Windows XP or older, do ensure your system meets the following requirements:

  • Š 1 GHz (or faster) processor or SoC
  • 1 GB RAM (for 32-bit) or 2 GB RAM (for 64-bit)
  • Š Free hard drive space of 16 GB (for 32-bit) or 20 GB (for 64-bit OS) Š
  • DirectX 9 (or later) graphics card with WDDM 1.0 driver
  • Š Display with a resolution of 800×600 (or greater)

I am comfortable using my current version of Windows. Since the upgrade is free, can I wait a few years before upgrading?

Well, if you want the upgrade for free, then NO. Microsoft has categorically stated that all Windows users eligible for the free upgrade should claim it within one year of Windows 10’s release date. So ensure you upgrade before July 29, 2016 or be ready to pay full price.

I am on the fence regarding whether I should opt for the upgrade. What features do you think will sway me towards upgrading?

1.Revamped Start menu and Action Centre

After the debacle that was the Metro UI introduced in Windows 8, Micro- soft has thankfully decided to go back to basics by reintroducing the Start Menu, albeit with a few added features. Users can choose between a no-frills Start Menu, reminiscent of that in Windows 7, and a more modern looking one that adds a condensed tile inter- face for quick access to apps and services.

In addition, the new Action Centre provides a seamless interface for viewing notifications (which are also synced across any other Windows devices that you own).

2.Better Desktop and Window Management

Something that users had been crying out for was better multitasking support, with the number one requested feature being multiple virtual desktops.

Microsoft has answered the call, and Windows 10 comes with seamless virtual desktop support and improved window-snap management. Expect higher productivity and a more intuitive interface.

3.Microsoft Edge

When news broke that Microsoft was aiming for a complete overhaul of Internet Explorer (a browser so hated, it was almost hipster to use it), many a head turned in anticipation.

Microsoft Edge promises faster and safer browsing without the need to down- load a third party application. However, it will take consid- erable time and effort (as well as a few good plugins) before it replaces Chrome and Firefox as most people’s default browser.

As a Windows 7 or Windows 8 user, are there any removed features that I might miss after the upgrade?

1.Desktop Gadgets

Bye bye, beloved widgets

Users who upgraded from Windows XP to Windows 8 will have missed the useful desktop gadgets introduced in Windows 7.

The built-in ones allowed you to check the weather, get updated stock quotes, monitor system resources, and even control your media player. Windows discon- tinued this in Windows 8 and it does not look like they have any plans of bringing them back in Windows 10. There is a third-party application called 8Gadgetpack that does provide gadget support for Windows 8/8.1 (and possibly even for Windows 10) but if you’re a purist, then sticking to Windows 7 is your best bet.

2.Windows Media Center

Released in 2002, Window Media Center was Microsoft’s solution for a uni- fied media consumption utility. Unfortunately, the painful setup procedure, outdated interface, and competition from other software like XBMC (now Kodi) and NextPVR is what led Microsoft to eventually discontinue sup- port for it. If you are part of the very niche group still using Media Center, consider switching to an alternate, especially if you plan on upgrading to Windows 10.

3.Solitaire, Hearts, and Minesweeper

Windows 8 users have already been heartbroken by the absence of these iconic time wasters, and it seems Microsoft still sees no need to add preloaded games to Windows 10. However, you can still the official version of Solitaire and Minesweeper from the app store. Just be ready to deal with annoying ads, which for some bizarre reason, can be removed by paying $1.49 a month. Good luck making money with that tactic, Microsoft.

That’s all nice, but this is Windows we’re talking about. Surely there are some reasons why I should not upgrade.

1.You don’t want to be a software guinea pig

Despite its long development cycle, Windows 10 is still a relatively untested operating system. And like any software, it is always best to wait a while till after it has been tested on multiple systems with different hardware– software combinations.

Before upgrading, make a list of all the applications you use and check if they are compatible with Windows 10. If not, it would be best to wait till the developers push out a compatible versions or till a Windows updates fixes it.

Though as you have learnt from the previous chapter, most software won’t have any issues with compatibility.

2.You own old peripheral hardware

Chances are that if you own decades-old peripherals like printers and scanners, you may have already given this a thought. Windows is infamous for not ensuring the compatibility of present day drivers with vintage devices, mainly because the trade-off between effort taken to ensure compatibility and number of users that actually use old hardware is not very profitable.

So before you hit the upgrade button, do some research as to whether that old printer has drivers compatible with Windows 10. If you’re out of luck, your options would be to either to upgrade Windows and switching to new hardware or staving off the upgrade so you can squeeze out a few more years out of your peripherals. Of course, there’s always the possibility that the manufacturer decides to release compatible drivers within the free upgrade window.

You own a preassembled system/laptop with hardware that is notorious for its poor driver support

Not all laptops and systems are built with premium hardware and peripherals.

If you own a device manufactured by a relatively unknown company, then chances are you are familiar with the experience of hardware being broken after a driver update. In the same vein, many laptop owners have complained about basic Windows features being broken on day 1 of the update’s release.

For example, some Lenovo users have complained about reduced audio levels and broken Dolby audio. Others are reporting frequent Wi-Fi disconnections, poor Bluetooth connectivity, and the list goes on. To ensure you are not among the poor saps tempted to smash their laptops on the wall, Google your laptop model number and check if other users are facing similar problems.

I think I am ready to upgrade my system. Is there anything else I should keep in mind before going for it?

Well there is one small caveat introduced in Windows 10 that Microsoft is hoping will be more pros and less cons: Users will not have the option of restricting automatic Windows updates.

You heard correct. Provided you are connected to the internet, Windows will automatically download and install updates in the back- ground, which will be applied after a system restart (for which you will be notified). Windows 10 Pro and Enterprise users will at least have an option to schedule these updates, similar to how it works T in current versions.

However, they too will not able to permanently delay the update, unless (ironically) Microsoft decides to add such a feature in a future update. Unsurprisingly, this decision has been met with serious derision from the tech community, in particular, app developers.

Some may argue that by ensuring all systems are updated, developers can ensure their apps will remain compatible for all users. The other side of this coin is that updates can also cause certain apps to break. Developers can no longer rest with the knowledge of creating an app that will not fail as a result of factors out of their control. Upgrade only if you are willing to live the constant risk of an essential app breaking functionality, and waiting till (hopefully) a fix is released.

No support for SecuROM and SafeDisc DRM

This is sure to ruffle some feathers

Microsoft has stated that games using old, unsupported DRMs such as SecuROM and SafeDisc will not be supported on Windows 10. These DRMs have not been supported for years and their drivers have consequently been left unupdated.

These drivers pose a “possible loophole for computer viruses” according to Microsoft’s German Marketing Manager, Boris Schneider-Johne, and hence any software requiring the use of these drivers will not work. These DRMs were well known for the sheer inconvenience they caused in the name of keeping games free from piracy.

For example, SecuROM restricted the number of times you could reinstall a game while also forcing occasional online authenticity checks. In actuality, these did very little to actually prevent piracy; instead, even gamers who owned legitimate copies of these games would use a crack or noCD patch to override the DRM. If some of your old favourites use these DRMs, you can still play them on Windows 10, provided you avoid the DRM.

Some developers have rereleased DRM-free versions of their games on sites like GOG.com. Of course, you could always download a crack or noCD patch that circumvents the DRM. If you’re not comfortable downloading cracks/patches (considering the malware risk it carries), a legal and relatively safer option would be test-signing the DRM software’s drivers yourself.

You can refer to Microsoft’s DIY tutorial or use a third-party software to do it with a few clicks.This process does leave a Windows watermark, though there are tutorials to help you remove that as well.