It is almost time for Microsoft to draw to a close one of the most controversial chapters in its history - as the much-maligned Windows 8 will be replaced with Windows 10 (the company is skipping 9). When it was released in 2012, Windows 8 brought with it dramatic design changes - and whilst Windows 10 retains the best of these innovations, it is also looks set to be a more familiar experience for PC users.
Windows 10 Release Date
Existing Windows 7 and 8 users will be able to upgrade to Windows 10 for free from July 29th, and will have a year to take advantage of this special offer. Interestingly, even users running pirated copies of the older operating systems will be able to upgrade to 10 - though Microsoft has said that these users will still be considered "unlicensed".
Just like how you can pre-load some digitally downloaded games bought before the official release date, Windows users will also be able to "pre-load" Windows 10 too.
So good news for everyone then - as it means that it will be cheaper for everyone to get the latest (and we hope greatest) Windows, and it'll be be good for Microsoft as it will mean more users can access the Microsoft app store and run the latest software.
However, you may be wondering how Microsoft plans to pay for all of the free copies. It seems that it could be planning to introduce advertising on the lock screen.
Start Menu & Windows 10 Features
The first big change you'll notice in Windows 10, if upgrading from 8, is that the Start Menu has made a welcome return. Combining the best features of both the classic start menu and 8's "live tiles", you'll once again have a straightforward way of accessing all of your apps and documents, without the full-screen bloat that made 8 so infuriating.
Cleverly, it'll also be possible to customise the Start Menu - stretching or shrinking it to meet your needs.
Windows 10 Cross Platform Support
Windows 10 won't just be significant for desktop users, but it'll be important to mobile and tablet users too. Microsoft claims to have developed a "common platform", which means that the same code can run on all three device types - which is good for developers as it means they'll only have to write it once.
Hopefully developers won't get lazy though, and will make sure their apps are optimised for the three different experiences - so desktop-oriented apps aren't too fiddly on mobile, and mobile apps aren't massive on desktops.
Microsoft's Siri-alike Cortana assistant will be making its way from mobile to the desktop - making it possible to ask questions using voice or by typing on your PC. As in mobile, Cortana will be able to tell you about the weather, manage your calendars and even tell you a joke.
Xbox and Gaming
Windows 10 means deeper integration with Xbox - and the OS's new Xbox app will bring across a number of the features that console gamers find so useful. For example, you'll now be able to chat and send messages to your Xbox friends through the new Windows 10 app. You'll also be able to access achievements.
Perhaps the biggest new feature though is that you'll be able to stream games from your Xbox One console to your Windows 10 device - meaning that if someone else is watching TV, or if you fancy a bit of Halo in bed, you can stream your game direct to your Windows 10 tablet or phone.
The app will also apparently enable cross-platform multiplayer on certain titles (such as the forthcoming Fable Legends) - though we don't fancy our chances in console Call of Duty against a soldier packing a mouse & keyboard.
The Xbox app will also have Microsoft's "Game DVR" built in, allowing you to easily record, stream and upload your gaming sessions to the likes of Twitch and YouTube.
Perhaps best of all though... Windows 10 marks the return of Solitaire! The game - albeit a souped up version of the one we all remember - will be included once again, after being found MIA during the Windows 8 years.
Nobody likes Internet Explorer and Microsoft has finally admitted it by launching a whole new browser called "Edge". Whilst it uses many of the same innards as IE, such as the same rendering engine, it is claimed to be more lightweight and faster than its tarnished older brother.
It will also have a built in annotation mode, for writing notes on to webpages, and there will be a reading mode too, which will simplify page layouts to make reading long articles a more pleasurable experience. And of course, there will be full Cortana integration.
Microsoft will be baking in support for alternatives to passwords - such as biometric scanners and iris readers. Meaning that soon, you'll just have to worry about not getting your fingers chopped off instead of having to remember a string of characters.
Microsoft will also be ending the process of saving up all of the software updates and patches for release every week, and instead pushing them out whenever they are ready - meaning that your machine should always be fully protected against viruses and hackers.
Whilst it won't be an integral part of the operating system, Windows 10 looks set to form the backbone of Microsoft's ultra-futuristic HoloLens VR programme. Microsoft claims that it will be the first OS to support "holographic computing" APIs, that will enable developers to build holographic apps.
Office Free on Phones & Tablets
If you're using Windows 10 on mobile, then good news - Microsoft is throwing Microsoft Office in for free. We're not expecting the same trick to be repeated on desktop, as Office is still a massive cash-cow for the corporation, given that pretty much every business in the world has to use the app at some point.
Raspberry Pi and Embedded Devices
Perhaps one of the most intriguing announcements about Windows 10 is that it will be made available for free for Raspberry Pi - meaning that bedroom coders with the diminutive computer could soon be building Windows apps and not having to rely on Linux. The motivation appears to be the Internet of Things, as many IoT projects are powered by the Pi. Details on this are sketchy at the moment, but Microsoft says if you register with its developers programme, it'll keep you posted.
One fascinating rumour is that Microsoft is planning to let Android users upgrade their phones directly to Windows 10 - by flashing a new Windows ROM on to their existing phone hardware. If the company can pull it off, its a great idea as it could provide an easy boost to Microsoft's rather lacklustre market share amongst phone users - which in turn will make the platform more attractive to developers. To make the transition as painless as possible, it seems that Microsoft could also let Android apps run on Windows.