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Windows 10 received generally positive reviews upon its original release. Critics praised Microsoft's decision to provide the desktop-oriented interface in line with previous versions of Windows, contrasting the tablet-oriented approach of Windows 8, although Windows 10's touch-oriented user interface mode was criticized for containing regressions upon the touch-oriented interface of its predecessor. Critics also praised the improvements to Windows 10's bundled software over Windows 8.1, Xbox Live integration, as well as the functionality and capabilities of the Cortana personal assistant and the replacement of Internet Explorer with Microsoft Edge. However, media outlets have been critical of the changes to operating system behaviors, including mandatory update installation, privacy concerns over data collection performed by the OS for Microsoft and its partners, and adware-like tactics used to promote the operating system on its release.
At the Build Conference in April 2014, Microsoft's Terry Myerson unveiled an updated version of Windows 8.1 (build 9697) that added the ability to run Windows Store apps inside desktop windows and a more traditional Start menu in place of the Start screen seen in Windows 8. The new Start menu takes after Windows 7's design by using only a portion of the screen and including a Windows 7-style application listing in the first column. The second column displays Windows 8-style app tiles. Myerson said that these changes would occur in a future update, but did not elaborate. Microsoft also unveiled the concept of a "universal Windows app", allowing Windows Store apps created for Windows 8.1 to be ported to Windows Phone 8.1 and Xbox One while sharing a common codebase, with an interface designed for different device form factors, and allowing user data and licenses for an app to be shared between multiple platforms. Windows Phone 8.1 would share nearly 90% of the common Windows Runtime APIs with Windows 8.1 on PCs.
On June 1, 2015, Microsoft announced that Windows 10 would be released on July 29, 2015. On July 20, 2015, Microsoft began "Upgrade Your World", an advertising campaign centering on Windows 10, with the premiere of television commercials in Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Japan, the United Kingdom, and the United States. The commercials focused on the tagline "A more human way to do", emphasizing new features and technologies supported by Windows 10 that sought to provide a more "personal" experience to users. The campaign culminated with launch events in thirteen cities on July 29, 2015, which celebrated "the unprecedented role our biggest fans played in the development of Windows 10".
A new iteration of the Start menu is used on the Windows 10 desktop, with a list of places and other options on the left side, and tiles representing applications on the right. The menu can be resized, and expanded into a full-screen display, which is the default option in Tablet mode. A new virtual desktop system was added by a feature known as Task View, which displays all open windows and allows users to switch between them, or switch between multiple workspaces. Universal apps, which previously could be used only in full screen mode, can now be used in self-contained windows similarly to other programs. Program windows can now be snapped to quadrants of the screen by dragging them to the corner. When a window is snapped to one side of the screen, Task View appears and the user is prompted to choose a second window to fill the unused side of the screen (called "Snap Assist"). The Windows system icons were also changed.
Windows 10 is distributed digitally through the "Media Creation Tool", which is functionally identical to the Windows 8 online installer, and can also be used to generate an ISO image or USB install media. In-place upgrades are supported from most editions of Windows 7 with Service Pack 1 and Windows 8.1 with Update 1, while users with Windows 8 must first upgrade to Windows 8.1. Changing between architectures (e.g., upgrading from 32-bit edition to a 64-bit editions) via in-place upgrades is not supported; a clean install is required. In-place upgrades may be rolled back to the device's previous version of Windows, provided that 30 days have not passed since installation, and backup files were not removed using Disk Cleanup.
Windows 10 was available in 190 countries and 111 languages upon its launch, and as part of efforts to "re-engage" with users in China, Microsoft also announced that it would partner with Qihoo and Tencent to help promote and distribute Windows 10 in China, and that Chinese PC maker Lenovo would provide assistance at its service centers and retail outlets for helping users upgrade to Windows 10. At retail, Windows 10 is priced similarly to editions of Windows 8.1, with U.S. prices set at $119 and $199 for Windows 10 Home and Pro respectively. A Windows 10 Pro Pack license allows upgrades from Windows 10 Home to Windows 10 Pro. Retail copies only ship on USB flash drive media; however, system builder copies still ship as DVD-ROM media. New devices shipping with Windows 10 were also released during the operating system's launch window.
On the general availability build of Windows 10 (the original release), to activate and generate the "digital entitlement" for Windows 10, the operating system must have first been installed as an in-place upgrade. During the free upgrade, a genuineticket.xml file is created in the background and the system's motherboard details are registered with a Microsoft Product Activation server. Once installed, the operating system can be reinstalled on that particular system via normal means without a product key, and the system's license will automatically be detected via online activation - in essence, the Microsoft Product Activation Server will remember the system's motherboard and give it the green light for product re-activation. Because of installation issues with Upgrade Only installs, the November Update (version 1511) included additional activation mechanisms. This build treated Windows 7 and Windows 8/8.1 product keys as Windows 10 product keys, meaning they could be entered during installation to activate the free license, without the need to upgrade first to "activate" the hardware with Microsoft's activation servers. For major Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs), Windows 8/8.1 and Windows 10 OEM product keys are embedded in the firmware of the motherboard and if the correct edition of Windows 10 is present on the installation media, they are automatically inputted during installation. Since the release of the Fall Creators Update (version 1709), Microsoft decided to release multi-edition installation media, to alleviate installation and product activation issues users experienced because of accidentally installing the wrong edition of Windows 10.
During upgrades, Windows 10 licenses are not tied directly to a product key. Instead, the license status of the system's current installation of Windows is migrated, and a "Digital license" (known as "Digital entitlement" in version 1511 or earlier) is generated during the activation process, which is bound to the hardware information collected during the process. If Windows 10 is reinstalled cleanly and there have not been any significant hardware changes since installation (such as a motherboard change), the online activation process will automatically recognize the system's digital entitlement if no product key is entered during installations. However, unique product keys are still distributed within retail copies of Windows 10. As with previous non-volume-licensed variants of Windows, significant hardware changes will invalidate the digital entitlement, and require Windows to be re-activated.
In July 2017, Microsoft announced changes in the terminology for Windows branches as part of its effort to unify the update cadence with that of Office 365 ProPlus and Windows Server 2016. The branch system now defines two paces of upgrade deployment in enterprise environments, "targeted" initial deployment of a new version on selected systems immediately after its stable release for final testing, and "broad" deployment afterwards. Hence, "Current Branch" is now known as "Semi-Annual Channel (Targeted)", and "Current Branch for Business" for broad deployment is now referred to as "Semi-Annual Channel".
Beginning with Intel Kaby Lake and AMD Bristol Ridge, Windows 10 is the only version of Windows that Microsoft will officially support on newer CPU microarchitectures. Terry Myerson stated that Microsoft did not want to make further investments in optimizing older versions of Windows and associated software for newer generations of processors. These policies were criticized by the media, who especially noted that Microsoft was refusing to support newer hardware (particularly Intel's Skylake CPUs, which was also originally targeted by the new policy with a premature end of support that was ultimately retracted) on Windows 8.1, a version of Windows that was still in mainstream support until January 2018. In addition, an enthusiast-created modification was released that disabled the check and allowed Windows 8.1 and earlier to continue to work on the platform.
On the other hand Ars Technica panned the new Tablet mode interface for removing the charms and app switching, making the Start button harder to use by requiring users to reach for the button on the bottom-left rather than at the center of the screen when swiping with a thumb, and for making application switching less instantaneous through the use of Task View. Microsoft Edge was praised for being "tremendously promising", and "a much better browser than Internet Explorer ever was", but criticized it for its lack of functionality on-launch. In conclusion, contrasting Windows 8 as being a "reliable" platform albeit consisting of unfinished concepts, Windows 10 was considered "the best Windows yet", and was praised for having a better overall concept in its ability to be "comfortable and effective" across a wide array of form factors, but that it was buggier than previous versions of Windows were on-launch. ExtremeTech felt that Windows 10 restricted the choices of users, citing its more opaque setting menus, forcing users to give up bandwidth for the peer-to-peer distribution of updates, and for taking away user control of specific functions, such as updates, explaining that "it feels, once again, as if Microsoft has taken the seed of a good idea, like providing users with security updates automatically, and shoved the throttle to maximum." Windows 10 has also received criticism because of deleting files without user permission after auto updates. 2b1af7f3a8