Windows 10 has arrived for consumers, but should you install Windows 10? There are plenty of reasons to embrace Windows 10, not least the fact it will be a free upgrade to users of Windows 7 and 8.1. We explain who should upgrade to the new version of the OS, plus a few things to consider if you're using older hardware and software. Should you upgrade to Windows 10?

The free update offer lasts for a year, so there's no pressure to decide before 29 July 2015 when Windows 10 launches. With many new features, and various system improvements upgrading is a no-brainer for most people, and in our review of the preview build we explain in more depth why we're impressed. Here, we’ll explain who should and shouldn't upgrade, and offer a couple of reasons why you might want to hold off for the first few weeks.

Should I upgrade to Windows 10? Can I downgrade again?

One of the first questions we’re often asked when it comes to upgrading a system is how easily can you go back to your old one if you don’t like it. The answer with Windows 10 is that it's very easy.

Microsoft has built in a simple process that only requires a few clicks to have the system roll back to your previous version of Windows (so long as you haven’t deleted the windows.old folder in which the previous version lives). You can read our guide to downgrading Windows 10.

When we tested this helpful feature it successfully took data and installed apps with it, meaning you’re good to go as soon as the process is complete. Of course, as with any operating system installation, you’ll want to make a full backup of your data before you begin either the upgrade or the downgrade.

Should I upgrade to Windows 10? It’s free!

The biggest decision taken by Microsoft with Windows 10 was to offer the OS as a free upgrade to current users of Windows 7 and 8.1. In fact there’s a good chance that your PC is already displaying a new icon in the system tray, prompting you to reserve your copy of Windows 10. There has been a little confusion over exactly who can upgrade, but this has been clarified now by Microsoft and boils down to you having an activated and genuine copy of Windows 7 (SP1) or 8.1 installed on your PC. Those with oolder versions of 7 or 8 should use the Windows Update feature to bring their systems up to a qualifying version.

For XP or Vista users Windows 10 will be a paid upgrade. To find out if your machine qualifies for a free copy see, Will my PC get Windows 10?

Should I upgrade to Windows 10? It's not just for tablets

It’s hard to imagine that Windows 8 will be fondly remembered by many users. While it has a fine engine at its core, the clumsy interface that favoured touch over traditional mouse and keyboard inputs made it confusing to use at first.

Splitting apps into two desktop environments - modern and classic - gave the whole OS a schizophrenic persona, and one that was totally unnecessary as so few decent Modern apps were actually available. Windows 10 avoids the same pitfalls by returning to a Windows 7 style desktop, complete with a Start Menu that features optional live tiles for those who liked that addition to Windows 8. The Charms bar is no more, instead replaced by a more robust Settings section that is easily available from the Start Menu.

Modern apps run in windows on the desktop, and the newly introduced Universal apps mean that you purchase something once and then have it available on all your Windows devices - be they a PC, Surface, tablet, phone, or even Xbox One. Of course touch hasn’t disappeared entirely, but now it’s handled by a new feature called Continuum which senses what kind of device you are using and adjusts the interface accordingly. So, for example, if you have a Surface Pro 3 and remove the keyboard, Windows 10 will then switch to an entirely touch based system, and vice versa. For a more expansive comparison of the differences between Windows 10 and its predecessors you can check out our Windows 7 vs Windows 10, and Windows 8 vs Windows 10 comparison guides.

Should I upgrade to Windows 10?

Should I upgrade to Windows 10? Cortana is great!

Virtual assistants are already helping out on your phone, with Google Now and Apple’s Siri grabbing the headlines, but Microsoft intends to make them big news on desktops with Cortana in Windows 10. This intelligent assistant can now be found on laptops and PCs - not just Windows Phones.

It will now allow you to control elements of your PC by using your voice. Clicking on the search section of the Taskbar will open up Cortana, and from there you can make web queries thanks to the new universal search facility that incorporates the internet as well as your device. You can also schedule appointments in your calendar, dictate notes and reminders, control your media, get map directions, and a host of other commands. What’s even better is that Microsoft is releasing version of Cortana for Android devices and the iPhone, so no matter what your choice of device you can still sync up your data. Read more about how to use Cortana in Windows 10. 

Should I upgrade to Windows 10?

Should I upgrade to Windows 10? No Microsoft account required

With Windows 8 a Microsoft account was mandatory, as you used it to log in. With Windows 10 you can elect to create standard accounts instead, using whatever email address you want. Of course if you want the cool Microsoft-embedded features that work with OneDrive then you’ll still need to sign up.

Should I upgrade to Windows 10? Handy new features

Another addition in Windows 10 is that of Virtual Desktops. With this neat feature you can use the Task View mode to easily create multiple workspaces on your PC and switch between them as if they were on different screens. You can also arrange windows on your desktop using the Snap Assist feature, so that they take up one half of the screen or even split into four quarters of the desktop. We’ve prepared a guide showing how you can use these handy features, which you can read here

Should I upgrade to Windows 10?

Should I upgrade to Windows 10? Bonuses for gamers

Gamers will take heart that Microsoft is building in features to enhance the experience in Windows 10. These include the ability to stream games from your Xbox One to your PC (great if someone else is watching the television), a new gameplay recording capability called PC Game DVR, and of course the latest version of DirectX 12 which is already garnering praise for its performance improvements on graphics cards and CPUs.

See also: Will my games run on Windows 10?

Should I upgrade to Windows 10? Not if you have old software and hardware

One possible concern for those moving up to Windows 10, especially from older versions of Windows, is whether their important applications will work on the new OS. For major software releases this will almost certainly be a smooth upgrade, but it’s worth checking with the software provider, as they may still be working on a new version. You don’t want to upgrade and suddenly find you can’t do your normal work on your PC. The same holds true for peripherals such as printers and scanners, which may require the downloading of new drivers to ensure they work properly on the new platform.

Should I upgrade to Windows 10? Wait until the bugs are ironed out

While we are strong believers in the merits of Windows 10, it might contain a few bugs and glitches that will need to be ironed out. The version which launches on 29 July will have been extensively tested and should be rock solid, but inevitably there will be a few that slip through the net. If this makes you in any way uneasy, we’d recommend that you wait a few weeks, maybe even a couple of months, if you’re going to install it on your primary machine. This gives kamikaze users the chance to experience any major errors, and Microsoft the time to fix them. 

Should I upgrade to Windows 10? Are you upgrading from XP or Vista?

As we stated above, Windows 10 will be a free upgrade for existing Windows 7 (SP1) and Windows 8.1 users. This offer doesn’t extend to XP or Vista and you can’t simply upgrade even if you're willing to pay. Updating requires a clean install.

Whether you should buy an upgrade then is a trickier question in this instance. While the advantages of Windows 10 are clear, if you’re running specialist software on your XP or Vista machine, then the chances are it’s pretty old and might not be compatible with the latest OS. Then there’s the price to consider. Although you can’t buy it in the Store yet, Microsoft has stated that Windows 10 will be same price as Windows 8.1, which puts the Home edition at around £99 and the Professional edition at £189.

If your software is compatible with Windows 10, or you're happy to update to new versions of the software then it's more sensible to buy a new PC with it already installed, rather than spend £100 on Windows 10. While you might be happy with your machine, if it’s running Vista or XP then the chances are it’s quite old, and likely to have parts wearing out. By putting that £100 towards the cost of a new machine you can find something decent for around £250-£300 and have it only really cost you £150-£200 - plus there are often deals with online storage providers now included, so you might get a chunk of cloud space into the bargain. Of course you should always check our reviews of the best PCs and Laptops available to ensure you get your money's worth.

Bottom line

While Windows 8 was an unpleasant surprise for a lot of people, Windows 10 goes a long way to putting that right. The OS is clean, familiar, and easy to understand, plus it has a wealth of new, helpful features that you'll actually want to use. The fact that it's free for the majority of existing Windows users, and can be rolled back quickly to the previous version if you don't like it, really makes it very, very easy to recommend.