Windows 10 Availability: An Explainer

The Windows 10 rollout followed a lengthy and very public process that not only kept the new operating system steadily in the news, but also provided Microsoft with constant customer feedback that the company hopes will provide properly-set customer expectations and overall superior stability.

In other words, Microsoft's stance on what will be available and when is predicated on a particular practicality, rather than hidden motives -- say, getting people hooked on free Windows 10 and then trying to pull them into Windows 10 Mobile (which is, by the way, the new nomenclature for Windows Phone).

Windows 10 Mobile, Coming Later

The same Insiders for Windows 10 also have access to Windows 10 Mobile builds. Windows 10 Mobile will ship when it is stable and when Microsoft has ironed out all of the quality issues, much as it has done with the desktop version of Windows 10. The latter arrived at a finishing point more quickly.

With the desktop version of Windows 10, Microsoft had to worry about whether users were coming from Windows 7 or Windows 8 (or XP), what hardware and drivers they were running, and so on. With Windows 10 Mobile, some of the parameters are different, including hardware, but also screen size and geographic characteristics. Microsoft has different work to do on Windows 10 Mobile, and based on the feedback the company is getting from Insiders, that work isn't done yet.

Again, the staggering is a practical, not a philosophical choice.

Insiders First, Reservers Second, Sort Of

For the first year after the release of Windows 10, anyone with Windows 7, 8 or 8.1 will get it for free. There is a hierarchy for who will get Windows 10 when, and that too is based on practical issues, including managing the scale of a massive software distribution, but also managing the quality of experience and end user expectations. No surprise here, but Insiders will get it first. Those customers have already been using the builds, have already set expectations, and Microsoft already knows that it's going to work for those 5.5 million customers.

Although Microsoft hasn't said exactly when users who reserved copies of Windows 10 will get theirs, it will begin pushing out the update to these users in waves starting on July 29. The reason for pushing out the OS in this manner is likely an effort to reduce the load on Microsoft's servers during the transition. This method of pushing out the OS will see some users with reserved copies get the OS on day one, while others may not get it until a week after the release or later.

On To Retailers

Two days after the initial release, Microsoft will expand the availability of Windows 10 to retailers. Online retailers such as Newegg and Amazon are set to release the OS on July 30, and it can already be pre-ordered with various methods of distribution, including on USB media.

Next up are the businesses and educational license users. Windows 10 will be available to these entities on August 1. Although many users of Windows 7, 8 and 8.1 will get the complimentary upgrade to Windows 10, businesses and educational institutions are not eligible for the freebie.

An exception here includes some of the big OEMs. Acer, Dell and HP have announced they will have new systems with Windows 10 in brick and mortar stores starting on July 29, and undoubtedly other OEMs will, too. Dell has even gone one step further, shipping its pre-ordered Windows 10 systems in North America on July 28. As a result, many of these users will get the OS at the same time as the Windows Insiders.

You Didn't Reserve A Copy? Ouch.

Those who did not reserve an upgrade copy of Windows 10 will get the OS last. Microsoft claimed that this is due to the need to test for compatibility issues that might arise when a user upgrades. Note that Microsoft has already stated that it has successfully tested compatibility between the OSes, and those with reserved copies are getting Windows 10 earlier.

If compatibility is an issue, it is likely caused by hardware and driver compatibility issues. When we reserved our copies, we weren't asked any information about our hardware, but it is possible Microsoft automatically gathered this information to know when to push the update to us. It is possible, then, that systems with newer hardware will get the update first, and older systems will get it at a later date.

Further, if Microsoft allowed everyone to upgrade at the same time, it is unlikely the servers could handle the load. To resolve the issue, Microsoft's only solution was to prioritize some customers over others, and as a business, it only makes sense to put the paying customers (i.e., businesses and educational institutions) ahead of those getting the free upgrade.

A Clean Windows 10 Installation

Many users have inquired about the ability to have a clean install of Windows 10. The procedure for this will be similar to clean installing Windows 8.1 after upgrading from Windows 8. You will first upgrade your system to the new OS, and then you'll be able to create a USB drive or a DVD with the installation files to do a clean install. It isn't clear at this time how Microsoft will do this, or if it will be an ISO or an application.

The rollout will happen as quickly as possible, but for now Microsoft isn't worried about keeping score, about how many people switch to Windows 10 by a magical date. The company is more focused on successful switches, a philosophy that began with the Insider program, continues through rollout, and will likely be kept in play, not just with other versions of Windows (including on phones and the Xbox), but in future updates as well.

Microsoft thinks it has hit on a very manageable way to ensure success this time around, and if it works, it may just change the lingering perceptions from the Windows 8 debacle.

Follow us @tomshardware, on Facebook and on Google+.

Create a new thread in the US News comments forum about this subject
This thread is closed for comments
39 comments
Comment from the forums
    Your comment
  • firefyte
    It's 8AM here (UTC+3), and it looks like I'm already downloading Windows 10 via the reserved copy. I suspect there may be staggered release, but only in regions with high amounts of users. I'm not an insider, just reserved a copy 'normally'. Update size seems to only be 2706.1MB on Windows 8.1.
  • ohim
    I have a legit Win 8.1 copy and i have been a Windows 10 insider user.. i never got to reserve a copy from Win 8.1 since i was already using 10 .... I`m confused on how will i get Win 10 final version though ...
  • Chipi
    Windows has already released the download tool: https://www.microsoft.com/en-us/software-download/windows10

    You can use it to create a USB flash drive installer or just download the ISO.
    The whole "who get's it first" deal is only for upgrades via Microsoft Update.