THE GOOD Windows 10 bridges the gap between PCs and tablets without alienating anyone. The new OS combines the best bits of old and new Windows features into a cohesive package, while correcting nearly all of the missteps of Windows 8. The upgrade process is mostly painless, and free for most Windows 7 and 8 users.
THE BAD Many of the new features will be lost on those who don't care about touch. Automatic, forced updates could spell trouble later on. Cortana's features are better suited for smartphones.
THE BOTTOM LINE Windows 10 delivers a refined, vastly improved vision for the future of computing with an operating system that's equally at home on tablets and traditional PCs -- and it's a free upgrade for most users.
Windows 10 is the Goldilocks version of Microsoft's venerable PC operating system -- a "just right" compromise between the familiar dependability of Windows 7, and the forward-looking touchscreen vision of Windows 8.
This new Windows, available as a free upgrade for existing Windows 7 and Windows 8 noncorporate users, is built from the ground up to pursue Microsoft's vision of a unified OS that spans all devices without alienating any one platform. It's an attempt to safeguard Microsoft's crumbling software hegemony, assailed on all sides by Google and Apple. And it's a vision of the future as Microsoft sees it, where a single user experience spans every piece of technology we touch. Welcome to Windows as a service.
Yes, this new OS is chock-full of fresh features. To name just a few: a lean, fast Internet Explorer replacement called Edge; Microsoft's Siri-like voice-controlled virtual assistant, Cortana; and the ability to stream real-time games to your desktop from an Xbox One in another room. (And in case you're wondering: there is no "Windows 9" -- Microsoft skipped it, going straight from 8 to 10.)
But Windows 10 is also the end of a long, awkward road that began with the release of Windows 8 in 2012, when Microsoft tried to convince a world of keyboard and mouse wielders that touchscreens were the way to go -- or else. Ironically, in 2015, the PC hardware for that touchscreen future is now here -- everything from 2-in-1s such as the Lenovo Yoga line to convertible tablets with detachable keyboards, like Microsoft's own Surface. And Windows 10 smoothly lets users transition from "tablet" to "PC" mode on such devices like never before.
For the rest of the PC universe -- including those who still prefer good old-fashioned keyboard and mouse navigation -- Windows 10 is a welcome return to form. The Start menu, inexplicably yanked from 8, is back and working the way you expect it to. Those live tiles from the Windows 8 home screen still exist, but they've been attached to the Start menu, where they make a lot more sense. And the fiendishly hidden Charms bar has been morphed into the more straightforward (and easier to find) Action Center.
As always, there are some quibbles and gripes with the end product, but all-in-all -- after living with Windows 10 for months -- I can say it's a winner. It's flexible, adaptable and customizable. And it's been battle-tested by an army of beta testers for the better part of a year, making it one of the most robust operating system rollouts in recent memory.