Why should I upgrade from Windows 7 to 10?

You haven’t answered the most obvious question of all: why should I upgrade from Windows 7 to 10? What are the benefits? Please give a straight answer, which can include technical stuff. Tom

In the long term, I don’t think the question is “Why?”, it’s “When?” Eight months after launch, Windows 10 is running on 270m devices and it’s not going away. Some large organisations have already started to move, one of the most notable being the US Defense Department, which has started installing Windows 10 on 4m PCs.

By contrast, we know that Windows 7 is going away: Microsoft will stop supporting it in 2020.

Of course, Microsoft – like Apple and Google – would like everyone to use the latest version of its operating system. It has therefore encouraged early adoption by offering a free upgrade to Windows 10 – again, like Apple and Google, except that Microsoft’s upgrade offer is only available for a year.

Either way, once you have installed Windows 10, it will be updated free for the life of your device. There will (probably) never be a Windows 11, because Microsoft is now producing two small updates each year instead of one big update every three years.

Whether it’s worth upgrading now depends on what sort of PC you have, but the more mobile, the better. If you have an old desktop PC with no touchscreen, no camera and no microphone, there are fewer benefits. (The touchscreen isn’t essential, it’s just nice to have.) If you have a modern Windows laptop or 2-in-1 with UEFI firmware, the upgrade is more attractive.

I say “the more mobile, the better” because Windows 10 is a mobile operating system. I know this upsets people who think their PCs should work just like they did in a previous century, but the whole technology world is changing and Windows is changing along with it. Microsoft’s boss Satya Nadella keeps repeating his “cloud first, mobile first” mantra, and Windows will continue to become increasingly mobile and cloud-aware.

Ecosystem wars

The other thing to bear in mind is that we are in an ecosystem war that Microsoft wants to win. The main alternative ecosystems are run by Apple and Google. However, Apple’s approach is mostly “Apple only” (apart from iTunes), while Google’s is mostly “cloud only” (apart from Chrome). Both support only a very limited range of devices.

By contrast, Microsoft is building an ecosystem that supports both on-premise and cloud operation, and that runs across all three ecosystems: it has dozens of apps for Android and Apple’s iOS, and is increasing its support for Linux in Windows 10 and Azure. Windows runs on everything from USB sticks, games consoles and smartphones to giant server farms, and there’s an internet of things version for the Raspberry Pi and other devices.

If you only use one old desktop PC, you will get limited benefits from the Windows ecosystem. If you have a lot of different types of device, you will get more benefits from Windows 10 and all the related apps and cloud-based services such as Outlook.com and Office 365.

From 7 to 10

Depending on your hardware, a straight upgrade from Windows 7 to 10 may offer some benefits. These start with smoother and sometimes faster operations, more economical use of memory and disk space, increased security (SmartScreen, Windows Defender, encryption), and the integration of OneDrive cloud storage.

File Explorer is a better file manager, and DirectX 12 promises better gaming. Task View makes it easier to access running programs. Virtual desktops, which were easily added, are now built in. The system refresh and reset options make it simpler to maintain your PC.

Windows 10 also includes the new Edge browser, though IE11 is still there, hidden away. You can also search the internet from your desktop.

Further, Windows 10 provides better built-in support for newer types of hardware including secure boot capabilities with UEFI, USB 3.0, Bluetooth adapters, high-definition screens (ie better scaling), and solid state drives (eg NVMe).

With UEFI, Windows 10 machines boot up and resume from sleep dramatically faster than Windows 7. Almost instant-on was needed for smartphone and tablet use, of course, but it still benefits PC users.

Many Windows 10 features aren’t available on Windows 7. The most obvious are Cortana, an AI-based personal assistant, notifications and Windows Store apps. All three migrated from the smartphone world. There’s also Windows Hello, where your PC logs you on when it sees your face. However, that requires a camera compatible with Intel’s RealSense.

Windows Store apps – first introduced with Windows 8 – are written to a new application programming interface called Windows RunTime, not the traditional Win32 API. Windows Store apps are remotely installed and updated (like Android and iOS apps), run in secure sandboxes and can be cleanly uninstalled. “Universal” apps run on PCs, Windows smartphones and the Xbox One games console.

Windows 10 includes RunTime apps for Mail, Photos, Maps, Calendar, Groove Music and so on. You can download more from the 700,000 apps in the Windows Store. The quality is variable but they include free Microsoft Office apps, Adobe Photoshop Express, AutoDesk Pixlr, Code Writer, Dropbox, Flipboard, Fresh Paint, Line, Netflix, Notepad++, OneNote, Shazam, SkyScanner, TeamViewer Touch, Trello, TuneIn Radio, Viber and Wunderlist.

There’s one faction of tech fans that claims all smartphone and tablet apps are crap and there’s no substitute for real software, while another faction reckons that smartphone and tablet apps can do everything so the whole PC industry is dead. Both are wrong but why argue? In principle, Windows 10 can offer the best of both worlds.

The case against

You asked about the benefits of upgrading to Windows 10 and I’ve listed some immediate and some strategic (ecosystem) benefits. Even so, I don’t expect everybody to upgrade every PC. For example, my work desktop has no microphone, no camera, no touchscreen, no UEFI, it’s never turned off and it’s mainly used for Microsoft Office, photo processing and web browsing. It might stay on Windows 7 forever. But my touchscreen tablets and laptops get upgraded as soon as possible.

Only you can decide whether you want to jump in now or wait until you buy a new PC, which will have been designed to run Windows 10, and should make much better use of its new features.

Also, Windows 10 has improved a lot since its launch and while you wait, it should keep getting better. If you’re a “late adopter” or otherwise averse to change, you can stick with Windows 7 until January 2020. It’s your decision.

However, if that’s what you want, it’s a good idea to follow Microsoft’s opt-out instructions. This involves editing the registry, but Steve Gibson’s Never 10 will do the job without installing any software. You can delete it after using it.

Have you got another question for Jack? Email it to Ask.Jack@theguardian.com

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