Windows 10 Anniversary Update is ready to go and free for just a few more days

The final build of the Windows 10 Anniversary Update is build 14393. The update, which provides a range of new features and improvements, represents Microsoft’s last big push to get Windows 7 and 8.1 users to upgrade to Windows 10.

The update is available right now to those who have opted in to the Windows Insider program, and it will be pushed out to Windows 10 users on the current branch on August 2. The free upgrade offer from Windows 7 and 8.1 to Windows 10, however, ends on July 29, leaving Microsoft hoping that the promise of the new update will be enough to get people to make the switch.

For consumers, the big Anniversary Update improvements are in stylus support and Cortana. For as long as Microsoft has been pushing pen interfaces on Windows—the specs for Windows XP Tablet edition came out about 15 years ago—the company has done so as a mouse alternative, with the only major pen-specific feature being handwriting recognition.

 This never worked well. Finger-based touch interfaces dominated with the rise of the iPhone, but Windows has always retained its pen support, with devices like the Surface Pro 4 and Surface Book shipping with pens.

Over the years, that pen support has always been rather unloved, undergoing little improvement since the Windows XP days. The Anniversary Update makes it more of a priority, offering quick access to pen apps, including a new Cortana-integrated sticky note app and a neat screenshot annotating app, and even including the ability to use some pen apps above the lock screen.

Cortana is also being pushed harder. Microsoft’s digital assistant can also be used above the lock screen, so she can answer questions and take notes even without unlocking your PC. The Anniversary Update also offers smartphone syncing using the Cortana apps on iOS, Android, and Windows 10 Mobile. With this, notifications, status updates, and alerts from your phone can be transported to your PC. They can even be responded to from within the Windows 10 Action Center. This means that, for example, an SMS sent to the phone can be replied to from the notification on the PC.

The Edge browser has also received a great deal of attention: the big piece is extension support, with Microsoft’s browser finally supporting the same HTML and JavaScript-based extensions that are already found on Chrome and Firefox.

Business customers are not, for the most part, eligible to receive the free upgrade, but Microsoft is still courting them, too. Windows 10 has already been adopted surprisingly quickly by the Department of Defense, with the government encouraged by Windows 10’s security improvements. The Anniversary Update has more to offer here. The Windows Hello biometric authentication system has been extended, enabling password-free access to apps such as Dropbox. Biometric authentication will also be possible in the browser, using FIDO. Over time, we can expect banks and other online services to directly support biometric authentication from their websites.

Enterprise users will also need the Anniversary Update to use Windows Defender Advanced Threat Protection, which adds cloud management and big data heuristics to the Windows Defender anti-malware product.

The Anniversary Update is Microsoft’s last chance to persuade Windows 7 and 8.1 hold-outs to make the switch, and they’ll have to upgrade fast if they want to get it for free. The free upgrade scheme appears to have been very successful: Microsoft is sticking to its “more than 350 million users” number from about a month ago, but in comparison it took Windows 7 about 18 months to hit that same target. The Insider program, too, has been rather successful: for the Anniversary Update alone, some 25 PC builds and 16 Mobile builds were shipped to beta testers, resulting in 5,000 fixes and improvements to Windows 10.

We’ll have a full review of the Anniversary Update next week—although the final build is “done” and at least one patch has been shipped since then, and there are rumors that there will be another to follow—but we continue to believe that Windows 10 is well worth the update, especially given its current price. Although that price is about to go up: once the free upgrade is gone, Windows 10 Home will be $119, Pro $199 (£99 and £190 respectively in the UK). Making the switch in a week will cost a lot more than it will today, and judging the value of such an upgrade will be much harder as a result.

There’s still widespread belief that Microsoft will back down and extend the free upgrade after all, but in case the company doesn’t—and it has consistently said that it won’t—Windows users had better make the switch now, while they still can.

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