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Windows 10 release week: what to expect and how to download

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After nine months of waiting, Windows 10 is almost here.

Read next: Our Windows 10 review.

Tuesday night at midnight ET, Microsoft will release the first full release of Windows 10, the biggest sea change in PC software in nearly three years. It's kind of a big deal! We've been getting previews of Windows 10 since October, and the rollout of the actual software will happen in stages, but midnight will still be zero hour for answering a lot of the questions that have swirled around Windows 10 since it was first announced. How do you build a single OS for laptops, tablets, and smartphones? Tuesday night, we'll find out.

First thing's first: how do you get it? Microsoft is sending out Windows 10 in waves, starting with Windows Insiders and then moving through preorders gradually. The waves are designed to make the release more stable — issues that pop up in one wave can be fixed for the next one — but it means it could be days before you actually get the chance to download the new OS. At the same time, some Windows 7 and 8 users have already noticed full installer files being downloaded ahead of the official launch.

What will Windows 10 look like when it arrives?

The good news is that, unlike Windows 8, Windows 10 is designed to work as a straight upgrade, so as long as your computer meets the specs, you should be able to install it right away. Still, we definitely recommend doing a full backup before you install. If you've got Windows 7 or Windows 8, you'll be able to upgrade free any time in the next year. Otherwise, the official price is $119, although third party sellers are already offering cheaper versions for pre-order, to ship at the end of the month.

But the bigger question is what Windows 10 will look like when it finally does arrive — and you won't have to wait days to find out. The Verge and other outlets are going to be putting the OS through its paces as soon as it becomes public, which means Microsoft fans will have a lot to piece through on Tuesday night and Wednesday morning.

To start with, there's a whole new interface to work through. Based on developer previews, Windows 10 seems to be a combination of the best features from 7 and 8, but it also comes with a lot of new ideas that have never been implemented at this scale. Cortana will be everywhere in Windows 10, available in the Start Menu and through voice commands. It's also the first big stage for Microsoft's new Edge browser, a fully revamped notification center, and deeper Xbox integration than we've ever seen before.

And then there's the biggest question of all: will it be ready? As recently as June, there were still some troubling and persistent upgrade bugs kicking around the developer preview. As Tom Warren put it at the time, "the Windows team has a lot of sleepless nights ahead throughout June and July to ensure the quality is high across the vast amount of PCs out there." After Vista and Windows 8, there's a lot of pressure to make sure this launch goes smoothly, but engineers have been fighting an uphill battle to make it happen.

Still, we won't know for sure until Windows 10 goes live on Tuesday. Will the new Cortana outpace Siri? Are we on the cusp of a PC renaissance? Ask us in 36 hours.