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Windows 10 is distinctive for several reasons. First, it introduces the “Windows as a service” concept, in which most users will automatically receive incremental updates with both feature and security patches. Second, it is a free upgrade for most existing users of Windows 7 or 8.1. Third, it is a multi-device operating system that runs on PCs, tablets, phones, HoloLens-augmented reality headsets, and miniature computer boards like Raspberry Pi.

These various editions are unified by an application runtime called the Universal Windows Platform (UWP), which enables developers to code apps once and have them run on all the above devices as well as Xbox One. Different display sizes are catered for by a mechanism called the Adaptive UI, where the user interface adapts itself automatically to the size and orientation of the screen. UWP apps are deployed through the Windows Store, now unified across phone and PC, and users can buy an app once and run in on a variety of devices.

Windows 10 is not Microsoft’s first attempt to create an operating system that runs well on tablets as well as PCs. Earlier efforts include the 2002 Tablet PC, based on Windows XP and adding pen support, handwriting recognition, and voice input. In November 2001, then-CEO Bill Gates said that “I’m already using a Tablet as my everyday computer… within five years I predict it will be the most popular form of PC sold in America.” Tablets were indeed a success, but not until April 2010 when Apple released the iPad. Pens are an expensive nuisance for most users, and traditional Windows applications are ill-suited to control with touch.

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