Upgrading to Windows 10 from Windows 7 is not quite as seamless as the move from Windows 8.1, but it's close. You get to keep your applications and settings, and the process is simple and leaves you almost no chance to accidentally delete all your apps and data.
I liked Windows 7 -- so much that I almost didn't want to give it up. Vista was horrible, and I balked at the dramatic changes in Windows 8 and 8.1. Windows 7 was nice and familiar, and for a tech journalist, I'm surprisingly resistant to change. On the other hand, Windows 10 looked like it would improve a few things without drastically altering the whole landscape of my PC, and I thought I could live with that. So I took the plunge.
Everything In Its Place
Not only do your applications, settings, and files move to Windows 10, you don't have to jump through any hoops to make it happen. The upgrade's setup wizard gives you "Keep personal files and apps" as the default setting. If, for some reason, you do want to ditch your applications, you have to click "Change what to keep" to access that menu; once you save those changes, you still have the chance to change your mind before you click the "Install" button.
Other than that, there's no other point in the upgrade process where you need to make a decision. Microsoft has always been pretty good at making it hard for PC users to reach settings that could do real damage, and the Windows 10 upgrade is a good example of that in action.
OK, so here's the best thing about Windows 10 so far: when you upgrade, everything automatically ends up in the same place, just as you left it, but within the newer, nicer UI. You don't have to reinstall your applications or spend time putting things back where you want them. Everything's just there.
And I mean everything. I left a few Sticky Notes open on my desktop before the install, just to see what would happen, and they were right there when the upgrade finished, goofy font and all. It's possible that I'm the only person in the world who actually uses Sticky Notes, though, so what about other apps?
Before upgrading, I had gaming platform Steam set to launch on startup; it's something I've always meant to change, because it's always been a little annoying, but not quite annoying enough to get around to changing the setting. As soon as my laptop startup after the Windows 10 upgrade, there was Steam, launching on startup like nothing had happened.
Speaking of gaming, World of Warcraft and Hearthstone run nicely, which isn't really surprising but is still nice to know.
Windows 10 introduces new versions of some familiar Windows applications -- and it does away with Media Center for good -- but some older applications, like Internet Explorer, seem to function well in Windows 10 alongside their new counterparts. Windows Media Player is still here and still works, and so does Internet Explorer. Microsoft Edge, the replacement for Internet Explorer, got pinned to my taskbar by default, but it's removable, and it joined my other icons rather than displacing them.
RocketDock, an application launcher that gives PCs something similar to the Mac OS X application dock, mostly made it. It wasn't in its usual spot on my desktop when the upgrade finished, but as soon as I opened the application, it showed up with my old icons in place.
The Search feature made it pretty easy to find RocketDock when it went missing; Search is smoother and less clunky than its predecessor in Windows 7, and I'm actually finding it to be one of the nicest features in Windows 10. If your taskbar is horizontal, you'll have an actual Search bar that you can just start typing things in. I'm a weirdo who keeps my vertical taskbar on the left side of my screen, so I've just got a little circle icon to click, which opens Search so I can bug Cortana to go find my stuff.
The Start Menu
I'm cautiously optimistic about the new Start menu. For the last few months, I've been bouncing back and forth between Windows 7 on my laptop and Windows 8.1 on a Surface 3, and Windows 10's Start menu looks like a nice combination of the two. The left half is a little like the old Windows 7 Start menu, but it shows you a list of your most used applications, instead of the ones you've used most recently. My one real complaint is that you can remove things, but apparently not add things, to this list.
The right half of the Start menu is a group of tiles, which you can customise to your heart's content. The default tiles are a mix of things I probably won't use (Money and Flipboard, for instance) and basic useful applications (Cortana and Edge), and their default arrangement is honestly a bit weird. But that's easily changed with a few clicks.
The new Start menu on a colleague's laptop
Overall, I think this fancy newfangled Start menu is going to take some getting used to, but in the long run, I think I'll be pretty happy with it. I was an anti-tile hardliner when Windows 8 launched, and although they grew on me pretty quickly when I was forced to use 8.1, I'm still a fan of moderation. Windows 10 seems to strike a nice balance there.
A Note on Performance
Windows 7 has been on the market since 2009, so if you've held out this long without making the switch to Windows 8.1, you may be running a slightly older machine, but as long as it meets the system requirements for the install, it will most likely run just fine. My laptop is about 4 years old, and it's in dire need of a new battery and some additional RAM, and I've been pleasantly surprised by its performance with Windows 10. Some processes, like opening Word files, were starting to get a bit sluggish on Windows 7, but they actually seem a bit snappier on Windows 10.
A Few Caveats
First, even though the upgrade process itself goes smoothly, you may not want to install Windows 10 right away, or you're likely to find yourself dealing with some frustrating bugs and waiting for patches. And I still strongly recommend backing up your data, but that's true even if you're never upgrading your operating system again. Always back up your data.
If, when your PC first restarts after the install, you find yourself staring at your desktop, wondering where your background, your icons, and all your files just went, don't worry (and certainly don't flail and curse for an hour; I did that so you don't have to). Your PC just needs to restart a couple more times before it's ready to go. That first restart takes a while -- go ahead and get a coffee -- but when it's finished, you'll see your desktop, just as you left it, but with the new Windows 10 taskbar. You'll also get a notification that your PC needs to restart again, but it's much quicker this time.
Aside from the previously mentioned issues, and a few that we just haven't discovered yet, if you like Windows 7, you'll probably also like Windows 10, and the upgrade itself is surprisingly painless. There's bound to be a catch. Cortana is probably going to summon an Elder God tonight while I'm sleeping. But when she does, I bet it's going to be quick, seamless, and shiny.