downloadHave you recently noticed a little icon in the lower right-hand corner of your Windows machine: “Windows 10 is coming?” So ominous sounding… Not really. For those of us who have been frustrated with Windows 8 for a while now, Microsoft promises that Windows 10 will be a relief. Here’s the lowdown on the coming upgrade.

Windows 7 and 8.1 users with an activated and genuine copy of their OS are being offered a free upgrade to Windows 10. The offer lasts for a year, so there’s no pressure to decide before the July 29 launch.

“Windows Insiders,” real-time users just like you and me, have been testing this OS for more than 10 months now, helping clear the bugs. Most major glitches have been fixed, but if you’re the cautious type — or happy hanging on to Windows 7 a while longer — it wouldn’t hurt to wait a couple months before you dive in. Note that XP and Vista users will need to pay to upgrade, $119 for Home and $199 for Pro, and will need to do a clean install. These users should examine their system capabilities to determine the value of upgrading versus replacing their PC.

Microsoft promises that the look of Windows 10 is closer to 7 than 8, and it feels like it was designed for a desktop experience. A common Windows 8 complaint is that it feels like a tablet OS on a desktop platform. Most hailed is the glorious return of the Start Menu, including a list of installed programs and power options to shut down or restart.

Universal apps make Windows Store purchases available on all your Windows devices — PC, tablet, mobile and Xbox One. And the fast switch to a touch-based tablet mode when you remove the keyboard on a Surface Pro remains from Windows 8.

Internet Explorer is being phased out in favor of a sleeker and faster Microsoft Edge browser. Edge will import your favorites from other browsers and coordinate your web activities with Cortana, the new personal assistant included in Windows 10. Edge lets you save web articles to your tablet for reading later, or make dinner reservations that save to your calendar and sync to your mobile device and tablet with directions to the restaurant.

If you’re addicted to Chrome or Firefox, fret not. You can still use these browsers, they just don’t offer the same benefits you’ll see using Edge to sync your web content.

Cortana is Microsoft’s version of Siri and Google Now, and it’ll be available across all your devices that run Windows 10. Microsoft is even releasing a version for Android and iPhone, which will allow you to sync all your data no matter what mobile device you run with. It allows you to control elements of your PC with voice activation: make web queries, schedule appointments on your calendar, dictate notes and reminders, listen to your favorite tunes, all without touching your keyboard.

For more on Windows 10 features, check out Microsoft’s information page.

If you’ve decided to upgrade, keep in mind that if you end up hating Windows 10, you can easily roll your system back to its previous OS. Microsoft has built in a feature that just takes a couple of clicks, and it brings all your data and installed apps with it. This feature alone makes it pretty easy to recommend giving it a shot.

If you’ve got the Get Windows 10 icon at the lower-right hand corner of your screen, then you’re just a click away from starting the process. Use it to check your PC for potential installation conflicts by clicking the “hamburger” button. Compatibility issues can arise if you’ve got outdated drivers or old applications. If everything is OK with your system, you’ll receive a green message: “This PC meets the system requirements.” If you encounter a problem, check with your hardware manufacturer’s website to ensure all your drivers are up-to-date and download updates to your applications.

If you don’t have a “Get Windows 10” icon in your lower taskbar, first download and install all available Windows updates, including the optional ones. You’ll only see the icon if your system has Windows 7 Service Pack 1 or Windows 8.1 Update. Confirm you’re running a genuine copy of Windows 7 or 8.1. Remember that there are some required hardware specs as well, such as 1GHz processor, 1 GB RAM, 16 GB HD, and DirectX 9 or later graphics card.

Before you schedule your Windows 10 download, you should create a full backup of your PC. As seamless as the process is designed to be, there is always room for failure, and you wouldn’t want to lose all your data in the process. Access the System Image Backup tool in the Control Panel to create a complete copy. Here’s a link for step-by-step instructions.

Plan to have your Windows product key for your current install in-hand, just for weird installation file corruption issues that can arise. It can be found on your original box, printed out on a label attached to your computer, or sent via email when you purchased Windows. In absence of these, you can use an application called Keyfinder to locate your key in your system bios. Make sure to copy the information into a text file for your later use.

Once you’ve assured all is OK, click “Reserve your free upgrade” in the Get Windows 10 app window, and enter your email address to receive a confirmation. Clicking “Reserve” will put you in queue to install the upgrade to Windows 10 when prompted with a notification after July 29.