The upcoming Microsoft Windows 10 operating system will be offered as a free upgrade to users of the most recent versions of Windows and Windows Phone software.
The announcement by Terry Myerson, who runs Microsoft's operating systems group, is a marked change for the company, which has charged for new versions of Windows, one of the main profit drivers.
Windows 10, expected on the market this autumn, will be available for one year as a free upgrade to users of Windows 7, Windows 8.1 and Windows Phone 8.1, Myerson said.
The shift shows Microsoft is moving toward a frequently updated, subscription model for its flagship operating system, rather than major, paid-for upgrades every few years.
Myerson said: “Today really is a monumental day for Windows. Windows 10 will support the broadest device family ever. Since September we’ve received a lot of feedback ... feedback is shaping the future of Windows.
“For the first year after Windows 10 is available, we will be making available a free upgrade to Windows 10 for all devices running Windows 8.1. Once a device is upgraded to Windows 10, we’ll be keeping it current for the supported lifetime for the device.
“Windows 10 is so much more than the latest version of Windows. Windows 10 changes the rules of the game.”
The new software has reintroduced the famous ‘Start’ menu that was removed from Windows 8. It can now be shifted between the traditional smaller and full screen view.
Microsoft's Joe Belfiore also showed off a new notifications bar as well as the Continuum feature, which enables users to seamlessly switch between tablet and PC mode.
“A device like this elegantly transforms from one mode to another,” he said, demonstrating how a Surface tablet changed as it was connected and disconnected from a keyboard. Mr Belfiore also revealed Microsoft’s digital assistant, Cortana, is coming to desktop computers for the first time. It means the voice-based assistant will now run on Windows PCs, and can be used to assist with tasks.
Cortana can be used to ask questions as well as look up information from the web, via voice command. The software is similar to the Siri software that runs on Apple devices, however this is the first time such an assistant has come to desktop devices.
“Having Cortana on your PC is like having another member of the family sitting around and helping you get things done,” said Mr Belfiore.
The software is also capable of learning the user’s habits, as well as launch apps on command. Users will be able to play music, but when you say “Hey Cortana, please be quiet”, the music will pause.
The system also has the ability to dictate and send emails.
“This capability will be rolling out to insiders over the next several months,” Mr Belfiore added.