Looking back on Windows 8, it’s clear that Microsoft made a mistake. It was a huge gamble on touch-based computing, but it made using a computer with a keyboard and mouse uncomfortable, irritating, and perplexing. Because of the significant changes, I stated in our original assessment that there was a “risk of alienating users and producing another Vista-like perception catastrophe.”
That’s exactly what happened: developers shied away from Windows 8, while ordinary people did everything they could to avoid it. While the tablet interface was fantastic, the rest irritated some who simply wanted a laptop that worked like they were used to. With Windows 10, Microsoft is attempting to address all of these issues.
There is a cycle in Windows. Windows XP saved us from Windows ME, Windows 7 from the Vista disaster, and now Windows 10 is going to save us from Windows 8.
It feels fantastic to be in the middle of the cycle.
Prepare to be pleasantly surprised if you’re upgrading to Windows 10 on a desktop or laptop PC: the Start menu you know and love is back. It feels strange to rejoice in its return because it should never have gone away in the first place. Apart from the dark look, it’s probably the largest change you’ll notice following Windows 8. However, Microsoft hasn’t simply reintroduced the old version of Windows 7. Instead, it’s been totally revamped to integrate the best features of the previous two versions of Windows.
THE START MENU APPEARS AGAIN.
Instead of launching you to a new screen, the Start menu is now located in the lower-lefthand corner, as it was in Windows 7. Microsoft has kept the Live Tiles from Windows 8, but has relocated them to the Start menu. That implies they won’t fill up the entire screen any longer (unless you really want them to). Both modern and conventional apps can be pinned to the Start menu, and there’s quick access to settings, shutdown and restart, and a list of frequently used apps with convenient jump lists for file-handling apps like Word. This combination of features appears to be the best option for restoring the Start menu, and you may resize it as needed to further modify it.
Every version of windows seems to have a particular theme, and Windows 10 is no exception. It’s less flashy than Windows 8 or Vista, but not as dull as Windows 7. Windows 10 starts with a black theme, but if you don’t like it, you can change the accent color that appears on the Start menu, taskbar, and the new Action Center. You’ll notice that modest transparency effects, which were first introduced in Windows Vista and Windows 7, have made a comeback in Windows 10. Because Microsoft hasn’t introduced any transparency to built-in tools like File Explorer, the effect isn’t overdone or obnoxious. It has a utilitarian sense to it, yet in a modern way.
The user interface in Windows 10 has also been considerably improved. Thankfully, the irritating hot corners in Windows 8 that made you pull your hair out just attempting to access settings or even the Start screen have been deleted. A new Action Center serves as a notification center for apps, collecting alerts and allowing easy access to settings.
THANK GOD, THE ANNOYING HOT CORNERS IN WINDOWS 8 HAVE BEEN REMOVED.
With Windows 10, Microsoft has put a lot of emphasis on multitasking. Here, the Snap feature has seen the most improvement. Any window can be snapped to a screen edge to fill half of your screen, and the OS then shows all of your other windows in an array for the other half. If you’re using a touchscreen, swipe from the left to bring up a list of all open apps, and then snap two of them together.
Along with the snapping enhancements, there’s a new tool called Task View, which works similarly to Mac’s Mission Control. It consolidates all of your open windows onto a single screen, making it easier to find what you’re looking for. Microsoft has introduced a separate Task View button to the taskbar in an attempt to convince Windows 10 users to activate and use it. Microsoft argues that the vast majority of its customers have never used Alt+Tab to switch apps (one of those “strange but true” computing facts), therefore the goal is to assist them to improve their multitasking skills.
That small button also opens the door to a fantastic new feature: virtual desktops. Yes, after years of relying on third-party solutions, Microsoft has finally added this to Windows. It’s a true power user feature, allowing you to create many virtual desktops, each with its own set of apps. I consider myself a power user of Windows, yet I exclusively use virtual desktops on my laptop instead of my desktop PC. With a trackpad or mouse, there’s no quick method to switch between virtual desktops, but Windows key + Ctrl + left/right is a handy shortcut. I find that swiping up with three fingers on a trackpad is the quickest way to reach Task View (and virtual desktops).
Microsoft has also included a virtual assistant in Windows 10 that works similarly to Siri. It’s called Cortana, and it’s supposed to look and feel like an extension of the Start menu. You can also search using your voice, much as on Windows Phone. You may even enable the “hello Cortana” feature, which allows you to simply scream inquiries at your laptop. It’s good for basic information like the weather, but I really used it to show off Cortana to my friends and family.
CORTANA WAS MADE TO APPEAR AND FEEL LIKE AN EXTENSION TO THE START MENU.
The visual interface of Cortana is far more useful. It’s a summary of your day, with the weather, news, local eateries, and other interests you’ve chosen thrown in for good measure. To see this overview, I occasionally press on Cortana’s icon in the taskbar, and all of the info is displayed in parts that resemble Google Now cards.
Cortana maintains all of your information in a virtual notebook, which you may edit to remove information you don’t want it to remember. It’s also cloud-based, so you can use Cortana on Android (or iOS in the future) and have the same functionality, all synced with your laptop. If you ask Cortana to remind you to pick up milk at a nearby grocery store, the reminder will sync to your phone and trigger as soon as you get close to the store. That’s a particularly useful and strong feature of Cortana and one that I frequently utilize.
Local search is also handled by Cortana, and it’s really good. When you use the “My Stuff” button in a Cortana search, it will look for files on the system as well as data stored on OneDrive. It’s incredibly simple and powerful to have a single interface for virtual assistant searches, web searches, and regular computer searches, and Microsoft has done an excellent job of integrating it here. It’s possibly my favorite feature in Windows 10.
Edge, a new browser in Windows 10, is also included. It may be new, but it is sadly reminiscent of the past in several ways. Edge’s taskbar icon is nearly identical to that of Internet Explorer, in an effort to appeal to a wide range of Windows users. It’s simple, clean, and works well in most situations, but it’s missing some of the features you’d expect from a modern browser. Snapping tabs into new windows is clumsy and inconvenient, and downloads begin without a choice of where they’ll be saved. This is simple information, and it’s surprising that it’s not included. Edge was built from the ground up by Microsoft, and it shows.
EDGE MAY BE NEW, BUT IN MANY WAYS IT REMINISCES OF THE PAST.
Performance is the one thing I look for in most browsers, and Edge usually delivers. Most popular websites render smoothly, and load times are typically fast. On occasion, it still feels like there’s work to be done, and I’ve run into situations where pages don’t render properly or sites require me to use Internet Explorer. Yes, Internet Explorer is still available in Windows 10, and you can use it by selecting “Open with Internet Explorer” from the “Open with Internet Explorer” menu in Edge.
Edge has a few interesting new features. You can draw all over the internet and email a copy to your friends. It’s great for rapidly sharing a screenshot of a website with notes, but I haven’t found myself using it on a regular basis (it’s better if you use it with a pen-enabled device like the Surface). It’s fun for the first few times, but then you forget about it. Cortana is one item that I found really handy. The digital assistant is built into Microsoft Edge and appears in a variety of ways. If you type “weather” into the address bar, it will show you the current weather conditions in your area. It’s most useful when it provides me with the information I require without requiring me to load a full search page. If I type in “how tall is Tom Cruise,” it provides the answer before I can even hit Enter.
Microsoft Edge, like Windows 10, still feels like a work in progress. Changing your preferred search engine is a pain, as it necessitates going to Google and then finding an option buried so deep in the settings menus that it feels like Microsoft doesn’t want you to leave Bing. Similarly, if I want Google Chrome to be my default browser, I must go into the PC settings and change that behavior. That appears to be a new security feature to prevent apps from hijacking the system, but it is not at all user-friendly. Because Microsoft actively prevents apps from declaring themselves as default, this isn’t something Google can fix.
The lack of expansions is maybe the most frustrating aspect about Edge for me. Web extensions have been supported by Firefox and Chrome for years, so not having them available in Edge at launch feels like a missed opportunity. Microsoft, on the other hand, has stated that these will be available later this year. For the time being, I’m resigned to using Google Chrome until Microsoft Edge is available.