Windows 10, Microsoft’s successor to Windows 8/8.1, is Microsoft’s way of extending the olive branch to its user base and saying “Guys, we messed up. And we’re sorry.” Launching on July 29th, it brings back a lot of features that some people were desperately missing from Windows 7 (and older) and brings in some fresh features as well. But the bigger question is–Is it worth using?
Not another Vista…or Windows 8.
People do not like change. I know it’s been said before–but when it comes to technology, people really, really, hate change. Windows 8, when it was released, was no exception to this rule. Featuring a bold, but unconventional user interface, Microsoft tried to spearhead the way forward for touch interfaces by doing away with the much-loved start menu, and replacing it with brightly colored “Tiles” that acted as a Application launcher. It was an interface that worked really well for touch–but for mouse and keyboard users–not so much.
The world went into an uproar. It was confusing for most people (I for one did not mind Windows 8 all that much once I got used to it. Sue me.) and Microsoft quickly tried to alleviate a lot of customers’ complaints by releasing Windows 8.1–which improved some pretty critical areas. It still, in most people’s eyes, wasn’t enough though. To date, 60% of the market is still running Windows 7, while a whopping 13% is using Windows 8.1 (Source: NetShare Market).
Some old favorites, and a few new friends.
Microsoft didn’t quite go back to the drawing board for Windows 10, but it realized that it had messed up in some pretty large areas (See: focusing only on touch and not listening to feedback) With the newest version of their operating system, they listened to customers as they were developing it–even releasing pre-release versions full of bugs for people to give feedback on what was working, and what wasn’t (which they should have done before). The result is a tidy blend of the familar and the new.
First up–the Start Menu is back! Yep, there is now a full fledged, baked in Start Menu just like Windows 7. It does have a bit of a twist though–they’ve made it a bit wider to accommodate the Live Tiles from Windows 8. This is to allow you to pin favorite apps and get updated information quickly, while still having access to your apps at your fingertips. You can also re-size the start screen to fit your needs, so if you want it smaller–you can do that. If you want it full screen–no problem! And yes….you can remove all of the “live modern” tiles if you want. I find it very elegant and respectful of what was the original start menu. It’s kind of the best of both worlds.
There is no Start screen like Windows 8 (well, there’s an exception to that, but I’ll touch on that in a bit). It boots straight to Desktop–so keyboard and mouse users rejoice! You are no longer stuck with what feels like a touch driven interface.
Gone, also, are the annoying “hot corners” that you would have to use to try to get to when shutting down your computer. (These were also referred to as Charms in Windows 8, but I don’t think I ever heard anyone in public ever call them that)
Instead, the right panel has been made the home for the new Action Center, where you can get quick updates from your Calendar(Google calendars included!), emails, or any other apps that are tied together with Windows 10.
I really love having notifications at a glance (ones that are not intrusive, that is). It kind of keeps you in the loop with the rest of the world while you’re working. They’ve also refreshed some of the icons and brought a darker theme into play which is pretty easy on the eyes.
I am your shield. I am your sword. I’m your personal assistant.
A new feature that’s really being heavily promoted is Cortana for Windows 10. Basically, it’s like Siri– but on the Desktop. She lives on the taskbar and you can bring her up with dedicated button, or by simply saying “Hey, Cortana!”. It’s very similar to to the experience you’ll find on Windows Phone already, with hints of Google Now thrown in for good measure. Ask her for Weather details and she’ll bring in the local weather for your area. Or if you want to know if your favorite sports team is winning, just ask–she’ll have the answers. I’ll be honest–my experience with Cortana wasn’t stellar, mostly because there was a driver hitch with my sound card (I was running a pre-release version right before the final version hit) While she didn’t “talk” to me, she did do everything else she was supposed to. We’ll see how things are going further down the line–after all, some bugs are still to be expected, even after launch.
Another welcome change to the Taskbar is a feature called “Task View”. By hitting the button (it’s the one with two rectangles stacked on top of each other), you’ll be presented with a overview of all open windows. This is really handy for me as my desktop can get quickly clogged with lots of windows and it definitely makes things much easier to find. Mac users whom are familiar with Mission Control will be right at home with this feature. Virtual desktops also have made their way into Windows 10–you can have different desktops for different cases. You can have one just for Work, or one for Home–where the icons and even the Wallpaper are unique, and the applications stay on that particular desktop while you’re running them (Unless you switch them, of course.) You can quickly switch to these Virtual Desktops by hitting them in Task View on the bottom.
The final “biggest” feature that has been lauded a lot is Microsoft’s new browser called Edge, or “It’s not Internet Explorer… please love it.”. I’ve only been playing with Edge for a little bit, and while it’s pretty nice as a bare-bones browser, it’s kind of just that–a browser with no frills. Extensions are not available right now for it like Google Chrome or Firefox, but they’ll apparently be available later in the year. That alone makes me not want to use it simply because in this day and age–you need a damn Ad-Blocker for every device. Go away, ads. No one likes you.
Cortana is also heavily tied into Edge, and while I was using it, she picked up stuff pretty quickly, sometimes before I even had the chance to finish typing. My one irksome complaint is that right now, you can’t easily set the default browser for the system. You have to trundle through PC settings to get say, Google Chrome, set as the preference over Edge. This is being touted as a security issue (so apps can’t jack with system defaults) but to me this is just kind of annoying.
A Windows for Every Device. (Literally. Every device.)
One of the biggest complaints about Windows 8 and 8.1 was that touch was the driving factor for their UX design. For Windows 10, Microsoft really stepped up their game and built an Operating system that adapts to the device you’re using. For instance, if you’re using a Surface tablet with the keyboard, it will look like the normal, desktop-oriented version of Windows 10. Undock the keyboard however, and subtle changes happen to the taskbar and Start Menu that are easily geared more towards touch. The original Start screen from Windows 8 comes back to the forefront, and you’re able to navigate everything much simpler. Dock it back to the keyboard, and it transitions seamlessly back to the normal version of Windows 10. You can also initiate this change manually if you want by hitting a button on the task bar (although, why you would want to on a Desktop or even a Laptop is beyond me). This is how it always should have been, and is pretty rad.
Windows 10 will also be the operating system of choice on Phones, and–Xbox One! While you’ll be able to stream games from your Xbox One to Windows 10 at Launch (yep! You can do that now!), once the new update comes in the Fall for Xbox One, you’ll be able to use apps seamlessly across your PC and your console (so long as they’ve been designed that way). In fact, it works that way for Phones too–Microsoft is really wanting developers to be able to develop an App once and then push it to all of their devices without hassle. I’m so stoked for this to happen. They’ve even made it easy for Android and iOS developers to bring their Apps into the Microsoft store–something really cool, as the current store is seriously lacking in terms of quality apps. Cortana, who will be appearing on Android and iOS as well, will even sync with your Desktop so that all of your information is available when you need it.
I’m really digging this new version of Microsoft.
Ok, ok. How do I get it?
Windows 10 is free for all users running Windows 7 or Windows 8 / 8.1. The easiest way to get it is to make sure that Windows is completely updated on your existing machine. You should then see a Windows symbol near your clock (see picture below). Click to reserve your upgrade, and it’ll notify you when you’re ready to install. Microsoft is rolling out the update in waves, meaning you might not get it as soon as you reserve it. It might even be a couple of weeks depending on how large the roll-out is–it’s Microsoft’s way of attempting to bug fix if any large issues hit. Smart.
Note: after the free year is up, you will have to pony up for a copy of Windows 10. It starts at $119 for the Home Edition and works its way up from there. Also, if you don’t have a copy of Windows 7 (XP users, anyone?) or Windows 8, you will also have to pay for a copy of Windows 10.
The last Frontier
So, is Windows 10 worth the download? I am comfortable in saying yes. It brings in such a great mix of the old and the new, that I’m genuinely excited to use it as my operating system of choice. While 8 / 8.1 left a sour taste in most people’s mouth (Again, I didn’t feel it was that bad.), 10 should definitely appease most of the masses. Besides, it’s free for a year so what are you really losing by not trying 10 out?
After all, according to Microsoft, this is the last version of Windows (so they say) as Microsoft is now treating Windows as a service, not an individual product. This means that they intend to update it steadily as the years come along with new features. I think you’ll dig it.
(Updated this post in response to questions about post-free year questions, and to include that Windows 10 will cost if you don’t run 7 or 8 currently.)