Windows 10 review

Microsoft has finally released the much anticipated Windows 10, and as the only Windows user here at FPM3 (everyone else uses Macs… but I can tell they are secretly envious of my PC) I thought I would share some of my initial opinions of it.

So here are my favourite changes found in Windows 10:

start-menu-desktop

The Return of the Start Menu

Ever since Windows 8 was released in 2012, Microsoft’s plan has been to make it possible to use one version of Windows on any device ranging from a desktop to a smartphone. This makes it easier for app developers because they only have to create one version of their app instead of two or three. But Microsoft realized that the traditional Windows UI that people have been using since Windows 95 doesn’t work very well with touch screens because buttons were too small to click with a finger. So a redesign of the UI was necessary to make it more “touch friendly”.

The biggest change to the UI in Windows 8 was that the traditional Start menu was replaced by a full-screen Start screen with large animated “live tiles” representing links to applications. The new Windows 8 “modern” apps also opened full-screen instead of in windows. It worked very well on tablets, but for people using desktop PCs with a mouse and keyboard it was counter-intuitive.

Even though the plan to make Windows more touch friendly was good in theory, the changes in Windows 8 were very drastic and a lot of people had a hard time adapting. Some people heard the horror stories (which were exaggerated, in my opinion) and just avoided using anything that had Windows 8 installed.

For Windows 10, Microsoft listened to all of the complaints and retreated a little bit. The new Windows 10 UI still aims to be touch friendly, but it also brings back a lot of the more traditional UI elements that desktop users are familiar with, such as the Start menu. It is now more of a hybrid of the Windows 7 Start menu and a Windows 8 Start screen. It lists all apps on the left, but also has the animated live tiles on the right. The new Start menu can be resized or made full-screen if you prefer.

Continuum

Related to the changes to the Start menu is a new feature called “Continuum”. Instead of the UI always being half tablet and half desktop at all times like with Windows 8, the Windows 10 UI now adapts to the type of device you are using.

With a normal desktop or laptop PC, you will almost always be in desktop mode unless you specifically tell it to switch. Desktop mode displays the Start menu in a small box in the bottom corner of the screen, and apps will open in windows that can be resized and moved around.

With a tablet, phone, or hybrid device (like a Surface Pro 3), Windows will try to determine which mode you want to be in. For phones and tablets with small screens you will almost always be in tablet mode, in which case the Start menu and apps will open full-screen. For larger tablets and hybrids, you can easily switch between modes. If you have a keyboard attached to a Surface Pro 3 it will use desktop mode by default, but if you detach the keyboard it will switch to tablet mode.

Windows phones will even show the desktop mode if you connect it to a keyboard and a larger screen. Imagine you’re in a hotel while on a business trip and you only have your phone. You can still do work as if you have a full computer just by attaching a bluetooth keyboard and mouse and connecting to the TV in your hotel room. Or maybe you will only own a phone… you could do your work on it while commuting on a train, and then wirelessly connect your phone to a keyboard, mouse, and monitor when you get to the office. It’s an exciting concept, and it is why I think Microsoft is still way more innovative than companies like Apple. The PC isn’t dying, it’s just getting smaller and more mobile.

Overall UI Improvements

The Windows 7 UI, which a lot of people still love for some reason, looks very dated to me. And if I ever had to go back to Windows XP (which looks like it was designed by Fisher-Price) I would probably cry.

The Windows 8 interface looks a bit more modern than Windows 7, and I didn’t hate it nearly as much as most people, but I do agree with those who say it looks “unfinished”. There is definitely something missing, but it’s hard to put a finger on what it is exactly.

The Windows 10 UI, though, looks fantastic. It keeps a lot of the “flatness” and colourfulness of Windows 8, which I like, but it looks more polished. I really like it.

Cortana

Windows 10 has a digital personal assistant similar to Siri on the iPhone, or Google Now on Android devices. It lets you perform searches and other tasks like setting calendar appointments just by speaking to the computer. The Star Trek nerd in me finds this fascinating and highly logical, but the introvert in me probably won’t use it much. In a small office that can already be kind of noisy, talking to my computer doesn’t really make much sense.

Cortana is not officially supported in Canada yet, but you can still use it by switching your Region setting to “United States”. This means your search results might be more American than you’d get otherwise, but don’t worry, Cortana should be coming to Canada sometime this fall.

The “Edge” Browser

Microsoft has finally killed (or at least mortally wounded) Internet Explorer. As most web developers will tell you, Internet Explorer can be a real headache to work with. It follows its own rules, often ignoring web standards completely. This leads to websites that look great in other browsers, but not so great in IE.

Don’t get me wrong, IE has improved a lot over the years and the more recent versions aren’t that bad, but it is carrying a lot of baggage from having to be backwards compatible for businesses that haven’t moved past Windows XP yet. The backwards compatibility means it is slower and more resource intensive, and probably less secure, than it should be.

Internet Explorer is still a part of Windows 10, but it is no longer the default browser. It is there for legacy support, but it has officially been replaced by Microsoft Edge. Future updates to Windows could remove IE completely, but I wouldn’t expect that to happen any time soon.

Edge is technically still under development, and it shows. It is missing a lot of very basic features (such as “extension” support), but Microsoft intends to provide frequent updates to it. It is usable though, and boy, is it fast! It beats Chrome, Safari, and Firefox at their own speed tests. It uses fewer system resources like RAM, it’s very secure, and it is web standard compliant (which is very important to me, as a web developer).

Edge also has a unique feature that let’s you draw or write notes over top of websites and share those notes with others even if they don’t use Windows. In the business I’m in, I can definitely see that being useful.

Windows “Hello”

Passwords are a thing of the past with Windows 10. With the right hardware, such as IR cameras or fingerprint readers, you can log into Windows without needing to enter your password. Facial recognition will log you into Windows as soon as your PC sees that you are in the room.

Virtual Desktops

One feature that Windows has lacked (and Mac users will be quick to tell you they’ve always had) is virtual desktops. This lets you create multiple workspaces (sort of like adding multiple monitors) to separate apps from each other. So you could, for example, open your “work” apps in one desktop, and your “play” apps in another desktop.

I’m still not sure how useful I will find this feature, but it seems like a good idea in theory.

Action Center

The “Action Center” replaces the much hated “Charms bar” from Windows 8 with something much more useful. It displays notifications from apps and buttons for doing things like quickly toggling Wi-Fi on or off.

Windows “Snap”

Windows 10 improves on the window “snap” feature that was first introduced in Windows 7. Instead of just snapping windows to the left or right sides of the screen, you can now also tell windows to snap into the top or bottom quadrants of the screen. It works better on larger screens, but if you’re like me and you constantly have a dozen or more windows open, this will be very useful.

Another improvement to the snap feature is called “Snap Assist”. Now when you snap a window to the side of the screen, the opposite side of the screen will show smaller versions of all of the other open windows so you can choose one to snap beside the first window. It seems like such a simple change, but it will be very appreciated.

Overall, I really like Windows 10 and I think most people will agree. It isn’t going to be hard for people to adapt to like Windows 8 was, and the new features definitely make upgrading worthwhile.

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