Taking a Look into Windows 10

July 31, 2015
By: Joe Rizzo

On July 29, 2015 the long awaited release of Windows 10 arrived. You may have noticed that Microsoft (News - Alert) went from version 8.1 to Windows 10, which is due to the fact that this is an entirely new version of the operating system.

My computers have been running Windows 7, which I am very comfortable with because it works similar to previous versions. However, I experienced frustration when attempting to use Windows 8, because the changes made to the user interface made it feel too foreign, and I ultimately decided to stay with Windows 7.

CNET described Windows 10 as the Goldilocks version of Microsoft's PC operating system, referring to the fact that it is a "just right" compromise between the familiar dependability of Windows 7, combined with the forward-looking touchscreen vision of Windows 8.

The first thing of note regarding Windows 10 is that it is no longer just a 32 or 64-bit operating system for PCs. It will also run on the ARM (News - Alert) platform for smaller tablets and smartphones. Windows 10 also crosses the bridge and will be able to run on phones.

For those who are familiar with Windows 8 and Windows Phone, you will know that they are based on the tiled-screen look. This was designed to be able to take advantage touchscreen capabilities. Unfortunately for Microsoft, people like me were very comfortable with the Start Menu, which has made its return in Windows 10.

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I think that it is interesting to note at this point that there have been significant other changes since Windows 8 was released in 2012. It seems that in the past three years there have been some higher management changes for Windows under CEO Satya Nadella (News - Alert) and executive vice president Terry Myerson. It is a coincidence or was there a feeling that Microsoft was moving too fast in uncharted waters?

The return of the Start Menu combines the best of both worlds. When you press the Start button, which has been around for 20 years since Windows 95, a split screen will be displayed. On the left is the familiar column which displays shortcuts to your most used apps. On the right side, Windows 8 users will see the colorful, animated live tiles that they are used to.

Microsoft has built in a little flexibility giving you the ability to resize the live tiles; additionally, you can drag them so that you can arrange them into groups and pin as many apps together as you want. Based on your preference, the entire Start Menu can be reduced or expanded. 

This actually goes a little further than just a split screen Start Menu, in an attempt to eliminate the divide between Windows 8 and Windows 7, Microsoft introduces Continuum. With Continuum you can use a keyboard and mouse when you want to, or you can optimize your screen for a touch experience.

This finally takes advantage of what Windows 8 was supposedly originally created for. The idea was to have a seamless transition between desktop and mobile apps. Unfortunately, over the past three years, that strategy seems to have flopped.

Windows 10 effortlessly switches between keyboard and mouse and touch screen on two-in-one devices such as Microsoft’s Surface Pro 3. The Start Menu adapts to which mode you are in. When you remove the keyboard, the Start menu and your apps stretch to cover the entire screen. In addition, all of the apps and shortcuts on your taskbar will disappear. This is designed so that there are less unnecessary objects occupying space.

Whether you use a touchscreen or keyboard, there are many times when you forget where you have filed something and you can spend a lot of time searching. Windows 10 has remodeled File Explorer a bit. The first thing that you will probably notice is that there is now a Quick Access area, which allows you to pin and unpin folders that you access frequently.

File Explorer has a new ribbon at the top that makes discovering and using its features simpler. There are a lot more file operations that you can access on the ribbon at the top of File Explorer eliminating the need to use the right-click menu as much. You will also notice that various icons such as the Recycle Bin have changed.

Since Windows 95, people have come to know Internet Explorer as the Web browser to use. Unfortunately for Microsoft, over the past several years a lot of people, including myself, have turned to other methods to access the Internet such as Google (News - Alert) Chrome.

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In response, Windows 10 offers a new browser, referred to as Project Spartan while under development, and released as Microsoft Edge. Microsoft said that it built Edge to be clean, tight and responsive. It should come as no surprise that Bing is what powers the Edge’s search engine. While Edge comes with Windows 10, you are welcome to switch to a different browser.

Microsoft notes that it has done quite a bit of work to make sure websites that are designed for browsers, such as Safari or Chrome will seamlessly work well in Edge. This has previously been a serious problem with Internet Explorer.

Some of the new features include PDF support, as well as a reading mode that improves the layout of long articles. Edge will also give you the opportunity to take notes by allowing you to jot something down using its Web Note feature. You will then be able to share your annotations to either OneNote or you can send them through email.

What would a new version of anything be if it did not include a virtual assistant? Apple (News - Alert) has Siri, Google has Google Now and Amazon has Alexa. Sometime around a year ago, Microsoft introduced Cortana in Windows Phone.

Cortana support is now featured within the Edge browser. She has been designed to pull contextual information from the sites you are on. By doing this, she will be able to offer detailed information on such things as the weather or flight statuses while you're typing into the browser's address bar. If you navigate over to a bar or restaurant's website Cortana can pull up a little sidebar full of useful information, including reviews or directions.

It seems that with Edge, Microsoft has resolved an issue that caused a lot of people to leave Internet Explorer. Microsoft Edge has been built with much tighter security, which should make everyone feel a little more comfortable. Unfortunately, the new browser does not have any extensions to deal with advertisements, so while there have been some major improvements, it appears that there is still some work to do.

But back to Windows 10: I have noticed that a lot of people carry digital cameras these days—if not in the form of an integrated smartphone camera—so that they can take high quality pictures. Windows 10 will include a new Photos app which will give you a simple tool designed to keep photos organized. In addition to basic editing tools, the Photos app scans your devices and OneDrive account for photos, and then automatically arranges them into albums.

One feature that has been carried over from Windows 8.1 is Wi-Fi Sense. This connects your devices to trusted Wi-Fi hotspots. In addition, Wi-Fi Sense allows you to share your network without compromising network security because it does not actually share your password.

The last feature worth mentioning is virtual desktops. This can be a very handy feature if you are a big multitasker. The virtual desktops feature will help you keep your applications organized. By simply clicking on the Windows Key and the Tab key, you will see a list of all your open applications, while also having the ability to add or switch desktops.

If I were to list the pros and cons, I would say that on the plus side you have a new operating system designed to bridge the gap between PCs and tablets and it seems to have accomplished that. It appears that the best of Windows 7 and Windows 8 have been combined into a unified, solid package, as can be seen by the Start Menu.

On the negative side, a lot of the new features seem to be geared more toward the tablet, or touchscreen side. If you do not care about these features, they will be lost on you. Microsoft Edge does not support extensions, so you will probably see more advertisements that you would like to.

For most people this will be a free upgrade. If you have Windows 7 or 8.1 you will have seen the upgrade icon by now. While the Windows 10 release date was July 29, existing users will have one year, or until July 29, 2016, to upgrade to the new version for free. After that I assume that they will have to purchase an upgrade version.

The operating system will be available in 190 territories globally, in 111 languages. Microsoft has planned a phased approach to the launch. Windows 10 will be release for desktop and laptop devices first. This will be followed by a trickle down to phones, the Xbox One, Arduino machines and finally its own HoloLens.