Let me be upfront: I’m very excited about Windows 10. As a desktop user, I was never attracted to Windows 8 or 8.1. Each was better suited for tablets and touch-screen enabled laptops, even after improvements were added to make 8.1 easier for mouse and keyboard users. Microsoft bet hard on the tablet and touchscreen revolution and, in so doing, cut me out of the bleeding edge. So I waited for the Windows 8 rebound, which turned out to be Windows 10 (not 9).
Thankfully, there’s a galaxy of devices and software for power users to obsess over. With my attention turned away from Windows, I focused on Android, iOS, and OSX: my highly customizable, super awesome Android handset, the HTC M8, and my less customizable, but rock solid iPad Air 2 and Macbook Pro (mid 2012 model). Each device offers its own approach to mobile and usability, and each had some feature or another that I hoped to see in Windows 10. This is especially true for OSX Yosemite.
With access to the Windows Insider program, I was fortunate enough to sample some of the new features Microsoft hoped to add to Windows 10. Many of them resembled, if not outright copied, OSX Yosemite.
- Yosemite makes it a breeze to add various internet accounts and integrate them into common programs.
- The top-level notification center makes staying current on notices and communications effortless.
- Mission Control allows for easy window management.
- Spotlight allows the user to search for pretty much anything, and includes a number of useful tricks.
- Let’s not forget that frosted glass effect. So chic.
Windows 10 does all of this and I love it.
Let’s get into it.
… went smoothly for a trial run. I missed the limited time frame available to Windows Insiders to upgrade through Windows Update. Instead, I snagged an ISO of version 10240, dropped that onto a bootable USB drive, and was on my way. For testing purposes, I’m using Windows 10 Pro, but the features available only to Pro users won’t be discussed here and can be safely ignored. Core Windows 10 is identical in both Pro and Home bundles.
The install process was effortless and took about thirty minutes to install to my Samsung 850 Pro SSD. The computer rebooted twice, and I was eventually greeted with the account login or creation process familiar to Windows 8 and 8.1 users. I ended up having to reset my unused Microsoft account password, but was able to do that form the install screen (once I cleared through two-factor authentication). With the initial setup done, I waited another ten minutes for Windows to get my apps in order and install some updates before arriving at my new login screen.
I eagerly mashed in my new PIN code and voila! The Windows 10 desktop with its fancy pants laser smoke logo wallpaper. So pretty. So new.
The Start Menu
At first glance, it’s obviously Windows, which users dissatisfied with Windows 8.1 will appreciate. Windows 10 follows the new “flat” design aesthetic of OSX and Android/ Chrome. No skeuomorphism or 3d embellishments. Like OSX, Windows 10 uses plenty of transparency effects, some of which aren’t turned on by default, but it’s my opinion they should be turned on right away. If you want glass effects on the Start menu, taskbar, and action center, just use the search bar to lookup “make search” and the setting should pop up.
So long as tablet mode is off, Windows 10 will use a trimmed down Start menu that looks like Windows 7 blended with Windows 8. It’s about the size of classic Start styles, but includes the useful Live Tiles from Windows 8, and easy app access of Windows 7 and earlier. Adding, removing, and moving around tiles is easier and more customizable than in Windows 8.1. Tiles no longer forcibly snap themselves to a tight grid and can be positioned more freely.
On first boot, the task bar will be a little fuller than before, with Cortana’s search bar, the new task view button, and built in apps like Skype, which load automatically at boot. Each of these elements can be toggled in the task bar’s properties to your liking.
Let’s talk about Cortana. When Apple released Siri for the iPhone, I used it everyday for simple tasks, like web lookups and reminders. After I jumped to Android, Google Now served me just as well for more services, and got to be eerily predictive. Digital assistants are future tech that I can’t live without.
A first for Windows, the personal digital assistant Cortana will be available by voice command or simply clicking the bottom left search bar.
Windows 10 finally – finally – brings a voice activated digital assistant to Windows. I don’t understand why it took so long. Google Now integration in Windows is ineffectually weak and Siri isn’t available outside of iOS. Since nearly all laptops come with integrated microphones and beefy batteries, it makes little sense for them to lack this presumptuously useful feature. Maybe I’m missing something. Maybe people don’t want to talk to their computer or voice control isn’t that much faster than a mouse and keyboard for most tasks. Surely some think-tank somewhere has data on desktop based digital assistants that swayed Microsoft away from them. I can only guess.
I admit, it does feel a little strange at first. Like Siri and Google Now, Cortana will encourage you to train her on your voice, reducing the chance of accidental triggers and other shenanigans. The training had me recite a few questions, unlike Google Now’s training which only has the user say “OK Google” a handful of times. Afterwards, Cortana was able to pick up my “Hey Cortana” reliably enough when using my desktop mic, but less capably then a well trained Android device responding to “Ok Google”. Switching over to a headset mic or re positioning my conference microphone will help.
So far Cortana doesn’t feel as predictive as Google Now, but that’s certainly due to her having less information about my habits and interests. Google knows a tremendous amount about me, since I use and have granted access to so many of its services. Cortana relies on Bing and Office 365, which I don’t use at all. It is possible to have Cortana schedule to a calender of your choice, but that’s the only concession I’ve found.
For now, and likely forever, there is no way to integrate Google’s notes, email, maps, and other services. Maybe Microsoft will be more flexible with time or perhaps there’s some hard limitation in the API that limits Cortana to only Microsoft services, much like Apple’s Siri. Only time will tell if Cortana is a genuinely useful bit of future-tech or a flimsy selling point that just looks cool.
There’s a lot more to dissect in Windows 10, but I love what I’ve seen so far. Windows 10 does much of what I want, brings things I didn’t expect to the table, and has given my desktop PC a fresh coat of virtual paint. If you’re a Windows 7 or Windows 8 user, I strongly encourage you to use Microsoft’s generous free upgrade on July 29th. It’s too good to pass up.
Next time, I’ll go over the Task View feature, Microsoft’s take on OSX’s Mission Control, but with fancy virtual desktop integration. I’ll also go over some of the new featured laden apps, like the totally useful screen capping Xbox app, and the totally not Internet Explorer replacement, Edge. We might even find some time to compare and contrast these features against Windows 10 main competitor, OSX Yosemite.