My first review!! In the future, I want to be able to do gadget reviews as well but for now software will have to do….mainly because it’s free. Disclaimer: This review was done on a 2012 Macbook Pro using build 10240 of the Windows 10 Insider Preview (via Bootcamp of course). This build is most likely the RTM (Release To Manufacturing) build sent to OEMs to install on their computers to sell to you.
Well it is finally here. The one operating system to rule them all. Microsoft is touting this as the the last version of Windows because it is moving to a “Windows as a service” model where the OS will get regular updates instead of big releases. It’s similar to how we download apps from Google Play or the App Store and that single app gets regular updates that may add new features. Microsoft achieves this by splitting aspects of the operating system into different parts so they can be updated separately instead of just sending one giant update. That’s similar to Google’s strategy with Android.
Consumers have had a love/hate relationship with Windows for each version. We loved Windows XP. We hated Windows Vista. We loved Windows 7. We hated Windows 8 (well at least if you didn’t have a touchscreen). Based on that admittedly unscientific observation, Windows 10 will be loved…and since there will be no more major upgrades, loved forever apparently. Microsoft addressed all of the pain points and complaints users had with Windows 8/8.1 and has embarked on journey to make people LOVE Windows, not simply use it. Does Microsoft succeed in this endeavor? Will you love Windows 10? Let’s find out:
Look & Feel
Windows 10 is fast, like blazingly fast, especially if your computer has an SSD (like mine does). Applications open almost immediately after being clicked. Animations are smooth and crisp and the operating as a whole just feels downright snappy. Previously with Windows 8,
Metro Modern apps opened in full screen but with Windows 10, those apps run as regular windows with the requisite close, minimize, and maximize buttons that Windows users are familiar with. For those who enjoyed Windows 8’s focus on touch based input, there is a setting under the Action Center called “Tablet Mode” that replaces the taskbar with a Windows button, back, task view, and Cortana (we’ll talk about her later). It also reverts the Start menu into the Start Screen that runs full screen instead of the right hand side of the Start menu. Speaking of Action Center, that is a one stop shop for all of your notifications (similar to Notification Center of Mac OSX) as well as toggles for various settings such as Airplane mode, WiFi, brightness, etc….There is a mode called “Task View” that, like Mac OSX Mission Control, lets you see all of your open windows. Snapping windows is also a bit more helpful as when you snap an app to one side of the screen, the other side of the screen helpfully displays the windows that can also be snapped. Last but not least, you can FINALLY add virtual desktops (ala Spaces on Mac OSX) so that you can separate work from play. Simply go into Task View and click on the plus sign at the bottom right where it says “New Desktop”.
Ahhh the infamous Start Menu. When Windows 8 first came out in 2012, it immediately polarized the Windows user base. The intention, to combine desktop and tablet functionality, didn’t quite sit well with many users. Those who were intimately married to the “old” Start screen complained that Windows 8 was confusing with its different swipes and gestures. Those who regularly use mouse and keyboard were especially vocal about the change from the Start Menu to Windows 8’s Start Screen. Microsoft brought back the Start button to the desktop in Windows 8.1 but it still only took you to the Start Screen. Windows 10 offers the best of both worlds. As you can see in the screenshot above, the Start menu is back with a few new additions. Chief among those is that the Windows 8 Live Tiles can now be seen on the right hand side of the Start menu. The left hand side gives you quick access to your most used apps as well as settings and shutdown/restart options. You’re also able to resize the Live Tiles along with pin/unpin. For the uninitiated, Live Tiles are Microsoft’s implementation of widgets that allow you to see glanceable information such as weather, sports scores, calendar events, news, stocks, and other useful information. In my experience, they can be very useful for quick glances. The combination of the Windows 7 like options with the Windows 8 Live Tiles strikes a satisfying compromise between the two styles.
Remember when you used to get a brand new computer and the first thing you’d do is use Internet Explorer to download Chrome or Firefox? Yeah….Microsoft doesn’t want you doing that anymore. So much so that they created an entirely new browser called Edge. There’s a reason why Edge was originally codenamed “Project Spartan” (aside from the obvious Halo reference) as the interface is very clean and minimalist. In general, the performance tends to be very good. Web pages load pretty quick and load the proper elements. Unfortunately, using the interface can be a bit clunky. Moving tabs to other windows is a chore. Importing bookmarks from other browsers is especially annoying as it messes up how my bookmarks and folders were laid out and I have to manually reorder how I like my bookmarks which itself is also very frustrating. On the other hand, you now have the option to draw on the webpage and make web clips. This is useful for people who use a stylus (such as on the Surface Pro) and like to quickly make notes on a website. There is also Cortana integration (again, see further down about her) that allows her to answer queries that are typed in the address bar. For example, if you type “weather” then Cortana will list the weather right after you type it. You can even type questions like “how tall is mount everest” and Cortana will display the information right under the address bar (FYI, Mt. Everest is 29,029 feet). Probably the biggest disappointment so far with Edge is the lack of extensions support. Fortunately, Microsoft has said that they will bring extension support later this year but for now, that might be a deal breaker for a lot of people. Still, as a pure web browser, Edge is very competent and straight forward. Ironically, you can still open up Internet Explorer as a fall back. While I’m fine with the Edge name, the logo still looks too much like IE for my tastes and may confuse users.
New Xbox App
Now of course we can’t talk about Windows 10 without mentioning the new Xbox app. This is probably one of my favorite features of Windows 10 and will probably be one of yours as well if you own an Xbox One. The Xbox app is basically the upgrade of the Smartglass app. This app allows you to manage your Xbox Live profile, message your friends, manage your games, control your Xbox (and/or television if you have it hooked up to an Xbox One), as well as stream your games from your Xbox One to your Windows 10 computer. You can even use Game DVR to record PC games. I’ve tried the game streaming feature and it is awesome. My Xbox One is connected to my router via ethernet cable but my laptop is connected via Wi-Fi and even then the connection is smooth with no lag input at all. You can connect your Xbox One or 360 controller to the laptop and play your Xbox One/360 games that are streamed to your Windows 10 computer. I can definitely see this being a hit with people who want to play games without disturbing other people. Bottom line, the new Xbox app is a must have feature for Xbox and PC gamers.
Cortana, named for the prominent AI character on the Halo video game series, is Microsoft’s personal assistant similar to Apple’s Siri and Google’s….ummm…..Google Now. She’s (yes, “she”) capable of responding to natural language queries like Siri and is able to predict information you might need like Google Now. In Windows 10, she is baked right into the OS with a dedicated search bar right next to the Start button. There are four main options once you click inside the search bar. Home takes you to the main information like news articles, weather, flight status and more. Notebook is where you can teach Cortana about you. Microsoft has wisely given the user full control over what Cortana knows about you. Admittedly, the more Cortana knows, the more useful she is but that’s up to you to determine how paranoid you want to be. Reminders is just as it says, a list of reminders that Cortana can keep you notified about. The last option is Feedback that simply lets you send what you like/dislike about Cortana to Microsoft so they can improve the service.
Continuum is a feature that is two-fold. First, it allows the operating system to adapt to users input. For example, if you have one of the 2-in-1 laptops that can fold into tablets, Continuum will go to “desktop mode” while the device is used as a traditional laptop. If the laptop is folded into a tablet then Continuum will change to “tablet mode” which is the more touch friendly version of Windows. This is also true if you hook a mouse and keyboard up to your computer then Continuum will switch to “desktop mode”. It’s an innovative and flexible feature that’s sure to please people that have convertible tablets. The second aspect of Continuum concerns smartphones. Windows Phone hasn’t exactly been a market leader despite having a very unique interface and genuinely useful features. With Universal Apps (apps that can run on phones, desktops, tablets, and even Xbox One), Microsoft is hoping to broaden the market for Windows 10 Mobile and bridge the gap between desktop and mobile. Microsoft consistently markets Windows as the operating system people use to get stuff done. Smartphones running Windows 10 Mobile are no exception as Continuum allows phones to be used as mini computers when plugged into a monitor. At Microsoft’s BUILD 2015 conference earlier this year, the VP of the Operating Systems Group, Joe Belfiore, showed off Continuum for phones by plugging in his Windows phone into a monitor along with a mouse and keyboard and was able to use Word, Powerpoint, and Excel running on the phone. The interface was able to scale up on a larger monitor. Belfiore said during the keynote that “Continuum is about being able to transform your use of a device into mobile scenarios that give up no compromises in your use of input device or screen size”. Imagine being able to simply connect your phone to a monitor, mouse, and keyboard and get work done and then unhook your phone and play Angry Birds 2 on your way home. Of course, this only works if developers buy into creating Universal Apps. Fortunately, the prospect of being able to use your phone as a one stop shop for business and play is a very tempting idea, one that I personally hope takes off.
Windows 10 is an ambitious and forward thinking operating system. One that promises to be the last operating system you’ll ever need with an ever constant stream of updates. Windows 10 is simultaneously familiar looking yet modern with features like Continuum which promises to link desktop and tablet uses as well as transform your smartphone into a business workhorse. The new Xbox app is a Godsend for Xbox and PC gamers and looks to enhance not only how they play games but how they share it with friends. Edge is an modern, slick browser that ticks most of the boxes off as far as features but still has a ways to go until it fully competes with the likes of Chrome, Firefox, and Safari. Cortana is a truly useful personal assistant that learns your habits and responds in a relevant and consistent way. For those who did not take the plunge into Windows 8, I would highly recommend upgrading to Windows 10. The upgrade is free for all Windows 7 and Windows 8/8.1 computers. The new Microsoft under CEO Satya Nadella appears to be much more open, more transparent, and able to change quickly with the technology demands of the 21st century. Will Microsoft deliver on every promise? Perhaps not, but the future of Windows computing certainly looks very bright if they continue down this path.