Windows 10 drives the PC platform forward with its mix of powerful, productive features.
Windows 10 is a free upgrade for current Windows 7 and Windows 8 users until July 29, 2016, after which you’ll need to pay retail pricing if you want to make the switch. Once you install Windows 10 you’ll keep getting updates for a long, long time—no subscription fees, no kill switches, despite what fearmongers may say.
Windows 10 still packs Windows 8’s contentious Metro apps and Microsoft services. But more importantly, it still packs Windows 8’s glorious under-the-hood changes: lightning-fast boot times, pooled Storage Spaces, networking improvements, a much-improved Task Manager, OneDrive syncing that carries your preferences from PC to PC, et cetera. The list of benefits goes on and on, but now without the fugly Start screen, full-screen Metro apps, and their associated learning curve. Of course you’ll also get Windows 10’s extensive list of new features, like the Cortana digital assistant, virtual desktops, and the performance-enhancing DirectX 12 graphics API, which promises to supercharge future generations of games.
Windows 10 is a clear improvement over Windows Vista—but Windows Vista users can’t upgrade for free. Despite its rocky start, a fully patched Vista PC works reasonably well. Windows Vista will continue to receive security updates through April 2017.
Several innovations sell Windows 10 by themselves. The new Start menu blends Windows 7 and Windows 8 for maximum comfort. Cortana, Microsoft’s digital assistant, serves up relevant information. A new set of reminders and updates slide in from the side, then vanish. A few quietly powerful apps, like Photos, show you the potential of Microsoft’s new “Universal” mission. Task View, a somewhat obscure feature that creates virtual desktops, could become a sleeper hit beyond the power users for whom it’s intended.
2 days ago I upgraded my main daily use computer to Windows 10. Why I call it a surprise? The computer was in sleep mode and there was no internet connection and I wasn’t at home. When I turned back home I found my computer completing the Windows 10 upgrade! At first I called it a big surprise because without any internet connection it doesn’t seem possible. Then I realized it was like a gift to me, thanks to Bill Gates and Barack Obama who was in his Vietnam and Japan trip at that moment.
In an ideal world, Windows 10 could have baked a little longer. Quite a bit of the operating system ably demonstrates the care Microsoft took to listen to users and make substantive improvements. The UI designers also seem to have gone out of their way to make Windows 10 less in-your-face than Windows 8 was, though arguably it’s swung a bit too far in the direction of blah. But then there’s the ragged Edge browser. It could use a livelier palette, but its real flaws are functional. Microsoft promised Edge would be our browser for the modern web, and it’s not—at least, not yet.
Which Windows 10? Home vs. Professional
The first two questions you should ask yourself are this: Which version of Windows 10 is available for my computer? And which do I need?
The first question is relatively easy to answer: if you’re upgrading from Windows 7 Home or the basic version of Windows 8, you’ll receive a free upgrade to Windows 10 Home (officially priced at $119). If you own a Surface Pro or a business PC, chances are you’ll upgrade to Windows 10 Professional ($199). I tested both flavors of Windows 10, using a Microsoft Surface Pro 2 with a version of Windows 10 Professional installed on it, as well as an HP Spectre x360 with the consumer version of Windows 10.
Microsoft’s professional version of Windows 10 differs from the consumer version in many ways, but three really matter: BitLocker encryption, Remote Access, and the ability to run Hyper-V virtualization on your PC. BitLocker encrypts entire storage volumes with your hard drive and a password, with the option to print or save a recovery key to your OneDrive folder in case you forget it or are eaten by a grue. Remote Access allows you to take control of other PCs—such as those owned by relatives seeking tech support, for example—with the appropriate permissions and passwords. Hyper-V lets you create virtual partitions to test out future builds of Windows 10 (or other software), without the risk of borking your system.
Meet Cortana, the digital assistant of the future
Possibly the most significant addition to Windows 10 is Cortana, the digital assistant that first debuted in Windows Phone. The first thing you should do is tap the “Ask me anything” search field in the lower left and set up Cortana. Yes, Cortana noses into all aspects of your digital life—your calendar, location, interests, email, and more—but it’s worth it.
On Windows 10’s lock screen, you can set up several apps to display minimal or detailed information. But tapping Cortana at the beginning of each day provides a terrific summary of what you need to know: the weather, relevant news, local interests. Just make sure you manually connect to your Office 365 account, if you can, to surface relevant work-related information.
Cortana even takes dictation—such as an email to your boss, for example, while you’re working on another screen.
One issue I do have with Cortana is that, like the early days of search engines, she sometimes requires specific phrasing. Saying “what can you do?” to Cortana helps establish her limitations. But commands that seem natural – “Play some Rolling Stones” – just aren’t recognized. (“Play my music” seems a little vague.) In the email example above, I had to “Send an email to Melissa,” then pick the correct “Melissa,” then dictate the email, and so on. Microsoft touts Cortana’s natural language capabilities, but there’s significant room for improvement.
The Edge browser
Windows 10 also introduces Microsoft Edge, a browser that Microsoft has touted as the answer to the demands of the modern Web.
Edge will undoubtedly improve over time. But Chrome fans would always joke that Internet Explorer was “the browser that downloads Chrome.” Right now, Edge looks to be more of the same.
OneDrive, the app
Beginning with Windows 8, Microsoft launched the concept of OneDrive, or storing your documents in the cloud (using a decidedly ugly Metro app, no less). With Windows 10, OneDrive now is tightly woven into the operating system, showing up as just another folder inside File Explorer. You can even treat it as a shareable drive. One feature has disappeared, though: the confusing “placeholder” files that resided on your PC as a timesaving device. And that’s good.