FEATURE REVIEW – Microsoft Windows 10 Part I

Windows returns to its roots with the last version of Windows…ever.

Introduction
I’ve been involved with every Microsoft Operating System release, as either a part of the formal technical beta team, a representative of an MS partner doing formal testing in cooperation with Microsoft and the company I worked for (the MS partner), or as part of a formal public beta, providing professional level feedback (i.e. detailed bug reports) since Windows 95. I’ve had my hands on (nearly every) beta and prerelease build of Microsoft Windows (and Office, for that matter) since the (public) beginning of the internet. I still use the MSN email address that was assigned to me during the test of the original MSN dialup service (you know… the one to go up against AOL). It’s now used as my Microsoft Account ID.

It was only natural for me to get involved with the Windows Insider program for Windows 10 when it started in October of 2014. I’ve tried to stay active throughout the Windows 10 beta, and as you can see from my Insider Profile, I’ve done an ok job.

I’ve also tried to cover Windows 10 developments since the start of the Insider Program. If you remember the list that I published recently, then you’ll notice that there are just a couple more to add to the list:

There’s more to say about Windows and small tablets as well as budget tablets and PC’s. Is Windows 10 the right OS for your legacy hardware, or should you stay with what you have? Will Windows 10 run well on your device, or will you bump into performance problems? Will Windows 10 be the savior that Microsoft is hoping it will be? I hope to answer all of that and more. Let’s take a look at what Windows 10 has to offer and we’ll find out…

New Microsoft Windows 10 Features

Some would call Windows 10 a natural progression of features and UI enhancements from Windows 8.x. I completely disagree. Like Windows 7, Windows 10 is a strategic retreat… a rehashing of features and interface elements designed to make it more appealing, more acceptable to a near totally disgruntled user base.

Like Windows Vista, nearly everyone HATED Windows 8. Windows 8.1 (either with or without its Updates), was only begrudgingly tolerated; and in my opinion, only because owners of Windows 8.x native computers HAD to tolerate it. I don’t have the actual numbers, but I’m certain that nearly everyone that could downgrade their PC to Windows 7 without losing major functionality or hardware compatibility, did. Windows 10 has a huge row to hoe when it comes to improving the PC computing experience.

Windows 10 is supposed to be familiar and easy to use. The Start Menu is back, but it’s not quite like you remember it. It’s sort of a mish-mash between the Windows 7 and Windows 8 Start Menu and Start Screen, respectively. You can pin apps and live tiles to it; and if you’ve not actually in love with either, you can pretty much customize its complete look and feel. With pinned apps, you get access to the apps you use the most. With Live Tiles, you get access to either Universal or Desktop apps, but also get a small window into the newest data received by the app.

If you accept that an Intel Core i5 is the baseline processor, even with 4GB of RAM, I think the OS starts up and resumes fast, has more built-in security to help keep you safe, and is designed to work with software and hardware you already have.

There are some decent new features that come standard with Windows 10. While some of these features may require specific hardware in order for them to be used, many of them will be usable by nearly everyone, regardless of computer brand or system components. Here, I’m going to cover some of the more notable features. With that, let’s take a look at what Windows 10 will offer…

Windows Hello

Passwords are a pain in the butt to remember. When you have a password policy at work that requires you to change it every 30 days, remembering your (constantly changing, constantly) new password can be challenging. Windows 10 tries to better that with the implementation of biometric login’s via either fingerprints or your face.

Yes… your face.

With Windows Hello, Windows 10 is able to recognize your face and log you in with a smile. While this will require specific and specialized web cam hardware – and did I mention that that hardware does NOT exist on the Surface Pro 3? – it does nearly insure that no unauthorized users will be logging into your computer to steal your data.

01 - Windows Hello

I haven’t had the chance to try out Windows Hello, largely because none of the computers I have, have the necessary web cam hardware in order to be able to take advantage of it. However, it sounds pretty cool. If this kind of camera hardware is relatively inexpensive to either add as a third party option or to include as part of a computer or tablet’s core components, then this could be a huge step forward in providing a secured PC computing experience. However, only time will tell if this turns out to be something useful or something that’s nothing more than a fad at best.

The Start Menu Returns… Sort of

One of the biggest fau pax’s in Windows 8.x was its lack of Start Button and complete absence of Start Menu. The Button came back in Windows 8.1. The Menu is back in Windows 10, sort of…

In Windows 10, the Start Menu is more of a mish-mash between the Start Menu of Windows 7 and the Start Screen of Windows 8. In Windows 10, you have both menu shortcuts and Start Screen live tiles. To boot, the whole thing is resizable with your mouse.

On the left side of the Menu, you have app folders and short cuts. Live Tiles are on the right. If you wish, you can completely remove all of the Live Tiles and keep just the Start Menu. This will make the whole thing seem more Windows 7 like, and perhaps something that will be more familiar to those that need the familiarity.

<02 - Start Menu>

While this mashup isn’t always the best of features – during the beta period, many tiles would work for a while and then stop working – at least you have a choice of all, some or no tiles at all. In Tablet Mode, however, you get the full Windows 8.x style Start Screen (and that’s all that Tablet Mode really seems to be – a giant Start Screen, well, and full screen width system dialog boxes…).

You can still get access to the Desktop in Tablet Mode… which doesn’t make ANY sense to me… but I digress.

Virtual desktops

The biggest issue with mulita-tasking is that there just doesn’t seem to be a big enough monitor for me to put all of my open apps on in a way that’s easy for me to get to, especially when I’m really working hard. Virtual desktops allow you to organize work in such a way that you have access to your monitor’s full resolution, without having to constantly minimize and maximize open windows (though, quite honestly, I don’t know what the big hullaballoo is around that…)

03 - Virtual Desktops

Anyhow, in Windows 10, you can create an “unlimited” number (and by unlimited, I mean, given how much physical and virtual RAM your machine has, can make and can manage) of virtual desktops that will allow you to organize programs in a way that makes sense to you. How well that makes sense to you, is a bit hard to predict. You get there via a Windows Key + Tab key combination, or you can tap the virtual desktop icon on the task bar, next to Cortana’s search bar.

04 - Virtual Desktops

This feature has been possible via third party apps for years, but now its native functionality in Windows 10.

Windows Snap Improvements

Back in the days of Windows 3.x, cascading and tiling your open windows was all the rage, and one of the better ways to organize your work, especially once OLAE (Object Linking and Embedding) came around and you could actively link parts of one document into another. This made it very easy to find what you were looking for in one document, and then either cut and paste it or drag and drop it into the target document.

09 - Windows Snap

Fast forward a decade or two, and Microsoft introduced Snap in Windows 8. Snap gave you the ability to anchor one window to one half of your monitor and then another app on the other half of your monitor, effectively giving you the ability to swap bits and pieces back and for like you did back in the day, though with Snap, it may be a bit easier to setup.

Metro apps are Dead. Long Live Universal Apps!

So… ok. Windows 8’s MetroUI/ ModernUI and the apps that went with it totally sucked. Microsoft finally got it and completely killed not only the UI in Windows 10, but the apps that went with it. Well, that is to say, that they killed the way the apps looked. Now, these apps are called Universal Apps.

05 - Universal Apps

The idea here is that these redefined, universal apps can run on any machine running any version of Windows 10, regardless of screen size or form factor. With Universal Apps, developers get to code once, (theoretically) compile once, and have an app that runs on a Windows Phone, a Windows tablet, as well as on a Windows PC. Microsoft is hoping that this will entice developers to not only continue developing for Windows, but to also create apps that will run “on every version of Windows.” This is code for Microsoft trying to beg developers to write apps for Windows Phone and the Windows Store, which they have largely ignored since its inception.

Yeah… It echoes in there.

06 - Universal Apps

Action Center

Windows Charms are gone. That interface went out with Windows 8.x. In its place when you swipe in from the right edge of your screen, or when you tap the dialog bubble in the System Tray, you get the Action Center.

07 - Action Center

From here, you can address any and all system level notifications that either the OS or any apps have sent you. You can dismiss one, some or all of them, or tap on any individual notification to deal with it directly.

08 - Action Center

Additionally, Quick Action buttons near the bottom of the Action Center give you instant access to often used, important system functionality. These buttons are customizable via the Notifications and Actions applet in Settings.

Microsoft Edge

Internet Explorer has become, over the years, a huge non-standardized mess. Because so many enterprises – companies – run Windows, Internet Explorer in many cases became the default browser of any company that ran the OS. When that happened, those companies locked in their version of Windows AND Internet Explorer in a death grip that still has many companies still running Windows XP, running IE6. It’s just the browser (and version) that just won’t die.

10 - Microsoft Edge

With Windows 10, Microsoft hopes to change that. Microsoft Edge – formerly called Project Spartan – is the newest browser in Microsoft’s new flagship, desktop OS. With Edge, you can annotate live web pages and then share those pages AND your notes with others. You can read online articles without being distracted and you can save articles to be read at a later time. Edge and Cortana (see below) also work together, so you can make restaurant reservations or read reviews, without leaving the page that you’re currently viewing.

11 - Microsoft Edge

The code name for this new Windows 10 exclusive app is aptly named. The app is a bit Spartan when it comes to on screen controls as well as features. While I’m certain they will come, post Windows 10 release, waiting for an Edge version of everything that you may see in other browsers make take a bit of time.

12 - Microsoft Edge

The browser isn’t the easiest thing to use, and many may find it a bit confusing. The address bar, for example, is completely hidden. If you click up near the top of the current tab you’re on, it will appear, but I never feel as though I’m clicking in the right place. I’d rather have a visible edge to the box that I can see… The lack of polish on things like this make Edge interesting, but all the more difficult to use.

Cortana Comes to the PC

Cortana is Microsoft’s answer to Apple’s Siri and Google’s Google Now voice operated, digital assistants. While both Siri and Google Now have been around a bit longer than Cortana, the latter seems a bit more sophisticated and easier to use.

13 - Cortana

On Windows 10, you can even train Cortana to learn your voice. It will only respond to you after that (at least in theory) and its accuracy is much improved after training completes. I was actually very impressed with Cortana during my vocal testing of it.

14 - Cortana

However, I don’t see myself using Cortana all that often. I don’t use Siri hardly at all on my iPhone. I just don’t talk to it; but that may be because it’s not as advanced, and is so very limited. Siri just doesn’t do as much as Cortana can.

15 - Cortana

16 - Cortana

I don’t know that I will use Cortana all that much on my Surface Pro 3. I honestly don’t use it outside of the office; and I’m not the type to talk to my computer. I have enough problems with people looking at me like I’m nuts as it is. I don’t need to provide them with any additional fuel.

17 - Cortana

Using Cortana via a keyboard, however, is totally easy and natural. You type in your natural language question, and Cortana does the rest. Searching the web is easy. Finding documents, apps, or System Components (like Control Panel or Settings applets) is easy and takes just as much effort as typing the name of the document or thing you’re looking for. That works a bit easier than you might think and won’t get you strange looks at work when you talk to your Surface Pro tablet…

However, if over the next few years, Cortana can become more intelligent and can really help boost productivity, then I may revisit this decision of forced silence at a later date. For now, however, I think I’ll just try to stick to typed searches.

18 - Cortana

Xbox and Windows 10

I’m not a huge gaming fan. I don’t play at all, though I do have an Xbox One in the house. My son, however, is the local gaming expert. What I’m really looking forward to allowing him to try, though is the Xbox and Windows 10 gaming integrations between Xbox and a Windows Phone 10 device.

19 - Xbox

The boy can really spend some time playing games. On the weekends – read Saturday… Sunday is Church – when we allow him to play with some extended time, he gets up early in the morning and meets many of his classmates online for extended rounds of Destiny or Halo. They’ve been known to play for hours until one parent decides to break it all up.

20 - Xbox

At our house, that’s usually when my granddaughter gets up and comes up stairs. At times like that, or when others want to use the TV for something other than watching him kill aliens, transferring the game to a Windows Phone handset or to a Windows tablet may be a good thing for him. He can still play his games, and I get a chance to use my television set.

21 - Xbox

Don’t expect this game console – PC/ Windows Phone/ Tablet integration to become available on 29, July, however. While Windows 10 will eventually come to Xbox, I don’t expect it to be released until sometime in mid to late October with the TH2 (Threshold 2) release of Windows 10.

22 - Xbox

The Xbox app on Windows 10, however, will allow you to get access to the same games, and you should be able to play Xbox titles on your Windows 10 PC, with your Microsoft account, if you can actually get the gamer tag to set.

23 - Xbox

On an unrelated side, I’d like to say that I did not choose the gamer tag that’s shown in these shots. The Xbox app chose it, and I actually find that choice of tag to be in very poor taste considering the little girl that was nearly stabbed to death.

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