Windows 10 is shaping up to be really, really good. I’ve been running it as my primary OS on my Surface Pro 3 since early April (release 10041), and I’m getting really excited for the final product.
Microsoft has taken the things that worked with Windows 8.1, the things we missed from Windows 7, and some of the best features from Windows Phone and rolled them into their new OS. The best part, though, is that it all fits together and is working really well.
My Surface is dual booting 10 and 8.1, but running 10 almost exclusively. All of my other PCs are running 8.1, and I’ve started having a repeated experience on them. I’ve started sitting down at stable, solid windows 8.1 and missing features of 10. I find myself wishing for the Start Menu, which I haven’t used (or missed) for over a year. I groan when I open a Modern/Metro app and it demands to eat an entire screen. I don’t care about the voice command aspect, but Cortana’s information is useful and really handy. Because I miss these things when they’re gone, I know they’re good. That’s the sign of a good update.
Through the 90s and the early 2000s Windows put on weight. Upgrading to 95, 98, 2000, XP, or Vista required a serious assessment of your hardware. Usually that assessment ended with the realization that a hardware upgrade was needed to handle the software upgrade. This was so frequently the case that the common practice was not to upgrade the OS, but just to buy a new PC. Luckily that ended with Vista.
Windows 7 is lighter weight than Vista (You can run it on a netbook!), 8 is lighter than 7, and 10 is the least resource intense of the bunch. That’s really pretty amazing when you think about it. The best part about this is it makes upgrading a no-brainer. You can put Windows 10 on that laptop you have on the shelf, it’ll probably be fine. Aunt Sue’s six-year-old Dell desktop? It’ll run 10 like a champ. That machine you cobbled together from spare parts for your friend? Upgrade to 10 with confidence. Not only will Windows 10 run on most modern computers without issue, but anyone currently running 7 or 8 will be able to upgrade for free.
The new Start Menu combines the convenience and familiarity people like with the instant information of the Start Screen’s Live Tiles. These really shine on touch screen devices but fall flat in a keyboard and mouse configuration. I know I’m in a small minority of people who appreciate the Start Screen. I also recognize that it’s kind of dumb on a non-touch system.
For the uninitiated, a Live Tile is a big icon for an application that can also display information from the app. The perfect example is a weather app. At first glance it’s just an icon, after a second it “flips” and you now get a quick look at the current temperature, today’s high and low, precipitation info, and an alert if there is severe weather. You can get all the information you need without having to open the application.
The new Start Menu is the best of both worlds. Traditionalists will get their list of installed applications back and fans of the Start Screen will get to have their Live Tiles. And the very best part? It looks and works better than either the Start Screen or the Windows 7 Start Menu.
Cortana is one of the least understood new features in Windows. If you know anything about Cortana (outside of Halo), it’s probably that it/she is Microsoft’s direct competitor to Apple’s Siri on iOS. I, and the other 37 people who use Windows Phone have had Cortana around for a while. The voice commands are nice, but I rarely use them. I do use Cortana constantly on my phone though.
Cortana provides you a quick glance at a lot of stuff with a single click. Spend a little time telling her what you’re into, and you’ll be well rewarded. Like sports? Cortana will tell you when the next game is, what the current score is, or whether your team was victorious. Interested in the news? She’ll show you the top headlines for news topics you’re interested in. Weather update? She’s got it.
Instead of opening your News, Sports, and Weather apps, just click on Cortana and scroll through. If you see something you’re interested in, clicking on it will take you directly to the app the information was pulled from or do a web search for you. Cortana will also take quick notes for you and provide reminders. Nothing critical, but all really nice to have at the touch of a button.
There are some genuinely great apps for Windows 8.1. No, seriously, there are. There aren’t a lot of them, but there are some really good ones. The two I use the most are NBC Sports Live Extra and Fox Sports Go. Both give me access to sporting events I can’t get on TV. Both apps improve on what their providers offer on their websites. Windows 8.1 forces me to use them in full screen mode. At my desk, on a multi-monitor setup, this isn’t a deal breaker. On a single screen system it’s a big problem. Not only can the app only be full screen, it must own the screen. Opening anything else on the same screen minimizes the app, which may as well close it. Windows 10 fixes that.
Windows 10 allows you to “window” Metro/Modern apps, a novel concept in an operating system called “Windows”. The upshot here is that I can listen in to a sporting event on Fox Sports Go while continuing to use my computer to get work done. The app no longer demands to have full reign over a screen.
This opens the door for lots of other apps too. I downloaded some system monitor apps for 8.1 an eternity ago, but abandoned them because of the full screen problem. These apps and others like them can have new life now that they won’t require the entire screen.
That’s just the start of it. I haven’t even touched on the Edge browser (formerly Project Spartan), Microsoft Hello, Universal Apps, Convergence, cloud syncing settings, or the improved security model. And that’s just on PCs! Windows 10 will be powering Windows Phone, Xbox One, Surface Hub… They’ve even got a version that will run on Raspberry Pi (the system on a chip, not the dessert).
Windows 10 is shaping up to be great. It’s still in developer preview, so there are bugs, but it’s showing a lot of promise. Microsoft has been soliciting a great deal of feedback from those of us playing with it. The folks in Redmond, WA appear to be listening to what we’re saying too, which is a nice change. The end result should be a very solid, very usable, really cool new version of Windows. It’s something I am genuinely excited about.