Unlike Windows 8, Windows 10 actually feels designed for a PC with a keyboard and mouse. Windows 7 users will be much more at home with Windows 10, but there are still some big changes.
If you’re a Windows 7 user, you might be surprised to see just how much has changed after you upgrade. Thankfully, there are no weird hot corners to learn.
Microsoft Account Integration
When you set up Windows 10, the first thing you’ll be asked is whether you want to log into your Windows system with a Microsoft account. This is similar to logging into a Mac or iPhone with an Apple account, or a Chromebook or Android device with a Google account.
If you log in with a Microsoft account, many desktop settings (including your wallpaper) will sync between your PCs. You’ll be automatically logged into Microsoft services like the OneDrive client integrated into Windows. A Microsoft account is mandatory to use some of the new features, like the Windows Store.
If you don’t want to use a Microsoft account, that’s also fine — there’s a small little link that allows you to set up a traditional, local Windows account. You can easily convert it to a Microsoft account later, if you like.
The New Start Menu
The Start menu looks very different from how it did on Windows 7. The live tiles found on Windows 8’s Start screen make a return here. But, don’t worry — you can remove all the live tiles if you don’t like them. Just right-click them and remove them. The Start menu looks a bit different, but it has all the usual features you’d expect — a list of all your installed applications as well as power options for shutting down or restarting your PC. Move your mouse to any edge of the Start menu and you’ll be able to resize it.
Universal Apps and the Windows Store
Many of the apps that come with Windows 10 are “universal apps,” which are the successor to Windows 8’s “Metro apps” or “Store apps.” Unlike on Windows 8, these apps actually run in windows on the desktop, so you may actually be interested in using them.
To get more of these apps, you’ll need to open the Store app included with Windows and download them from the Windows Store. There’s no way to “sideload” these types of apps by downloading them from the Internet, although you’re free to avoid them entirely and install traditional Windows desktop applications from the web. You can also mix and match traditional Windows desktop applications and new apps from the Store. They’ll all run in windows on your desktop.
Settings App vs. Control Panel
The Settings option in the Start menu takes you straight to the new Settings app, which is evolved from the PC Settings app on Windows 8. This is designed to be a more user-friendly way to configure your computer.
However, it still doesn’t contain every setting. The old Windows Control Panel is still included. Some older settings may only be available in the Control Panel, while some newer settings may only be available in the Settings app. To quickly access the Control Panel and other advanced options, you can right-click the Start button or press Windows Key + X. This menu is a useful holdover from Windows 8.
The Refresh and Reset options also make the leap from Windows 8 to 10. These allow you to quickly get your computer back to a like-new state without having to actually reinstall Windows.
You won’t be able to disable automatic Windows updates on Windows 10 Home systems. You’ll need Windows 10 Professional to defer updates.
Cortana and Task View on the Taskbar
The Windows taskbar has changed a bit. In Windows 8, Microsoft removed the Start button from the taskbar and you only saw icons for your programs here. In Windows 10, the Start button isn’t just back — there’s a “Search the web and Windows” field that launches Microsoft’s Cortana assistant and a Task View button that provides an overview of all your open windows and virtual desktop features.
Both of these features are enabled by default. If you’d like to disable them, you can just right-click the taskbar and choose to hide the Search and Task View options.
Edge Replaces Internet Explorer
Internet Explorer is no longer the default browser, although it’s still available for businesses that still need access to its older rendering engine. In its place is a modern browser named Edge. Microsoft’s Edge browser should be more standards-compliant and perform better. It also no longer supports ActiveX controls, so all those old Internet Explorer toolbars and browser plug-ins will no longer function. If you’ve been using Internet Explorer, this is the browser you’ll be using instead. If you’re using Chrome or Firefox, you can install that and continue browsing normally.
Desktop and Security Improvements
Many other desktop improvements from Windows 8 are still here, but you won’t have seen them if you’ve been using Windows 7. The Task Manager was given an upgrade, so it’s easier to see what’s using your system resources and even manage startup programs without third-party software. Windows Explorer was renamed File Explorer and now has a ribbon — even if you don’t like the ribbon, File Explorer offers many useful features. For example, the file-copying-and-moving dialog window is much improved and Windows can mount ISO disc image files without third-party software.
There are also many security improvements from Windows 8. Windows 10 includes Windows Defender by default — Windows Defender is just a renamed version of Microsoft Security Essentials, so all Windows systems have a baseline level of antivirus protection. SmartScreen is a reputation system that tries to block harmful and unknown file downloads from harming your computer.
These are far from the only improvements found in Windows 10. For example, you’ll find a notification center and redesigned power, network, and sound icons in the system tray. Windows 10 includes Game DVR functionality for recording and streaming PC games. Microsoft has made many low-level tweaks that make Windows use less disk space, boot faster, and better protected against attacks.
Despite all the changes, Windows 10 is much easier to get to grips with than Windows 8 was. It’s based on the familiar desktop interface, complete with a start menu and desktop windows. Windows 10 does have a “Tablet mode,” but you have to enable that manually — or have it automatically enabled when using tablet hardware. You aren’t forced into tablet mode on typical PCs.