Until a few years ago, Microsoft’s Windows looked infallible as rivals such as OS X and Linux had a small niche following but over the past couple of years, we’ve seen tablets become popular for business users and companies push towards offering a platform for every display.
Windows in the past
In the case of Microsoft, the Redmond-based company used its Windows 8 operating system in a bid to offer a platform that could adapt to multiple display sizes but while the idea in principle was certainly plausible, Microsoft’s implementation left a lot to be desired. The key thing about Windows 8 and the versions before it were that they were designed primarily for laptops and keyboards and until Windows 8, none of the features were really touch-friendly.
In Windows 8, we were treated to a Start Screen that replicated the live tiles interface found on Windows Phone and while this was familiar for Windows Phone users, it alienated Microsoft’s own core Windows PC user-base who found the switch to a start screen from a start menu too jarring. Instead of being the touch-friendly interface that persuaded people to buy Windows laptops and tablets, Windows 8 was a mess and while Windows 8.1 certainly made a few improvements, none made Windows a platform for every device and display.
Fast forward to the end of July and after months of previews and beta builds, Microsoft finally made Windows 10 official and its vast feature set makes Windows 8 look as antiquated as a dial-up broadband in the current fiber era. There’s a lot of features present in Windows 10 that achieve Microsoft’s aim of delivering a platform that works across devices and display sizes and after using the developer preview (plus the final version since its release), does Windows 10 finally deliver the unified platform that Microsoft claim it does? Let’s find out.
In this review, we’re considering Windows 10 in both, a tablet and a laptop environment and in a future piece, we will look at the tablet specific features and whether Windows 10 is the platform that every tablet needs.
Welcome to Windows 10
While Windows 10 is a major platform upgrade, it is also the beginning of a new era for Microsoft and many of its partners. Alongside all the major feature changes and additions in the new OS, there is also a fundamental shift in Microsoft’s strategy and the new platform comes with two major macro-level changes:
Windows 10 is now a service
The concept of software as a service is certainly not new but in Windows 10, Microsoft is introducing an era where Windows is forever yours. And the single most important reason to upgrade to Windows 10 is due to this change; it’s yours, FOREVER and for FREE.
As long as you have a valid Windows 7 or Windows 8 license key, you can download Windows 10 free until next July and once you install it, it’s yours forever. Microsoft has committed to offering updates including new features for five years and bug fixes until 2025, which means you are essentially getting ten years of support for nothing.
This is a huge shift for the company, which until now, has charged several hundreds for a copy of its OS. While it still will charge you if you don’t have a valid Windows license key to upgrade, it is at least offering the upgrade free to hundreds of millions of PC users and in the same moment, establishing an unassailable lead over the few rivals that do exist.
A key part of the new Windows 10 experience also covers updates; previously, Microsoft would release bug fixes on Patch Tuesday (once-a-month security updates) or as part of big service packs, but in Windows 10, updates should be fast, effective and plentiful. The platform has been designed so that, like smartphones, core components can be updated independently of the main OS.
Windows 10 isn’t just a platform that’s now sold as a service; it’s also a platform that aims to be everything for everyone everywhere by focusing on the convergence of computing around three displays; the PC, the smartphone and the TV.
You may think of Windows as a platform that’s on your PC, but Windows 10 is now so much more as it becomes a platform that powers servers, your PC, the Xbox gaming console, your tablet, your smartphone, your TV and even your wearables. Eventually, we’ll also see it power Internet of Things (Iot) smart devices and virtual reality products like the company’s HoloLens.
Technology has been moving towards convergence for the past couple of years and while other companies were touted as being first to offer a convergent experience, Microsoft has certainly delivered with Windows 10 and in a big way. A key part of this convergence is going to be the core of our focus on the tablet features of Windows 10, which should be released later this week.
So that’s the strategy but what about the features? Here’s the major new features and additions in Windows 10 and some of the main reasons to upgrade to Microsoft’s new OS.
Windows 10 Key Features
Windows 10 delivers a range of new features with a changelog spanning several pages and there’s enough features to keep every user enticed. The range of features is so vast that it would be nearly impossible to review them all here so instead, we’re focusing on some of the key tablet-related features below.
Microsoft’s new OS comes with its all-new redeveloped Microsoft Edge browser included and what sets this browser apart is that – unlike past versions of Internet Explorer which were updated versions of the previous edition – it has been rebuilt from scratch. As such, Microsoft has righted a lot of issues with Internet Explorer and finally we have a browser meant for the modern internet generation.
The new browser definitely delivers with slow load times, constant crashing and high resource usage all things of the past. As a web developer in my spare time, I’ve had to deploy entire separate style sheets just to ensure pages display properly in Internet Explorer but with Edge, this is no longer an issue as it uses the same web standards as other common web browsers.
For an in-depth look at the new browser, check out our Microsoft Edge Feature Focus.
Windows 10 doesn’t just deliver a new web browser, it delivers a range of other modern features and arguably one of the standout features in Windows 10 is Cortana. Microsoft’s voice assistant is the Redmond company’s answer to Google Now and Apple’s Siri and originally released for Windows Phone, the company has made Cortana a cornerstone of its Windows 10 operating system.
Like on Windows Phone (aka Windows 10 Mobile) OS, Cortana is a personal voice assistant that can understand real language queries, have a conversation with you, address you by your name and a whole lot more. Cortana also lets you search the web and your entire computer, set reminders and displays contextual information and suggestions that it thinks you might like.
For an in-depth look at Microsoft’s assistant, check out our Cortana Feature Focus.
The Start Menu is one of the most iconic UX elements in Microsoft’s desktop OS but in Windows 8, the company did away with the traditional start menu in favour of its Metro-themed Tile-based start screen. Outrage ensued and the company listened, with Windows 10 bringing a much better implementation of the Start Menu.
Instead of just a touch-friendly start screen with large icons and live tiles, the Windows 10 Start Menu combines the iconic with the modern into a menu that will feel familiar to Windows users, new and old.
The changes are quite in-depth so take a look at our Windows 10 Start Menu feature focus for more info.
Full Screen Apps
Windows 8 also saw Microsoft add apps that opened in full screen by default and while this was certainly useful, you couldn’t resize the windows; it was full screen, a restrictive split-screen or minimized.
Windows 10 brings a major improvement in this regard as you are now able to resize full-screen apps into free-form windows, allowing you to display more than one window at once. Desktop applications that have not been updated to open as full-screen apps will continue to display as they traditionally do, letting you open as many apps as you like!
It sounds simple but this is a crucial change for Windows and Microsoft; to read more, head over to our Windows 10 Full Screen Apps feature focus for more.
One of the biggest additions to Windows 10 Mobile is the new action centre with easy toggles to change various settings and the same feature comes to Windows 10, bringing with it an updated notification centre that emulates (and beats) the one available on the Mac OS X desktop platform.
A unified notification centre is certainly not new, especially as it debuted in Windows 8.0 but what is new is the customizable quick toggles to change the state of certain system functions and notifications that can be customized per app. Each app can be configured to display notifications in one of three different ways;
- Show notifications
- Show notification banners
- Notify by playing a sound
Both third-party and core system apps behave in the same way and for the most past, the notification centre is easy to use and actually very stable. The best thing about it is that it will appear natural to anyone who has used Windows Phone, iOS or Android and it’s probably the single new feature I’ve used the most in Windows 10.
Biometric security is certainly not a new concept in modern technology, with everything from smartphones to laptops sporting fingerprint scanners that let you unlock your device. Windows 10 however, looks to the future and brings support for biometric scanning baked directly into the OS.
On past Windows PCs, fingerprint scanners came with the OEM’s own rather clunky software – I remember a HP laptop that was absolutely atrocious and the software failed, eventually locking me out of my PC – but Microsoft has built this directly into Windows 10. Now, instead of using a piece of software that may not actually work, you can head to the Settings menu and instead use the built-in support.
Windows 10 also looks beyond the current standard of fingerprint reading with Windows Hello also letting you bypass your password using your face. Unlike other solutions that match a 2D image, Windows Hello relies on the RGB, infrared and 3D capabilities of the RealSense camera technology to match contours and features of your face. As such, it’s meant to be much more secure.
There is one downside to Windows Hello’s face scanning; it probably won’t work on your existing hardware. Intel’s RealSense technology is relatively new meaning you’ll either need to buy a new PC with a RealSense camera built in or an after-market third party RealSense camera to be able to take advantage of it. If you go for the latter option, expect it to cost between $75 and $150, which certainly isn’t too bad a price to pay.
Multitasking / Snap Assist
For many generations, Windows has been made for multitasking and in Windows 10, it gets better with Microsoft offering the iconic snapping ability alongside some tweaks, which make it even better. For Mac users like myself, this feature is still not available unless it’s via a third-party app and it’s something I certainly enjoy when I do use a Windows machine.
Microsoft’s Snap feature lets you automatically arrange an app so that it snaps to one side of the display with another app on the other side and Windows 10 brings the ability to snap up to four apps to one display. There’s also a new Snap Assist feature that smartly suggests (and lets you pick) apps for the other half of the display and this is one of the UI tweaks I’ve used most often.
To multitasking and the iconic alt-tab method of switching apps is still present, although it has received a bit of a makeover. A new Task View feature (complete with shortcut on the toolbar) lets you preview all running apps (like Mission Control on the Mac) and Windows now finally native support for multiple displays. The multiple displays feature works relatively well and it’s nice to finally see Microsoft support a feature that really puts the power in power-user.
The rest of the Windows 10 interface is in keeping with Microsoft’s minimalist design and I, for one, certainly think it is the best designed Windows platform ever. Having learnt from the mistakes it made with Windows 8, Microsoft had a clear vision on what Windows should look like and Windows 10 certainly delivers.
Windows 10 Apps & Windows Store
Apps, apps, apps; who remembers when they were called programs? Windows 10 programs are now referred to as Apps and the desktop platform has already got a new Windows Store. Naturally all Windows desktop programs work but there is another reason for the Windows Store; tablets and phones.
Windows 10 is designed for multiple displays and universal apps delivers the ability for developers to package their apps for tablet, phone and desktop into one single app (although they essentially develop each interface separately). For laptops and tablets, this is great news as it means apps that have been designed specifically to take care of Windows 10 features such as Cortana can be found in a single location. Having a Windows Store does make finding apps and programs a lot simpler.
The Store certainly isn’t the most exhaustive but Microsoft hope (and rightly) that developers will see the Store as a window to hundreds of millions of PC and laptop users. Sure, some will still only offer programs directly to customers but its likely that thousands of developers will see the PC as an untapped market of potential revenue. For customers, developers and Microsoft alike, the Windows Store has the potential to be a good thing indeed.
Windows 10: Is it worth the upgrade?
Want a one-word answer to this question, that also essentially sums up this entire review? It’s simple: Yes. You SHOULD DEFINITELY upgrade to Windows 10.
Is Windows 10 worth the upgrade? Simply put... YES.
Whether you are running Windows 7 or Windows 8, you should be actively looking to upgrade to Windows 10 at the earliest point. For one thing; it has the potential to be as iconic as Windows XP was and still remains to be.
Like many of the features it brings, Windows 10 is an entirely redesigned platform from the folks in Redmond and they’ve certainly done a sterling job, especially compared to the plethora of mistakes that Windows 8 and Windows 8.1 proved to be.
When designing Windows 10 – both, for mobile and for PC – Microsoft sought to rewrite the entire OS to build an ecosystem that’s firmly designed with the 21st Century in mind. Whether it’s the touch-friendly or the work-horse power-user elements that appeal to you, Windows 10 really does deliver something for everyone.
It’s not perfect but it is better than Windows 7 or Windows 8 ever were and if you’re questioning whether to upgrade to Windows 10, we have one question to ask you; why would you not?