Today Windows 10 is being released to the world. In three years, it’s supposed to be on more than a billion PCs across the planet and its one of the Microsoft’s important releases. This is the last version of Windows, from this point, the numbers stop but forced updates will continue to flow. If you’re thinking you’ll skip it and wait for Windows 11, you can’t. Windows as a Service has arrived.
You’re choices are really just three. Upgrade your existing machine, buy a new one with Windows 10 pre-installed, or staying on your existing version of Windows until that hardware dies. Despite the fact you really have no option but to move to Windows 10, there’s plenty of great reasons you’ll want to make the move. There are some inherit benefits in getting all users to the same version, including support, but certainly a massive install base for developers to build and sell to.
I’ve been using Windows 10 since the first Technical Preview was released and have upgraded through every officially released build, as well as a few unofficial. To begin, the early builds were average at best, but with the biggest beta test in history, more than 5 million Windows Insiders have detailed the problems, suggestions for improvements and the OS is the quality it is today because of these people. Building software as complex as an operating system is insanely difficult to do and even harder to do right. With many users unhappy with the changes introduced in Windows 8, they should be very happy with the concessions made in this release.
The upgrade process
It’s likely that you’ve seen the Windows 10 icon in the system tray of your computer over the past month or so. If you clicked on it and pre-registered for a Windows 10 upgrade, your computer may have already started downloading the bits. There’s many reports on Twitter of users seeing this activity. Given the size of the OS and the millions, maybe tens of millions of users that want it on July 29th, this pre-download strategy will help diminish launch day issues. Once the bits are there, it’ll essentially be an activation process once the clock ticks over.
Naturally we see some teething issues when regular users start upgrading to Windows 10, but from my experience, the stability and usability of Windows 10 is now solid.
If you haven’t pre-registered, to get the Windows 10 upgrade, its free and only takes a second. If you’re the extra cautious type, give it a couple of days and watch the real-world reports of upgrade experiences to make sure. It goes without saying that you should definitely backup your files and depending on which version of Windows you’re coming from, you may need to re-install applications.
The upgrade process time will vary between machines, but you should allow an hour or so. The machine will reboot multiple times, but does have a nice progress ring to keep you informed. When that’s at 100%, you’ve still got another 5-10 minutes of initial windows boot and logon for the first time. From this point on, you’ll receive updates automatically, and the system is smart to watch your usage patterns and picks a time when you don’t use your machine to update itself.
There’s plenty to like about Windows 10 and they come in the form of two main categories, new features and improvements to existing features. The other important improvements to note are the general speed of the OS, which also extends to killer boot times and lower OS-level resources requirements.
Talking to your computer may sounds like something you’ll never ever do, but seriously think longer about this. Talking to your computer is weird, no question, but like the voice assistants on our phones, if the right user benefits are achieved it may be worth looking a bit silly.
At launch Cortana voice will only support a limited number of accents and languages, but Australia is on the list to be delivered in the next few months. For now you can change your region to the US and give her a try. Once enabled, you can ask Cortana all the same things you ask Siri or Google now and for the most part the experience will be the same.
“Hey Cortana, do I need to take a coat tomorrow?“ or “Set an alarm for 8AM tomorrow.”
Here’s where everything changes.. being able to say “Hey Cortana, open that PowerPoint I worked on yesterday afternoon.” This kind of interaction is amazing for productivity and is brand new functionality we’ve not experienced before, demonstrating just how integrated Cortana is.
If you’re seriously not into voice (the fastest command input mechanism), then you can also type your queries. To search in Windows 10, it’s really no different to what we experienced in Windows 8. If you’re on the desktop, tap the Windows Key to bring up the start menu and start typing, not clumsy navigating with the mouse to click the search box like Windows 7. This is fast, efficient and something you’ll get very comfortable with.
Cortana is also integrated into the new Edge browser as well, although this is more an information panel than a voice implementation at this stage. Right now you select a word or phrase and right click. Select ‘Ask Cortana’ and an Cortana returns results to the right of the screen. What happens here is actually smarter than a simple search query. You see the image below I just selected the word Peter, but Cortana was smart enough to take the sentence structure around it and work out the object was Peter Greste, a person which it then grabs images from Bing and his date of birth and position from Wikipedia and LinkedIn.
Internet Explorer is dead, welcome Microsoft Edge. This is the fastest, lightest browser Microsoft has ever made and probably the most secure. There’s a lot to like about Edge, but without the promised plugin architecture, it feels under cooked. There’s some sites like Microsoft’s own SharePoint that Edge struggles with and if you’re used to dragging and dropping into OneDrive through the browser, it’s not possible in Edge right now.
This is likely a result of the launch date for Windows 10 being brought forward from the original timeframe of October and it doesn’t help Edge only recently showed up for Windows Insiders to get hands-on with and provide feedback. If you come across sites that don’t work, head to the settings icon (now …) and you can select ‘Open with Internet Explorer’. Yep, IE is still alive in Windows 10, but you will need it and want it less going forward.
Every other app on Windows 10 I can hold the shift key and click to open additional instances, making it great for side-by-side copy and paste tasks. Edge doesn’t do that. Edge also doesn’t have a jump list of recently visited sites to right click and access like Chrome.
Technically you can open multiple windows, but it’s clunky, you have to open one instance, wait for the page to load, then use Ctrl+N for a new Window, or use Ctrl+T for a new tab and tear it off to a new window. Just don’t expect to ever snap that tab back to the source window in Edge, you can’t. Plenty of room for improvement here.
One unique thing about edge that Microsoft is really pushing is the annotation option. If you’ve got a pen, and with a developer on a new website, this will be an amazing experience, just not sure that this feature will get used much.
Windows 10 Start Menu for Windows 7 users
If you’re coming from Windows 7, the new start menu will have weird tiles on it. These are live tiles, that are better that icons in almost every way. Developers have an opportunity to give their application a front door that constantly updates with new information. Tiles can also be rearranged and resized to suit your personal preferences. New apps can be downloaded and purchased from the Store.
Windows 10 Start Menu for Windows 8/8.1 users
If you went along for the ride over the last few years and upgraded to 8, then 8.1 and the 8.1 update, you’ll have 3 years of experience of dealing with Live Tiles. The change this time is vertical groups as well as horizontal ones. This helps with organisation, something you’ll need to get great at with far less screen real estate to use than what you’re used to.
Tablet mode (Continuum)
If your device is one of the 2-1 convertible types, like the Microsoft Surface Pro 3, you’ll be able to mode switch. If you’re using it without the keyboard you may want the start screen to go fullscreen and apps to work best for touch input. But if you get back to your desk and dock it to a keyboard and mouse, you’d want it to revert back to a keyboard and mouse input with the new start menu.
Thankfully Windows 10 now understands this common mode switch, far better than any other version of the OS. Continuum is a feature that prompts you to ask if you want to switch automatically, select remember your preference and never have to think about it again.
Windows 7 introduced snapping to the left and right sides of the screen. It worked brilliantly but as monitor resolutions have progressed, 2 apps isn’t enough. In Windows 8, you could snap multiple metro/modern apps to 50% of the screen for a very similar side-by-side experience. The difference was the ability to snap in a 80/20 or 20/80 split.
In Windows 8.1, this snapping got better and if you’re resolution supported it, you could snap 3 modern apps on a single screen. Apps also weren’t restricted to hard and fast % splits between the apps, but the poor old desktop apps got forgotten. With Windows 10 being very much about addressing the issues of 8, this is another area that’s been improved.
In Windows 10 when you snap a desktop app to the side of a screen, it suggests the other running applications that you’ll select from to fill the other half. This is so logical and brings a much needed efficiency in dealing with multiple applications that’s long been missing from windows.
Over the last few years, Microsoft had tried to replace the Control Panel and failed. For the most common tasks, they were replicated in the Modern settings app, but get anywhere close to advanced and you’d be back to the old dialog boxes. In Windows 10, the Settings app is completely redone, searchable and while the Control Panel is still in Windows, most will never need to use it because Settings is now so full featured.
Windows Hello (Goodbye password)
Logging in with a password is the only option in Windows 7. In Windows 8 we got PIN and Picture password added. In Windows 10, Microsoft are going another step further, Windows Hello will allow users to login using their face. Imagine ducking out of the office to grab a coffee, you’re computer looses sight of you, so locks instantly, great for security.
When you return to your desk, your computer see and recognises you instantly and unlocks your machine. This is one of the most important changes that may finally take us past the password. Microsoft is working with hardware vendors to include the necessary sensors inside cameras to ensure the facial recognition is like nothing you’ve used before.
It’s smart enough to not be fooled by a printed picture, thanks to depth and infrared technology that checks you’re a real life human. It should even work in dark environments and these Windows Hello cameras a far closer to the Kinect than they are to your existing webcam. Thanks to an API, developers can also use Windows Hello and facial recognition to authenticate for websites and applications.
Project to Wireless Displays
It’s long been the dream to sit down on the couch and project your computer display to the TV and share content with your family and friends. Or the ability to walk into a meeting room, sit down and with a keyboard shortcut, present from your device, not some foreign machine that may not have the software required.
In Windows 10, you can, and as TVs and projectors continue to get WiFi, it’s as easy as pressing WinKey+P. Below the usual options of duplicating, extending your desktop across multiple displays, is a new ‘Connect to a Wireless Display’ option. You can also grab a wireless HDMI dongle that’ll plug into basically any display with a HDMI and USB port. This shows up as a device you can connect to, and in seconds, your screen, is on the big screen.
Multiple monitor support and snapping has also taken a big step forward in Windows 10. I commonly use 2 or 3 monitors and in Windows 10, we finally get between monitor snap points. This means you don’t have to snap the first app, select the second, then use the WinKey+left or right arrow to walk the second application to the edge of another monitor. Click, snap, click snap and you’re done now, it’s a small, but incredibly important change.
Quad splits mean you can now drag a window not just to the left and right of a display, but to the top-left, bottom-left, top-right and bottom-right. As we move from 1080p displays to 4K displays and even 21:9 displays, this neve level of snapping ability is seriously fantastic for multi-tasking power users. Just drag the app to the left or right as you did in Win7, then drag it up or down and the snap preview will show the quadrant it will snap to.
There are few operations you do in Windows more than Open and Save files. At the top of Windows Explorer and open/save dialog boxes, there’s now a new feature called Quick Access. Available from basically everywhere in the OS, it makes accessing recently modified documents an absolute breeze. This is a massive productivity gain. This feature, combined with the insert recent file attachment changes in Office 2016, could be reason enough to have enterprise upgrading. So many hours of lost productivity are attributed to the time taken for employees to dive through complex network folder structures.
Charms bar replaced by Action Center
WinKey+C used to activate the Charms Bar in Windows 8, now it activates Cortana. WinKey+A now opens Action Center on the right side of the screen. Gone are the universal, context-aware share, search, and settings charms, replaced by a notifications tray. The bottom of the Action Center also houses similar computer control over things like brightness, sound, wifi etc, but has been enhanced and is now configurable for each user’s preferences.
If you’ve ever tried to snip an application with a drop down active, you’ll know that a click over to the Snipping Tool dismisses the drop down. Now in Windows 10, there’s a new delay feature in the Snipping Tool that means you can set the delay to between 1 and 5 seconds, click the Snip, switch to the app, click the drop down and wait for the timer to expire. When it does, it’ll allow you to perform the snip with the current state captured. If you’re someone who’s problem solving or writing tutorial guides to software, this is a life saver and it’s built right in, for free.
Updated pre-installed apps
When you run Windows 10 for the first time you’ll notice some dramatic changes to the some of the included, modern apps. News, Sport, Weather, People, Photos, Mail, Calendar, Alarms and Clock are all updated. These apps are all updated to reflect the new responsive Universal App design of Windows. We also get a brand new Xbox app included in Windows 10. Video also got a rename to Film & TV and Music is now Groove Music after a recent name change.
You’ll also notice every profile icon has including those for your contacts in the People app, has the current circular styling.
The to-do-list for Windows 10
Windows 10 for PC’s is shipping today, but that’s really just the start of the strategy. Unfortunately Windows 10 for Mobile is still months away and the Xbox One version of Windows 10 is likely to slip into 2016. Internet connected devices are becoming increasingly common and fall under the Internet of Things (IoT) brand. These will continue to support an IoT version of Windows 10, which just adds to the developer opportunity.
Speaking of developers, right now, developers that are running Visual Studio 2015 that was released last week, can’t develop for Windows 10. Yep, that’s as ridiculous as it sounds. Right now, the new project dialog in Visual Studio 2015 doesn’t include Windows 10 universal app projects, this should change tomorrow, but does mean developers will be delayed in updating existing apps to Windows 10. This feels like a massive missed opportunity to have more a slew of 3rd party apps ready at launch.
If you use a single computer, One Drive will likely work fine for you in Windows 10. If you work across machines, the change to the sync engine will drive you to drink. As most mobile devices don’t have anywhere close to the storage amount available on OneDrive, it means you have to get selective about which folders you sync. Worst still, you have to remember folder names you’ve already used. If you don’t sync a folder, buy create a folder with that same name and start dropping in files, you’ll quickly see a bunch of red crosses indicating sync errors.
If you do experience a sync conflict, the dialog box doesn’t offer any kind of resolution option. We’ve all copied files over files and the dialog you get to resolve this conflict presents a file icon, the title, date and time of last modified, the size of the file. Basically plenty of information you need to make an educated decision of which to keep. With OneDrive, there’s no such resolution options, it’s the single biggest issue I have with Windows 10 and Microsoft have heard the complaints of many and chose consistency with Android and iOS platforms over fixing the issue.