This week, Windows 10 finally arrived. While the rollout will come in waves, we’ve been running the Insider Preview for months. Here are some of the best features you can look forward to when (or if) you decide to upgrade.
The Start Menu is Back, Baby
Windows 8 made the hugely controversial move to eliminate the Start Menu, opting instead for a don’t-call-it-Metro style Start Screen. It went over about as well as you’d expect. In Windows 10, however, the Start Menu is back. Now, Live Tiles live here just like regular app icons, in (relatively) perfect harmony.
The folder-based organisation has been left behind in favor of a favorites- and search-based organisation. You can start typing as soon as you open the Start menu to find an app and launch it by name. If you’d rather not type the name of an app every time, you can pin it to the Start Menu where it will live alongside your other tiles. Your most used shortcuts will also appear in their own list. You can click “All Apps” to see a list of everything that’s in your Start Menu, though it will show up as an alphabetical list that may be hard to sift through if you’re used to folders.
Cortana Makes the Start Menu Even Smarter
As if bringing the Start Menu back weren’t enough, Microsoft has built its personal voice assistant Cortana right in. Even if you’re already using Google Now or Siri, having Cortana on your desktop can be handy. You can perform web searches to get many of the same quick answers by simply pressing the Win key and typing a question like “How many ounces are in a cup” or “What’s the weather like?”
Cortana’s more than just voice commands, though. If you sign in with your Microsoft account, you can use Cortana to set reminders, add calendar events, and it can even give you Google Now-style cards with relevant information like stock quotes or news stories. Of course, many of these features only work at their best if you’re using Microsoft services—or at least syncing your services like Google Calendar to a Microsoft app—but even if you don’t want to get into Microsoft’s ecosystem, it’s still far more powerful than the Start Menu of the past. [Note: Cortana isn't currently in the Australian version of Windows 10 but should be coming soon.]
Microsoft Edge Finally Replaces Internet Explorer
Microsoft tried hard and often to get people to forgive Internet Explorer. It just wasn’t happening. Now, with Windows 10, Microsoft is ditching the old browser for Microsoft Edge. We’ve already taken a look at the browser and, while it’s still pretty bare bones, it has several unique features including a text-only reader mode, an annotation tool and even Cortana integration. While extensions haven’t arrived yet, they should be coming before long, so Edge may be worth trying out.
You Can Now Add Multiple Desktops
Being able to run a few apps at once is the great benefit of an operating system like Windows. Running too many, though, can get overwhelming. Now, Microsoft is finally adding the ability to create and manage multiple desktops. You can add new desktops, quickly move windows between them, and jump between desktops by pressing Win-Tab. This may not be all that useful for average users, but those of us who do a lot of work with our machines will appreciate the feature.
Windows Now Has a Central Notification Center
Nearly every OS — from Android to iOS, OS X to Ubuntu — has had a central notification area for some time. Microsoft is finally adding this much-needed feature to Windows 10. You can click the notification tray icon in the lower-right side of the screen or press Win-A to open up your notifications. It may take a while for some apps to make use of the new system—Google famously got tired of waiting and made their own notification system in Chrome—but many system notifications already show up here.
The notification tray also has links to various useful features like the Windows 10 Settings app, VPN settings, and quick toggles for things like location and Quiet Mode. If you have a Windows machine connected to a touchscreen, there’s also a button to quickly switch between desktop and tablet modes.
Universal Apps In A Non-Stupid Way
Microsoft’s attempts to make desktops behave like a tablet was easily one of the worst aspects of Windows 8. While it was still usable, the focus on tablets took away from what made Windows a useful operating system in the first place. Continuum is a much better second attempt. As the video above shows, if you have a tablet or a touchscreen, you can enable a touch mode that behaves like a tablet. If you add a keyboard and mouse, you can switch to desktop mode.
Universal apps are the counterpart to this. While most Windows applications are designed for the desktop, Microsoft is increasingly trying to lead developers to create apps that alter their interface based on which device you’re running. There are already a few apps like Netflix, VLC, and Plex that work well on desktops, but will automatically adjust to touchscreens when necessary. While this may not be immediately useful to everyone, it does make the idea of getting a touch-compatible device enticing in the future.
What have you been enjoying in Windows 10 so far? Let us know in the comments.