Microsoft aimed to take on the ‘post-PC’ world with Windows 8/8.1 getting rid of its hallmark Start menu and the desktop, optimizing the UI mainly for touch devices. The move did not go down well with a large number of desktop and laptop users who’re loyal to their keyboards and mice, and did not feel at home with full-screen modern UI apps, hidden charms menus and several inconsistencies. Microsoft tried to mitigate some issues with Windows 8.1 and some incremental updates but the damage had been done.
The Redmond giant decided to jump directly to Windows 10 keeping a balance between the old and new. While the new operating system unifies different devices, it also optimises the interface as per the device. It’s been almost a month that we’ve been using a Windows 10 PC+tablet hybrid to find out if it’s worth an upgrade (or even a switch).
Upgrading and setting-up
While Microsoft gave us access to a machine pre-loaded with Windows 10, we’ve also upgraded a few desktops and laptops running Windows 8 to the new OS. We have to say the process is pretty simple though there were a few hiccups in the early days due to the load on Windows servers with a large number of users trying to get their free upgrade. Yes, upgrading is free if you own a Windows 7 or 8 PC and upgrade within one year of the OS’ availability.
If you’re running Windows 7 or 8, you simply get a notification in the system tray to reserve your upgrade. The system notifies you when the update is available for download and you can see the progress in the Windows Update section. You can also use a tool to download and create a USB installation drive to install the OS through the Microsoft website. Installation doesn’t take long (downloading 3-4GB installation files is a long process though). You only need to intervene during the final stages when the OS needs your inputs to personalise the interface and sign-in using your Microsoft account.
Windows 10 boots really quickly – it takes 7-8 seconds to boot up on our HP Pro x2 convertible but then it comes with an SSD and not a hard disk. The boot time goes up a few seconds on other systems but is comparatively faster than Windows 8.
Desktop is the centre of the Windows universe, again
After being relegated to the background, Microsoft has brought the Desktop the default screen when you boot up the PC (with Tablet mode off if you have a 2-in-1). You’ll see your favourite wallpaper, app shortcuts, the Start menu button at the bottom left corner with the taskbar placed at the bottom of the screen. A new addition here is the Search box, which shows up next to the Start menu button if enabled. It’s a universal search box that lets you search for the term across the web in addition to your PC. It’s also similar to Apple’s Spotlight search feature offering some extra functionality. For instance, you can do calculations, currency and unit conversions, among others inside the search box.
It’s also integrated with Cortana, Microsoft’s voice-based personal assistant that offers contextual information and lets you organise and plan your day in addition to voice-based search. Cortana is not available in India but you can get a taste of it by changing your Country to US in the Region & language settings. We found it to be pretty accurate in terms of recognising our voice and offering answers to our questions. It also displays cards for weather and trending news stories when you click on the Search box.
Even without Cortana, the Search box is a much needed relief from the complicated charms-based search feature of Windows 8/8.1 and we found ourselves using the feature frequently. It’s convenient and makes search less cumbersome. You’re only limited to Bing search for web though.
Improved user interface
Windows 10 follows the minimalist philosophy when it comes to the visual aspects of the user interface. By default, the Start menu and Action center are translucent and unlike Windows 8 elements like icons and text labels don’t feature basic labels with tiles reminiscent of Windows Phone and Windows 8. System apps like File Explorer still feature toolbars in tabbed ribbons but look more refined with frameless title bars, minimal maximize, close and minimize buttons and new icons. While Microsoft has retained the Control Panel (which is a good thing for users familiar with older versions), the Settings interface has been overhauled and gives complete control over the PC. Again the iconography is minimalist and the only coloured element is the system-wide accent that you choose. Toggles and drop-down boxes also look different.
Thankfully, the Windows 10 apps (Modern UI ones) are displayed in a windowed interface if you’re in the PC mode and now feature slide-out menus instead of the unintuitive hidden Charms. There’s no inconsistency between the way you use Windows 10 universal apps and legacy apps. This is one reason we liked using system apps like Mail and Calendar. The Windows
Another useful UI feature that comes with Windows 10 is Task View that lets you create multiple desktop spaces and control all app windows across all these desktops. It’s just like Apple OS X’s Mission Control. We found ourselves using this feature while using multiple monitors to divide work. Power users will find this feature interesting.
Users can now have up to four apps snapped on the same screen with what Microsoft calls a new quadrant layout.
Windows 10 shows other apps and programmes running for additional snapping and will make smart suggestions on filling available screen space with other open apps. We didn’t use the feature much except for keeping a check on our Twitter timeline while working.
The resurrection of Start Menu
Windows 10 brings back Microsoft’s signature Start menu which used to be the gateway to applications, settings menus, file folders and power toggles. However, the implementation is a little different as it is a hybrid between the Start menu of yore and the Windows 8 tiled Start screen.
By default the Windows 10 Start menu is divided into two panes – the left one featuring account settings, Most used apps, File Explorer menu, Settings, Power toggles and an all apps button that brings an alphabetically arranged list of all installed apps. The right pane has a ‘Life at a glance’ group with live tiles of major system apps such as Calendar, Mail, Microsoft Edge and others. You can expand the Start menu, increase or decrease the size of app live tiles and create groups of live tiles as per your preference.
While you can pin shortcuts to your favourite apps as live tiles, accessing the complete list of apps involves a few clicks. To be honest, we always ended up keying in the name of the application or even setting in the search box to fire it up.
If you like the Windows 8 Start screen, just switch to the tablet mode. Keep in mind you’ll lose the desktop (as you know it) when you do that. The app list button and power key appears at the bottom left corner above the Start logo and the search box reduces to a small search icon in the taskbar. The OS can seamlessly switch to tablet mode when you undock the screen. Microsoft calls it Continuum.
Overall, the Start menu is better for desktop use compared to the Windows 8/8.1 Start screen and offers a feeling of familiarity though it’s something different from the Windows 7 Start menu.
If you’ve lately used Apple’s OS X, you’d be familiar with Notifications Center. Windows 10’s version is known as Action Center a hidden pane that can be displayed at the right side of the screen by swiping from the right edge or by pressing a message bubble icon in the system tray. It displays notifications for unread emails, calendar and from other apps and displays toggles for commonly used settings such as battery saver, tablet mode, VPN, All settings, Quiet hours (DND) and Airplane mode among others. We mostly used it for directly going to the settings menus and using settings toggles. While you can choose the four settings toggles that appear in the ‘collapsed mode’ in the Action Center, we wish Microsoft would have given us the ability to add our favourite settings toggles.
Finally, a usable browser
Microsoft has replaced Internet Explorer with a new browser called Edge which features a minimalist, clean interface similar to Google’s Chrome. It has a unified search and URL bar which is not at the top of the page when you open a fresh tab.
It also offers Cortana integration which is text based, a reading view mode like Apple’s Safari and tools to annotate web pages in addition to reading lists. You can also annotate webpages and share saving you the need to take long screenshots. It also supports stylus input.
We found the performance to be faster compared to Internet Explorer. In fact, we have to admit that we did not use Chrome on Windows 10 except when we needed to access some work websites that only support Google’s browser. It doesn’t support extensions but Microsoft says it’ll soon introduce support for this feature.
A new way to log-in
Windows 10 introduces Hello a new way to authenticate users through face recognition on supported devices. You can also use a fingerprint sensor or other biometric sensors to log in to Windows. The feature makes use of Intel RealSense 3D camera with 3D depth-sensing. Unfortunately our test device did not support this feature so we could not use it.
By default, Windows 10 turns on all options to share your data with Microsoft and its advertising partners. It also analyses your usage pattern for personalising the Cortana assistant. However, all these options can be turned off via the Privacy settings. You can also choose custom settings instead of ‘express’ while setting up your PC for the first time to manage these options to your liking.
Should you upgrade?
There’s no doubt that Windows 10 is the most refined version of Windows we’ve used (having used all versions post Windows 95).
After using it for a month, we feel that Windows 10 takes the strengths of Windows’ most loved variant, Windows 7, and combines it with the modern, minimalist UI philosophy of Windows 8, removing some major pain points that made the last release anything but user friendly. The universal release is suited for use with all devices and even the upcoming mobile version will support all apps. The Windows Store is not very rich in terms of apps at the moment but Microsoft has made it easy for developers to port their apps from other platforms. So we expect to see more apps in the coming future.
If you’re using Windows 7 or 8/8.1, this is the best time to upgrade to Windows 10 as you’ll not have to pay for the OS. Do check with your PC maker if you’re using specialty hardware for updated drivers. For most users, the process is pretty straightforward and Windows 10 takes care of driver upgrades for commonly used hardware. If you’re paranoid about bugs you can wait a few weeks before upgrading.
If you’re using an older version of Windows, you’re missing out on some great new features and security updates. You’ll need to shell out Rs 8,000 for the Home version and Rs 15,000 for the professional version og Windows 10.
Mac users who occasionally use Windows would appreciate new features like universal search and task view. With Apple’s Bootcamp now supporting Windows 10, they can perhaps think of using it as a secondary OS. However, Windows 10 doesn’t really offer a compelling reason for them to switch.
– Start menu is back!
– Seamless switching between desktop & tablet modes for 2-in-1 devices
- Easier to use compared to Windows 8
– You may encounter some bugs related to activation, updates
– Privacy settings need to be changed if you use ‘Express’ set-up
– Edge browser is good but lacks extension support, other system apps are basic