Microsoft pushes its newest Windows 10 operating system to current Windows 7 and 8 users as a free upgrade, but before making the decision, consider if there’s any real benefit. This article focuses on the major differences between systems. Some features are significant upgrades, others are not.
Return of the Start Menu
Although Windows 8.1 touted the Start menu’s return, it was at best a joke; on the surface, the 8.1 Start menu was basically a Start button that opened the Start screen, something that didn’t add much functionality given the physical Windows key/button did the same thing. In Windows 10, however, it’s a full-fletched, searchable Start menu, complete with program lists, jump lists and Power button. This is truly reminiscent of the original Windows 7 Start menu, but with a prettier design and integration of the Windows 8 tiles; in that regard, it's a compromised hybrid of both systems.
Cortana Personal Assistant
Cortana is Microsoft’s answer to iOS’ Siri and Android’s Google Now. This integrated personal assistant answers questions, searches the web, reminds you of configured dates, gives you directions, checks flights and more. It’s also optionally responds to spoken commands or you can rely purely on your mouse and keyboard. And the more you use Cortana, the more it learns about you to become increasingly accurate.
The Action Center provides notifications and suggests important security or maintenance actions, such as enabling Windows SmartScreen in the screenshot above. It also includes a launching ground for popular actions, such as accessing Settings, toggling Airplane mode, creating notes, adjusting screen brightness or quieting notifications.
File Explorer’s Quick Access
The Quick Access panel in File Explorer is essentially the old Favorites list with one big difference. It learns. As you use File Explorer, the manager learns which folders you frequently use and automatically adds them to the list. This works similarly to jump lists in the Start menu, and in fact, is the File Explorer’s jump list, so you can quickly launch File Explorer and open the selected folder in one action.
Unification of Settings
Windows 8 was bizarre in that half the settings relied on the modern Settings app while the other half was rooted in the old Control Panel. You still have some of that in Windows 10, including retention of the Control Panel, but most of the Settings you care about are now presented in the Settings app. That means most of the time you can stay in one place to configure your Windows system.
Microsoft revamped its aging Internet Explorer with the faster Edge browser, which integrates with Cortana. Although the Edge doesn’t support Active X, Windows 10 still includes Internet Explorer, so you can continue browsing sites that actively require it. One truly cool feature of Edge is the ability to annotate webpages, such as highlighting important text, marking up graphics, adding text or cropping the page, and share them with friends; you can also save the webpage, complete with markups, or send it to other apps.
Windows 10 supports multiple “virtual” desktops via its quick-access Task View button. This cool feature groups programs in separate desktops, so your current task bar isn’t cluttered with distracting programs you don’t currently need. As an example, you might have your work desktop configured with Word, Excel and Photoshop, but when you need a break, you can switch to a separate desktop that displays a game, media player and browser.
Windows 10 also packs a number of handy additional features. Continuum, for instance, detects the computers current interface and adjusts appropriately, such as using a Surface as a tablet when detached from the dock or as a PC when it detects a keyboard and mouse. OneDrive also returns when a more integrated, cloud-based approach that allows browsing online files through File Explorer and remotely accessing hard drive files via the Web interface. Snap Assist also returns and aids in arranging windows into a four-quadrant layout, instead of halving the display. This is especially convenient considering modern apps now open in windowed mode, rather than the segregated full-screen mode that gave the feel of two operating systems in one (not even the half-half display of 8.1 solved this entirely). There’s also Windows Hello, a biometric authentication system that supports retina scans, fingerprints and 3D facial recognition (with thermo-sensoring to ensure you’re still alive!), but hardware technology isn’t quite up to pace to fully reap such authentication yet.
As a counterpoint to the potential benefits, check out the companion article, “Why You Might Avoid the Windows 10 Upgrade," to explore stumbling blocks with the upgrade. These points are very important when considering whether or not to make the leap to Windows 10.
- Photos were provided by author