Hallelujah, Windows 10 is finally here!

By Tracey Dowdy

Windows 8 was like New Coke – it seemed like a great idea at the time but no amount of splashy advertising was going to compensate for the fact that they ruined a good thing. My husband – easily the most patient person I know – bought a new laptop with Windows 8 installed and subsequently very nearly lost his mind in frustration. In all fairness, not everything about the Windows 8 was a disaster, but for many users, the bad often outweighed the good.

Apparently Microsoft heard our screams of frustration. Skipping over Windows 9 to put as much distance between versions as possible, Windows 10 was launched on July 30.

One of the primary issues with Windows 8 was that Microsoft put too much of the focus on making it work for tablets and touch screens, leaving keyboard and mouse users frustrated. CNET goes so far as to call Windows 10 the Goldilocks version, as it’s a “just right” balance of the best features of Windows 7 and 8.

By taking a more balanced approach and by engaging a virtual horde of beta-testers for most of the past year, Microsoft has eliminated a lot of the glitches and headaches that normally come with new operating systems. Best of all, it’s free for most users. And you have a full year to upgrade, so for those who like to wait until after the first roll-out to let those initial hiccups be addressed, there’s no rush.

Let’s look at what you can look forward to and what you need to look out for in Windows 10.

The Start Menu is back! Why Microsoft ever got rid of it is a mystery to me but like original Coke, we’re just glad to have it back. Just as in previous versions, the left side displays shortcuts to the programs you use most but now on the right side of the menu are the animated tiles from Windows 8 that act as app shortcuts and widgets. Click and drag the edge to re-size the menu, and if you’re not a fan of those widgets, unpin them and go back to the traditional menu we were used to before Windows 8.

Edge is the new Windows 10 browser and replaces Internet Explorer, two words that make Peter, the IT guy in my office, flinch like a nervous cat every time he hears them. While there are lots of great features – it’s fast, it has Cortana built in,  and it has excellent security features – it can’t compare to Google Chrome. You can’t sync bookmarks from other devices or import from other browsers and downloads start automatically without giving you the option of where they’re stored. Even more frustrating, changing to another default browser is complicated and requires digging deep into your PC’s settings.

Cortana is Microsoft’s cloud-powered virtual assistant, designed to be an extension of the Start menu. Available on Windows phones since last year, Cortana takes over search capabilities in Windows 10 and provides an editable overview of your day. Cortana also offers voice recognition capabilities, which while really useful on my phone, is not that valuable on my computer. Maybe it’s a familiarity thing and I’ll use it more as I get used to it, but for now Cortana’s voice recognition is a feature I won’t use too often.

One of the features getting the most positive feedback is the new Virtual Desktop. Click on the Task View icon in the task bar to get an overview of open programs and apps, then click and drag them to the Virtual Desktop to create a new independent workspace. Each Virtual desktop is autonomous and there’s no limit to how many can be open at one time.

New to Windows 10 is Continuum, Microsoft’s latest attempt to bridge the gap between touch and non-touch devices. Where Windows 8 forced users to re-think and re-learn how to use their PCs, Windows 10 realizes we’re not all there yet. If you have a 2-in-1 device, Windows 10 automatically shifts in and out of tablet mode when you remove/attach your keyboard. If like me you’re working on a traditional laptop, you can disable the feature completely.

Charms is now Action Center and serves as a hub for tracking notifications similar to your smartphone. Action Center also provides quick access to many of the controls on your PC. For me, someone who skipped Windows 8, Action Center is where I’ll find most of the settings I’m looking for.

Some of the features of Microsoft 10 such as Virtual Desktops have been around for a while but were only available as third-party apps. Some, such as Wi-Fi Sense are a great idea in theory but not in practice. I’d like to share Wi-Fi with guests when they’re at my house and because it gives access without sharing the password, there’s little security risk. However, you can’t choose which contacts to share with – it’s all or nothing. No thanks – I’ll wait for the next iteration before I enable Wi-Fi Sense.

Obviously there are far more features than I could possibly cover in one post, and as Microsoft continues to send out daily updates and fix glitches in the system, Windows 10 will only get better. In my opinion Windows 10 is already a win both for both Microsoft and for consumers. Microsoft says it’s the final version of Windows – from now on they’ll just be improving and updating this version based on customer and developer feedback. That’s an approach we can all appreciate.

Tracey Dowdy is a freelance writer based just outside Toronto, ON. After years working for non-profits and charities, she now freelances and researches on subjects from family and education to pop culture and trends in technology. Follow Tracey on Twitter.

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