A Fresh Start
For any of you who have had the pleasure of installing or upgrading Windows in the past, you know it can be a royal pain in the arse. Finding serial keys, waiting for hours, downloading drivers and installing hundreds of updates. Windows 10 streamlines this process and makes life a whole lot easier.
If your PC, laptop or Windows tablet is running Windows 7, 8 or 8.1, installing Windows 10 is both free and incredibly easy. The upgrade process is done straight from the desktop too which means there isn’t any faffing around with booting from installation discs. Microsoft has made it completely free (for the first year) and easier than ever to upgrade to their latest OS – but do you really need to?
The simple answer is, yes. Microsoft has skipped Windows 9 and gone straight to 10 as a marketing strategy aimed at signalling a fresh, unified new start for the Windows platform. Microsoft is adopting the approach Apple takes toward their Mac OS in terms of releasing more regular, free updates to the platform (Yosemite and El Capitan on OS X for example). Microsoft is calling Windows 10 ‘the last version of Windows‘ as they will use it as a base for all future updates. Upgrading to Windows 10 therefore will ensure your computer will always have the latest software, features and security updates – and it’s absolutely free to upgrade.
Windows 10 has loads of new features – it incorporates Windows 8’s annoying full-screen ‘Metro’ interface into a new, feature packed start menu. It adds a new personal assistant called Cortana, Microsoft’s version of Apple’s Siri. It rebrands Internet Explorer into the new Edge browser – which is a huge improvement and is almost good enough to bring me back from Chrome. A new Task View, reminiscent of Apple OS X’s Mission Control, gives you quick access to different virtual desktops and a new Tablet Mode option means you can tailor the Windows 10 UI to best suit the device you’re using. No longer are desktop power-users forced to endure a touch-friendly Metro interface while mobile users can now enjoy a more optimised touch-experience over Windows 8.1.
As well as all that – Windows 10 adds DirectX 12 support which should make future games run faster, new icons and sounds, redesigned menus and generally a more modern look. If you’re coming from Windows 7 you’ll find it’s a pretty big change, Windows 8 users will notice fairly subtle differences but the bottom line is it’s faster, it’s smarter – it’s better.
A new OS may have all the latest bells and whistles and fancy features, but speed and performance will always be king – a lesson Microsoft learned the hard way with Windows Vista. Fortunately, the first thing I noticed about Windows 10 was how much faster everything felt. Coming from Windows 8.1 – opening folders, accessing the new Task View, searching from the Start Menu and navigating settings – simple, every-day tasks like these all feel noticeably quicker and more responsive. Nowhere is this speed boost more apparent than in the new Edge browser.
In 2003 Internet Explorer commanded 95% of the browser usage share – This year, it’s just 55%. Although IE, now 20 years old, still has the largest market share – the meteoric rise of Google’s Chrome browser demonstrated users want speed and simplicity. Microsoft’s answer is Edge, a re-built and re-branded browser that does a great job of shrugging of IE’s old reputation of being slow and outdated.
Putting the inevitable comparison with Chrome to one side, Edge is modern, simple, and above all fast. It introduces a few interesting features, too. ‘Markup’ allows you to write/draw/type text onto a webpage which can then be saved and shared. It’s more than just a annotated screenshot – opening a saved Markup will return you to the full, working page with the Markup. Potentially a useful feature for power-users, people sharing ideas or collaborating on a project.
For those worried about potential compatibility issues – you can still launch Internet Explorer from within Edge if you need to.
Cortana is also integrated into Edge, with her answers and search results linking to the Edge browser. Microsoft have also used the same underlying technology that Cortana uses to make Edge smart, from text predictions to personalised results.
So Cortana finally arrives on the desktop. Following its debut on Windows phone, you can now ask questions, check the weather, set reminders and everything else you’ve probably already been doing with Siri or Google Now on your phone. With a voice-activated “hey Cortana!” option available, this new virtual assistant is incorporated within Windows’ Search and offers context sensitive information and answers based on data from your settings, location, OneDrive account, Edge browser and even Xbox and phone (including Android and iOS devices to a lesser extent).
Unfortunately, Cortana isn’t available in most regions outside the US yet, although simply changing your region in your devices settings to United States will fix this. It’s voice recognition has room for improvement too – you’ll often get a “Something went wrong” response. Regardless of a few inconsistencies and regional issues, Cortana is a handy new feature – especially on devices without a keyboard. It will be interesting to see how it develops in the future and integrates further into our digital lives.
Windows 8 introduced the Windows Store, which was the only source of apps and programs available to users of Windows 8 RT – the cut-down tablet version of the OS. The Windows Store never felt right on laptops or desktops, however. Whether it was because these apps would drag you away from the desktop, or because they had such a different UI as a result of being optimised for touch – either way, I bet I’m not the only one who never used FreshPaint or Cocktail Flow after the first few days.
By integrating the whole, previously separate Metro interface into the new Start Menu – for the first time I am genuinely downloading and using apps from the Windows store. They are easy to see and quickly accessible from the Start and the best part is they don’t take you away from your desktop into an annoying full-screen tablet mode like before – now they come up within a box on your desktop – as you would expect any ‘normal’ Windows program to. It makes a big difference for actually wanting to use Windows Store apps.
Thanks to an extended beta and thorough testing, Windows 10 is largely stable and reliable. As with any major new software release, especially one available on such a range of hardware – there will always be a few teething problems, bugs and driver issues. Aside from a couple of problems where the Photos app kept closing, the Wi-Fi wouldn’t connect and the odd NVidia graphics card driver crash – it’s been surprisingly stable. The phrase ‘Your experience may vary’ definitely applies here, though.
One thing to bear in mind is that although most people will simply ‘upgrade’ to Windows 10, you do of course have the option for a fresh install. A word of warning though. I upgraded from Windows 8.1, which itself was an ‘upgrade license’ from Windows 7. Windows 10 is free for the first year for people who upgrade, but you can still buy a new license for around £100. The upgrade process converts your old Windows 7 or 8 serial key into a legitimate new Windows 10 key – so you should find out and make a note of your new, updated, serial key once Windows 10 is installed. I didn’t, foolishly – and after upgrading I decided I want a fresh install but didn’t make note of the updated key. An evening of formatting hard drives, installing Windows 7 and then, again, upgrading to Windows 10 ensued. The vast majority of people won’t experience this but the moral of the story is to simply record what your new serial key is after upgrading to Windows 10 (Try KeyFinder).
The biggest challenge Microsoft faces with Windows 10 is whether it does enough to convince steadfast companies and consumers, many of whom are still using Windows 7 and even Windows XP, to look past the issues associated with Windows 8 and jump on board with this new, refreshed and unified platform.
Windows 10 improves on its predecessor in every way. It’s smarter, faster, completely free and most importantly, future-proof. Microsoft needed to get this right – and they have. Should you upgrade? Yes, absolutely.
A full feature guide for Windows 10 is coming soon so stay tuned to the Tech Chap to find out everything you need to know about Microsoft’s new OS.