Computers

Windows 10 review: Microsoft builds an OS for the future

Windows 10 review: Microsoft b...
Windows 10: can Microsoft fix the mistakes of Windows 8?
Windows 10: can Microsoft fix the mistakes of Windows 8?
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The new-look Settings app is much more comprehensive than it was in Windows 8
1/8
The new-look Settings app is much more comprehensive than it was in Windows 8
The Start menu is back, but the Live Tiles are retained
2/8
The Start menu is back, but the Live Tiles are retained
Aside from Microsoft's own apps, there's not much to tempt you into the Windows Store
3/8
Aside from Microsoft's own apps, there's not much to tempt you into the Windows Store
The Microsoft apps that come with Windows 10, like Maps, are the best of the universal apps
4/8
The Microsoft apps that come with Windows 10, like Maps, are the best of the universal apps
Microsoft Edge is a promising new browser, but there's still work to do
5/8
Microsoft Edge is a promising new browser, but there's still work to do
Task View provides a useful overview of open applications, and virtual desktops have been added too
6/8
Task View provides a useful overview of open applications, and virtual desktops have been added too
Cortana arrives on the desktop to help with searches, reminders and settings
7/8
Cortana arrives on the desktop to help with searches, reminders and settings
Windows 10: can Microsoft fix the mistakes of Windows 8?
8/8
Windows 10: can Microsoft fix the mistakes of Windows 8?

After the underwhelming Windows 8, Windows 10 is Microsoft's second attempt to build an operating system that's ready for the future while staying loyal to the past. The Start menu is back, Cortana makes the jump to the desktop, and Microsoft has put together an OS that it hopes is truly ready for computers, tablets, phones, games consoles and beyond.

Windows 10 dials back some of the drastic changes introduced with Windows 8 without abandoning Microsoft's original goal of an OS that can work on any screen. The Start menu returns, but keeps Live Tiles; universal apps (coded to run on anything from a phone to a laptop) are still here, but they can work like normal desktop programs; there is a tablet mode, but it only appears when you're actually on a tablet; and so on.

The Start menu is back, but the Live Tiles are retained
The Start menu is back, but the Live Tiles are retained

It's a long series of compromises between Windows past and Windows future and, on the whole, it works very well.

The Settings app in Windows 10 brings over more of the options in Control Panel, for example, and seems far more fully realized than it was in Windows 8. It's indicative of Windows 10 as a whole, a more polished and well-thought out version of what its predecessor started. You'll spend less time wondering where settings are, and more time in the new interface, rather than digging back through legacy screens.

If you're using Windows 10 on a laptop or desktop, it's a much more satisfying experience. The confusing "hot corners" of Windows 8 have gone, and the phone and tablet elements of the OS are well hidden in the background. If you're upgrading from Windows 8 you'll be pleasantly surprised, and if you're moving up from Windows 7 you'll feel right at home.

Cortana and the revamped Start menu

On mobile devices we've seen a shift towards a greater use of voice control and intelligent assistant apps like Siri and Google Now. Microsoft has its own horse in this race in the form of Cortana, and the app is now available on your computer too (assuming you're in a country where Cortana is supported).

If you're new to Cortana, it handles everything from web searches to reminders. You can ask for a weather forecast or the number of miles in a kilometer, launch apps and even toggle Windows settings – it feels very much like a voice-controlled, context-aware extension of the Start menu itself, and Microsoft has managed to integrate it in a way that feels intuitive.

Cortana arrives on the desktop to help with searches, reminders and settings
Cortana arrives on the desktop to help with searches, reminders and settings

And if you don't want to shout instructions at your computer, you don't have to. You can type queries into the search box on the taskbar just as easily, and we found ourselves using the box very often to find apps, files, settings, websites and more besides. It feels like a natural extension of the Start menu.

Customizing said Start menu is simple to do and it would appear Microsoft has finally come up with something to please the majority of its users. On tablets, the full-screen, tile-based Start screen we saw in Windows 8 comes back, as it's much more suitable for tapping at with your fingertips, but if you're on a laptop or desktop you'll never see it.

Task View provides a useful overview of open applications, and virtual desktops have been added too
Task View provides a useful overview of open applications, and virtual desktops have been added too

Elsewhere on the desktop we found two new features very useful indeed: the ability to snap windows to four quarters of the screen (as well as each side) and the virtual desktops, an official feature at last, enabling you to move application windows to several desktop spaces rather than one. Both make it easier to arrange a lot of windows and applications on screen and work particularly well on bigger displays.

The new Task View works well too, showing all of your open windows on one screen so you can jump between them more conveniently (it's similar to Mission Control on a Mac). The desktop improvements are exactly what they should have been in Windows 8 – clever, useful and not completely out of step with everything that has gone before.

Apps and applications

Microsoft's universal app store is still something of a wasteland, no doubt due in part to the woeful take-up of Windows Phone on mobile as well as the old ARM-based Surfaces that didn't run desktop apps. Having apps that jump seamlessly from desktop to mobile is a noble aim but if your Surface Pro 4 can run Photoshop why would you build a cut-down touchscreen version as well?

There are some big names here – official apps for Netflix, Spotify, Dropbox and Evernote, for example – but no compelling reason why you would pick them over the desktop or even web-based equivalents (at least on a desktop or laptop machine). As polished as Windows 10 feels in general, the universal app initiative is still very much a work-in-progress.

Aside from Microsoft's own apps, there's not much to tempt you into the Windows Store
Aside from Microsoft's own apps, there's not much to tempt you into the Windows Store

For Windows old-schoolers like us, we didn't have much need to delve into the world of universal apps, such as the ones Microsoft has provided for email, contacts, photos and maps. Perhaps these will be more relevant for users of Windows 10 Mobile, but right now Microsoft looks like it's less committed to that particular version of the OS than ever.

There's a new browser in the form of Microsoft Edge, which seems designed to challenge Google Chrome head-on. It's certainly an improvement on the creaking Internet Explorer in terms of speed and looks (IE is still present for legacy purposes), but it doesn't yet feel smooth enough to take on Chrome – there's no extension support here, for example, although it's currently available in Previews and expected soon in public builds.

Microsoft Edge is a promising new browser, but there's still work to do
Microsoft Edge is a promising new browser, but there's still work to do

Xbox integration has been improved and keeps on improving: being able to stream games to your laptop from the console is a real bonus for gamers, as is support for next-gen kit like the HTC Vive and Oculus Rift (though older versions of Windows handle VR just as well) and eventually Microsoft's own HoloLens.

An OS for the future

Taken as a whole, it's difficult to find fault with Windows 10, at least in its desktop and laptop form. It's intuitive, robust and well-designed, reversing some of the mistakes made with Windows 8 and making sure the software is suitable for tablets, 2-in-1s and everything that comes afterwards.

With its shiny new browser, intelligent assistant app and modern-looking UI, not to mention links with kit like the HoloLens, it feels very much like an operating system for the future. After several months of use, it simply blends into the background like any good OS should, giving you instant access to your applications, the web, and any settings you might need to get at along the way.

Windows 7 users can at last upgrade with confidence and even Mac owners may find themselves looking across enviously at the range of third-party hardware the OS can work with (from VR headsets to Android devices). Windows 10 isn't without its minor frustrations, but it gives Microsoft and its users a strong foundation for the next generation of computing.

9 comments
christopher
The next windows server release, 2016, is clearly the same as windows 10 - the developer previews look and work identical.
spicedreams
Microsoft's problem, and they are not alone, is trying to build an OS for the majority of people around the world who don't currently use a computer; while leveraging the installed base of those of us who already do use a computer. Every innovation aimed at those who don't use a computer today, seems to subtract from the usefulness to those who already use their software. I'm not sure you can meet both needs in one system.
Mel Tisdale
I just wish that Microsoft would offer the choice of deleting a feature if the user does not want it. I liked XP and when it upgraded to 7 I found libraries a total waste of space. I had organised my files exactly how I wanted them and libraries just got in the way. A simple 'delete libraries' button would have fixed it. After resolving that issue I was daft enough to believe MS when it said it was safe to upgrade for free to 10 (and better do it soon before the offer goes the way of all things). All files were supposed to be where I expected them to be. What a mistake! I honestly doubt that MS people actually use their systems. I have still to calm down from upgrading to 10, so I advise any MS people to stay out of striking distance from me or they might easily find themselves leaving on a stretcher. I'm sure that if they offered XP again (obviously in supported form) it would sell like hot cakes. If they want to offer bells and whistles, then by all means do so, but give the user the option of switching them off. Oh, please can we have the control panel available as it was on XP and 7? After all, we have got used to the form it used to be in. I am sure that a lot of 10 is change for change's sake. 10's file handling is far too complicated and needs to be simplified. I would move to Apple if I thought them any better, but I suspect that they are worse - if such is possible - when it comes to ethics. Bah! A plague on all their houses. What I would like to see is Microsoft fined for all the loss of productivity it has cost us from having to learn unnecessary new operating systems. For many computers are not toys to play with, they are tools of the trade.
Mel Tisdale
PS. Microsoft would redeem itself if it resurrected Cardfile (See Windows 3.1. And how about making all MS games available? Especially before the change for change's sake people have messed around with them. (I love having a quick game of something when I have a computing problem so that my sub-conscience can have an unimpeded go at it while I am distracted.)
MBadgero
Windows 10 forces software updates. No choice. So an update that doesn't work with my motherboard turns my monitor off. Back to Windows 7.
Captain Obvious
Windows is not dominant in every other computing platform market, from the InternetofThings to TV and phones to servers and big data farms to supercomputers. Only desktops are still using mostly Windows. Hopefully that will change soon. I've converted to Linux and never looked back.
deepdiamond
Windows 10 is a mistake on Microsoft's part. Every update slows down your computer and installs add ware. It is very intrusive, hard to remove or block and not private at all. It snoops on you at all times. Why do you think they gave it away free? To sell your information to third parties for adds. That is where the money is. Come on Microsoft gives us something that we can use and trust; or I will be moving to Linux soon. We need a desktop operating system not cloud or revenue generating operating system.
dugnology
My disdain for Microsoft extends beyond the boundary of time and space. They believe in way too many features and the ability to do everything three different ways, but we might change it in a later release. I can only pray that Apple can create a business system that negates the reason for Microsoft to exist. Their search engines, browsers, mp3 players, tablets and phones are useless. The surface seems to be a descent device, but it just makes competition for their hardware customers and is little more and an expensive laptop. The worst part of Windows 8 is the distracting tiles that show pictures of the Kardasians or other useless information right at your fingertips. And the browsers on the desktop is different from the browser on the tiles page. Whatever. Do they ever test this stuff? Are there customers lining up with torches and pitchforks demanding that the software be compatible with a phone that has a zero percent market share? Why not make it compatible with a Zune.
EGB
I hate this program. Installed it on my laptop. DVD now won't work. Really dislike the screen and interface. It is a most unfriendly user device now. I am going to chuck it out or switch it to 2007 and try get everything to work. Cannot leave my main computer on standby now because WINDOWS 10 automatically tries to download onto computer and its a real pain and time waster getting rid of it. Given the choice WINDOWS 10 or hammer and chisel on a rock I'd take the rock. Screw you Microsoft!!!