Are you excited about Windows 10? Even if you weren't thrilled with Windows 8 and you'd really prefer to keep using Windows 7 until your computer rusts, you may be pleasantly surprised by the easy, intuitive, and attractive features Microsoft has packed into Windows 10.
The latest version of Microsoft's popular operating system includes a long list of new and revised features—changes that make sense, add flexibility, and reduce unnecessary work for you. New universal apps like Photos, Music, and Movies & TV have a look-and-feel that maximizes the space for your content (which is the point, after all) and still keep your tools right where you can reach them.
This article spotlights 10 big changes in Windows 10 that are worth checking out now.
1: Windows 10 Knows the Mode You Need
When you first push the power button on your computer or device, Windows 10 automatically recognizes its current environment (desktop, tablet, or phone) and starts up with the interface that best fits the device's functionality. On a touch device, for example, Windows 10 Continuum—the name for tablet mode—appears by default so you can navigate easily with touch. On a desktop computer, you'll see the Windows 10 desktop, along with the return of the Start button. Windows 10 changes to Continuum automatically when you undock your tablet to take it on the road; even for 2-in-1 devices, Windows 10 adjusts to the interface you need.
2: Return of the Start Menu
One of the big criticisms of Windows 8 was the loss of the Start menu. Windows 10 restores the Start button—and the Start menu that appears when you click the button. The new Start menu goes beyond what was included in Windows 7 to give you control of your favorite app tiles; a Most Used list; access to Settings and All Apps; and a customizable space where you can add folders, apps, or tools for easy access (see Figure 1).
You can easily customize the look and function of the Start menu by resizing it (click and drag the edge of the menu), by adding app tiles or removing ones you don't use, by changing the color and transparency of the menu (go to Settings, choose Personalization, and choose Colors). You can also change the size of app tiles to create different effects on the Start menu, and you can name groups you create. There's lots of room for you to organize your apps in a way that feels natural for you. If you'd rather choose your apps from an alphabetical list, simply click All Apps in the Start menu to scroll through all available apps on your computer or device.
Figure 1 The Start menu gives you lots of options for getting to your programs, files, and settings.
3: More Personal Security with Windows Hello
These days we know it's important to keep our computers and devices secure, and Microsoft has included digital recognition technology in Windows 10 to help protect your system. If your computer or device is equipped with a fingerprint reader or a supported camera, you can use Windows Hello to sign in to Windows 10 with a touch or a glance at the screen. Windows Hello uses the latest in digital recognition technology to identify your fingerprint, face, or iris at login—which means no cryptic passwords to remember. Just be yourself, and Windows 10 will recognize you. Nice.
4: Easy and Powerful Searches
Now you can't miss the search box: It's just to the right of the Start button on the Windows 10 desktop. When you click in the search box and begin typing, Windows 10 instantly begins showing results from your recently used files, the Windows Store, your documents, and the Web (see Figure 2). To continue searching, you can click My Stuff (to search the content on your computer or device) or click Web to search online.
Figure 2 The search tool in Windows 10 gives you a variety of result types, instantly.
5: Cortana: Your Own Personal Digital Assistant
Microsoft's new personal digital assistant, Cortana, is available on your Windows 10 desktop or tablet computer. When you ask Cortana to find something (such as "Locate my book review"), it searches your computer, your OneDrive account, and finally the Web for files that match the description you offered. When you first set up Cortana, Windows 10 walks you through the process of teaching Cortana to recognize your voice, and you're able to set your preferences.
To start a voice search in Cortana, click the microphone tool on the right side of the search box, or just say, "Hey, Cortana!" and the app will tell you that it's listening. Speak what you're searching for, or ask Cortana a question like "Do I need a coat today?" You can also give Cortana tasks, such as "Wake me up in fifteen minutes," or "Set a lunch appointment with Darla for next Tuesday at noon." Cortana will open the needed app, enter the information, and carry out your task as instructed. You can also use the toolbar on the left side of the Cortana window to view Home information (with the latest news headlines, weather reports, and more), add information to your Cortana notebook, set reminders, and provide feedback on Cortana (see Figure 3).
Figure 3 Cortana responds to your voice commands to provide search results or complete tasks.
6: Universal Apps with a New Look
With Windows 10, Microsoft is moving to "universal apps," which have been designed to have the same look-and-feel whether you're using your desktop, tablet, or phone. The screen of the app will change to be optimized for the device, of course; you won't be able to view as much content in one screen on your phone as you would on your PC. But the basic functionality of the app will be consistent, no matter which device or computer you may be using.
What's more, the new universal apps have an appealing design with a menu at upper left and tools along the left edge of the app window. This design gives you the maximum amount of room onscreen to view the content of your apps—especially helpful in apps like Photos, Movies & TV, and News (see Figure 4). At the bottom of the left tool column is the Settings tool, which enables you to choose preferences for that app; just above it is your Microsoft account access.
Figure 4 The new universal app window has been redesigned to put content at center stage.
7: Easy-to-Find Settings
Earlier versions of Windows required you to go to the Control Panel to install or remove programs, change settings, set up user accounts, and much more. In Windows 10, you'll use Settings to perform most of the tasks you formerly accomplished with the Control Panel. You can display the Settings window by clicking Settings on the Start menu, swiping in from the right, or clicking the Notifications tool in the system tray. When the Action Center panel appears, choose Settings. The Settings window has a streamlined design, offering you nine different categories of settings you can tweak to your heart's content (see Figure 5).
Figure 5 Control features of various apps, devices, accounts, and more in the Settings window.
8: Brand New State-of-the Web Browser: Microsoft Edge
Microsoft Edge is Microsoft's new browser, designed to offer a clean browsing and reading experience, with onscreen note-taking capabilities and seamless sharing with friends. Edge is much faster and friendlier than Internet Explorer 11, with tools that enable you to display Reading View (which hides extra elements on web pages so you can focus on the content); organize your favorites and build your Reading List; and use the Hub for easy access to all your downloads, favorites, history, and more. You can share web content on social media, in email, or with your OneNote notebook. Edge also includes a fun feature known as Web Note, which enables you to write notes on web pages and save or share your notes with other people (see Figure 6).
Figure 6 Microsoft Edge streamlines your browsing experience and adds fun organizing tools that let you save and use content that interests you.
9: Revamped Action Center
The Action Center in Windows 10 is no longer a prompt that alerts you when your security features need updating: Now Action Center is a robust notification system with a grid of quick tools for things you'll change or check often, such as your web connection, location, Bluetooth, brightness, and more (see Figure 7).
At the top of the Action Center are notifications of updates from email and all of your social media accounts. To read more, click the down arrow to the right of a notification item. To remove it from the list, click the close (X) button that appears when you hover the mouse over the item.
Figure 7 The new Action Center combines commonly used tools with notifications from mail and social media accounts.
10: Task View and Multiple Desktops
The new Windows 10 Task View displays open apps onscreen at thumbnail size. This layout makes it easy for you to see at a glance which apps are currently running on your system, and you can click any app you want to use. The Task View button is to the right of the search box on the Windows 10 taskbar.
In Task View, the lower-right corner of the screen shows a New Desktop tool. Click this tool to create a new desktop in Windows 10; for example, to use one set of apps at home and another at work. Switch back and forth between desktops whenever you like—simply click the Task View button and then click the desktop you want in the thumbnails at the bottom of the screen (see Figure 8).
Figure 8 Windows 10 can show all open apps in Task View, and you can easily create and switch among multiple desktops.
Windows 10 offers a number of great new features. Microsoft has been smart about the way these features are introduced, and their functionality fits naturally into the way we use our computers and other devices. Even if you're a Windows 7 holdout, Windows 10 is worth a closer look.