Windows 10 review: a true return to form for Microsoft

30 Jul 201537 Shares

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So the wait is over and a new dawn for Microsoft has arrived, or has it? Windows 10 is yet another attempt by Microsoft to win back loyalty and define computing in an age of tablets, PCs and smartphones. It’s a pretty good effort, says John Kennedy.

There’s a certain rhythm to Microsoft and operating systems if you have been paying attention over the last 15 or 20 years. And yesterday’s (29 July) arrival of Windows 10 to 190 countries around the world for free is in keeping with that rhythm.

Microsoft set the standard with Windows 95, tearing us all away from the DOS era, and it’s been pretty loyal to that mould through the years. There was a confusing period of Windows RT and Windows 2000 before Microsoft once again struck gold with Windows XP in 2001, ironing out all kinds of bugs and issues and making the operating system likeable again. The timing couldn’t have been more perfect in terms of the dawn of the broadband era and how computers weren’t just work tools but entertainment and lifestyle devices too.

You could argue that Microsoft’s Windows Vista was eventually a good operating system. Eventually. The reality for most people at first was abject horror – imagine trying to stuff a Porsche engine into the frame of an East German 1975 Trabant? Settings and drivers were all over the place. I’m still traumatised by the memory of having to manually reconnect my girlfriend’s laptop with Wi-Fi every time she turned on the machine.

My verdict on Windows 10 is that this is an operating system that is here to stay and could in time prove to be just as sticky as Windows 7 and XP before it

Vista was a case where Microsoft designed an OS for its own high standards of computing internally, without realising most users external to the organisation don’t buy high-end machines.

The travesty was soon forgotten in 2009 when Windows 7 came along and for almost 60pc of the world’s computer users this is still the operating system of choice.

Windows-10-desktop

The Windows 10 desktop

Windows 8 was Microsoft’s attempt to get to grips with the era of tablet computing and smart devices. However, the Metro view wasn’t for everyone, especially not for people who still used a mouse to navigate and didn’t quite get what Microsoft was trying to achieve.

The loss of the familiar Start button that had been with Windows since 95 was also too much for many to handle. When it returned in 8.1 it was only a gesture that dragged you back to the dreaded Metro and not the real thing.

That has now been resolved with Windows 10.

Windows 10 – look and feel

If Microsoft simply encourages a large portion of Windows 7 users to embrace 10 then it will already be a surefire success, never mind the target to switch 1.5bn users to Windows 10.

It may succeed in this because I believe Windows 10 is the operating system that Windows 8 should have been.

It is elegant and refined. The Start button is once again a Start button that allows you to do simple things like power up the machine, explore your files and access other apps.

Mission accomplished Microsoft. Was it really that hard to give people what they want?

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Windows 10’s Action Centre

For most Windows 7 users who may migrate to Windows 10, Microsoft has maintained the essence of what Windows is and everything will seem familiar and instinctive.

For most Windows 8 users you go straight to the desktop, there is no Metro view. If you click on the Start button, however, or hit the Windows logo on your keyboard, up pops a Start screen that displays your apps just like in Metro, with live tiles pulsating with information.

Appearance wise, this is useful and informative but also not as invasive or distracting as the Metro screen had been.

Overall, Microsoft has redesigned fonts, logos and colours to give a tidier and cleaner desktop where even the taskbar and systems tray seem minimalised, refined and neat.

If you swipe right from the edge of the screen you can minimise everything on your desktop to get a kind of God view known as Task View, and actually create new desktops, which could come in handy if you are working on multiple projects.

windows-10-task-view

Windows 10 Task View

Swipe right and you are given the Action Centre, a place where all the latest emails, tweets (yes, Twitter has created a Windows 10 app) and other security notices sit, alongside a customisable range of command options such as brightness, Wi-Fi, VPN, flight mode and more can be activated at a tap.

Among these options is Tablet Mode, which converts the screen into a shape more palatable for touchscreen devices.

windows-10-tablet-mode

Windows 10 in Tablet Mode

 

Microsoft calls this feature Continuum as it allows you to switch between a traditional PC interface and a touch-optimised interface.

Despite some of these cosmetic and functional changes, it is still Windows at the end of the day.

Everything’s familiar, yet everything’s different

So while things look different, structures like Settings for managing your system, devices, network, personalisation and more are all in the same place. They just look prettier.

File Explorer is virtually unchanged, which is comforting.

What is really different from an appearance point of view is apps like Mail and Calendar, which have been designed to co-exist elegantly as desktop and tablet apps. They no longer hog the entire screen and can be squished to be functional on desktop, tablet or mobile. The best way to describe this is through the metaphor of responsive design that is becoming pervasive across websites. Functionality and appearance are refined according to what size you make the screen or what device you are working on.

The wonderful thing about the appearance of Windows 10 is everything is neat and orderly, looks pretty and actually works effectively. Thanks Microsoft, that’s all we want, no, really, that’s all we want.

One of the most eagerly awaited new ‘things’ to come with Windows 10 is Windows Edge, the successor to Internet Explorer. It’s as if Microsoft heeded my advice and looked around out there. Edge is a browser of its time, it is fast, uncluttered and comes with features that I’m convinced came out of OneNote.

Microsoft does a good job of pushing content from MSN.com and contextualising it for your location, so you get local news, weather and Premier League fixtures (if you’re into that kind of thing).

They call this My News Feed, which is a misnomer because the customise option doesn’t let you do any customisation at present so you are stuck with the same sources of news on subjects like cars, entertainment, lifestyle, money, news and sport. What about technology or fashion? This is a bug that bugs me and I want it fixed, Microsoft.

The browser itself is fast, lighting fast and pages render in a very snappy way, in contrast to the stop/start nature of Internet Explorer.

At the top of the browser’s page is a ribbon that includes the usual forward, back and bookmark functions but also the ability to annotate articles by being able to draw or write on the browser’s screen, highlight with highlighter pen and cut excerpts and share them by email or to places like Dropbox and One Note or add them to your Reading List.

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Windows 10’s new Internet Edge browser lets you write and highlight on live web pages

However, this being the age of social it is strangely not set up to share directly to Facebook or Twitter and it’s another area of Edge where customisation should be obvious but isn’t. I’m sure this is a bug that has yet to be ironed out in an update.

Missing, for Irish users at least, is Cortana, Microsoft’s artificial intelligence bot and answer to Apple’s Siri. This is because Cortana hasn’t yet been optimised for the Irish accent, but it’s coming soon. Either way you can still use the search function to instantly find files and documents and conduct searches on the wider web. (Note: you have to manually turn on the settings for wider internet search, which is easy enough to do when you click on the settings tab inside the search window).

One of the great promises of Windows 10 is its Xbox integration and the new OS comes with DirectX12 technology for stunning visuals and Game DVR, which allows you to record your best moments.

One of the other cool features is the ability to stream Xbox One games to a Windows 10 PC or tablet anywhere within your home Wi-Fi zone. You can also start a game on your PC and continue on your Xbox.

Apps front and centre

Effectively, what Microsoft is endeavouring to do with Windows 10 is unite its developer ecosystem and turn Windows Store into an apps ecosystem that will compete with Apple’s powerful App Store.

When you power up Windows 10 for the first time you will practically have to reinstall apps like Mail and Calendar from the Windows Store, which is a clever way of Microsoft trying to tell you that Windows Store will be at the heart of a lot of things.

Built-in apps include Photos, Maps, Groove and Movies and TV.

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Maps in Windows 10 includes a rich harvest of 3D visuals

Nifty features in Photos include the ability to create stories out of photos as well as auto-enhance shots and back them up instantly to OneDrive.

My favourite of the inbuilt apps is Maps, which comes with turn-by-turn navigation as well as photo-realistic 3D renderings of cities around the world.

Verdict

One of the things that Microsft took care to do with Windows 10 was ensure that it arrived hassle-free and in proper working order via the cloud.

Users had to simply reserve a copy, Microsoft would diagnose if the machine could handle Windows 10 and users would get a notification to tell them the software was ready to install.

None of this really happened with me. I didn’t get a notification telling me I was ready to install Windows 10 but instead I summoned the download and it didn’t go too smoothly for me. This was mainly because I was at work and my machine kept going to sleep. So hours later still no Windows 10.

However, when I kept an eye on it and ensured the machine downloaded the new OS, the process took about an hour and a half, which is what most people are reporting as the download and install time.

Once all the software was downloaded setup was actually quick and easy and, voila! There was Windows 10.

My verdict on Windows 10 is that this is an operating system that is here to stay and could in time prove to be just as sticky as Windows 7 and XP before it.

It is refined and elegant and longtime Windows users won’t have much of a learning curve. I like how it integrates with other products like Xbox and that there are few loose ends.

Where there are loose ends, are in the customisation bugs in Internet Edge, which is a shame because in most respects it has the potential to be a great browser. Potential, it is still early days.

My advice to people if they are considering upgrading to Windows 10 is do it if you are curious. It is solid, attractive and robust and makes your PC once again the perfect companion for this digital age. That said, if it is your primary work computer and you have legacy apps that haven’t been yet proven to be compatible with Windows 10 don’t do it unless your IT manager gives the green light.

Windows 10 is a true return to form for Microsoft.

Editor John Kennedy is an award-winning technology journalist.

editorial@siliconrepublic.com