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The Most Important New Features of Windows 10

Now that you know what’s new in this latest version of Windows, let’s take an in-depth look at the most important features in Windows 10.

Back to the Desktop (Goodbye, Start Screen)

The biggest mistake that Microsoft made with Windows 8 was trying to apply a single interface paradigm to all possible devices—and then picking the wrong interface. Microsoft assumed that tablets would obliterate desktop and notebook PCs, so it developed a touch-based, full-screen interface that worked fine on those touchscreen devices, but then forced that interface on all traditional PC users. Bad decision.

The biggest change in Windows 10 is the abandonment of that touch-based paradigm—at least if you have a regular notebook or desktop PC. When you boot Windows 10 with a traditional PC, you’re booted directly to the desktop, shown in Figure 5.1. There’s no Start screen (which is how you had to open apps in Windows 10), no Charms bar you have to swipe in from the right (which is where many system settings were located in Windows 8), no “Modern” or “Metro” apps that took up the entire screen to display a minimal amount of information. You start your PC, you see the same old desktop you’ve grown to love and expect, and you’re off to the races.

FIGURE 5.1

FIGURE 5.1 The Windows 10 desktop, complete with flat design and thinner window frames.

The Windows 10 desktop looks pretty much like the desktop in Windows 7. There’s a taskbar at the bottom of the screen, application shortcuts on the desktop itself, even a Start button in the lower-left corner (more on that in a moment). You don’t need to touch it to make it work; it’s designed for use with your mouse and keyboard, just as you’re used to. In short, it’s the Windows desktop you want, with no unnecessary interference.

By the way, the Windows 10 desktop doesn’t look exactly like the Windows 7 desktop. The older operating system’s opaque Aero interface is gone, with Windows 10 instead adopting the trendy “flat” design that shows windows floating above the desktop with a slight drop shadow. Individual windows have thinner frames (or no frames at all) so the contents are front and center with a minimum of unnecessary “chrome.” And most of the system icons have been redesigned, as well.

At the far-right corner of the notification area of the taskbar you see a new Notifications icon. Click this to display the Action Center, as shown in Figure 5.2, that displays system messages and (if you’re using the right email client) new messages in your email inbox. Not necessary, but kind of nice.

FIGURE 5.2

FIGURE 5.2 The Action Center in Windows 10.

The Start Menu Returns—Better Than Ever

Perhaps the most significant change in Windows 10 is that little piece of real estate in the lower-left corner. That’s right, the Start button and the Start menu are back!

Perhaps the dumbest thing Microsoft did in Windows 8 was to remove the Start menu, which is how we’ve all been launching programs since the advent of Windows 95 two decades ago. In Windows 8, you had to navigate to the Start screen, which took up the entire screen (of course), find your app among the dozens or hundreds displayed there, and then do the tap or click thing. There was no compelling reason for this change, nobody was demanding it, and users quite frankly despised it.

Well, Microsoft heard the complaints, and the Start menu is back in Windows 10. Click the Start button and you see the Start menu—although it looks a little different from what you were used to in Windows 7, as you can see in Figure 5.3.

FIGURE 5.3

FIGURE 5.3 The Windows 10 Start menu, complete with live tiles for pinned programs.

Actually, the left side of the new Start menu looks familiar—it’s the normal list of favorite and last-used applications, in a slightly different order than before. There’s also the requisite All Apps option that, when clicked, displays a scrolling list of all installed programs.

It’s the right side of the Start menu that’s radically different. Here is where you see any apps you’ve pinned to the Start menu, but not in the traditional list. Instead, you see a “tile” for each item. These are similar to the tiles on the Windows 8 Start screen, to the extent of being “live”—that is, displaying current information when available. If you pin the Weather app, for example, the Weather tile displays current temperature and weather conditions. The News tile displays current news headlines. And so forth.

These tiles are resizable, and the Start menu can be resized vertically. The tiles create a new level of usability for the Start menu, resulting in a nice addition of Windows 8 functionality into the traditional Windows desktop paradigm.

Modern Apps in Desktop Windows

In Windows 8, Microsoft introduced a new class of applications, originally dubbed Metro (then Modern, and then Windows Store) apps. These apps ran full screen and were designed to be used on touch interfaces.

As a whole, these Modern apps were not successful. In many cases, they presented too little information on too much screen real estate. (Do you really need a Weather app running full screen?) In other cases, the apps were actually pretty good but suffered simply by being associated with the hated Windows 8.

In Windows 10, Microsoft tries to offer the best of both worlds. All the former full-screen Modern apps (now called Universal or just Windows apps) are redesigned to appear in traditional windows on the desktop, as shown in Figure 5.4. You can resize the windows as you like, and display multiple app windows at a time. You get all the functionality of these newer apps but in a desktop-friendly package—just as it should be.

FIGURE 5.4

FIGURE 5.4 The Weather app, running in a desktop window.

By the way, in Windows 8 the configuration options for these apps appeared in the swipeable Charms bar. The app-specific Charms bars are gone for these revised Universal apps; instead, all the app options are accessible from a “hamburger” (three bar) button on the app’s toolbar. Much more friendly for desktop users.

More New Stuff

Now that Windows 10 takes us back to the desktop, Microsoft has devised a new way to run multiple desktops for better productivity. This new feature is called Task View, and it lets you create multiple desktops, each with its own combination of open windows. Click the new Task View button on the toolbar to switch between desktops, as shown in Figure 5.5.

FIGURE 5.5

FIGURE 5.5 Using Task View to switch between two virtual desktops.

Windows 10 also incorporates Cortana, a Siri-like virtual assistant first introduced on Windows Phone devices. You use Cortana to search for content on your PC or on the Web, as well as to set reminders, schedule tasks, and such. You can search with Cortana from your computer keyboard or speak voice commands into your PC’s microphone.

In addition, Windows 10 features a new web browser (in addition to the older Internet Explorer), named Edge. This new browser looks and feels more like the more modern Chrome and Firefox browsers and, like those browsers, support browser extensions.

FIGURE 5.6

FIGURE 5.6 Windows 10’s new Edge web browser.

And there are a lot more changes, big and small, under the hood and hiding in plain sight. This makes Windows 10 a must-have upgrade for both beleaguered Windows 8 users and expectant Windows 7 devotees. It’s the upgrade to Windows 7 that Windows 8 should have been—and it’s now available on your personal computer.

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