In late 2014, Microsoft took the wraps off the Technical Preview of its next Windows operating system, and in doing so it took everyone by surprise. We expected the next generation of Windows: we just didn’t expect it to be called Windows 10. None the less here is Windows 10: the next operating system for PCs and laptops, smartphones and tablets. And, indeed, an OS for servers and all points in between.
Microsoft said that Windows 10 is built from the ground up for a world in which mobile- and cloud computing are key. Execs from the company said it was committed to making Windows 10 friendly for the enterprise, ideal for keyboard and mouse users, but also optimised for touch. Oh, and the operating system will put the same interface on devices with displays ranging in size from 4- to 80in. “One product family, one platform, one store,” says Microsoft.
Given the lukewarm reaction to Windows 8, these seem like bold claims. They are necessary, though. Also necessary was Microsoft’s decision to make Windows 10 the most beta-tested product it has ever released. The operating system was tested by over 4 million people around the world before its launch.
Critically the Start Menu is back. It contains standard Windows software and Windows apps. Modern UI apps, as they used to be called. Or Metro apps, if you want to go right back to the beginning.
But this time the Start menu is improved, and it may even make Windows apps useful. Look to the left and you’ll see a list of your most-used apps, just as in Windows 7. At the bottom we see an ‘All apps’ shortcut, plus shortcuts to File Explorer, Settings and – conveniently – shut down and standby.
And Microsoft has retained the functionality of the Windows 8 Start screen over on the right, with resizable Live Tiles, so that you can immediately check unread mail or Calendar appointments. The Start Menu is customisable, too – you can resize it, and rearrange the tiles, create groups of tiles, and also revert to the Windows 8 Start Screen, should you wish to.
The full-screen start menu is really meant for tablet use, where it makes most sense, but you can choose to use it on a PC or laptop without a touchscreen if you like.
We’re fans of the tile concept, if not the inelegance with which they’re currently presented. As with Windows Phone, it’s what you can pin that matters. Instead of merely adding shortcuts to apps, you can pin tiles which are shortcuts to specific functions or features within apps.
This makes life a lot more convenient when you begin pinning the right stuff. For example, you could pin a particular email or conversation thread from Mail or Facebook, or pin a certain journey (your commute, typically) in a travel app. It saves a lot of time, believe us.
Search and Cortana
Instead of placing a search box in the Start menu, or hiding it completely as is the case in Windows 8, Windows 10 sticks it front and centre on the Taskbar. This is a smart move, as it’s always there ready to serve up whatever you need to find or what to know.
The first time you click on the box, you’ll see a prompt to enable Cortana. That’s because Cortana and search are pretty much one and the same in Windows 10. In fact, search is just part of the virtual assistant’s remit.
If you’ve ever used a phone running Windows Phone 8, you’ll probably know Cortana already. The beauty is that you can type or talk to her and it’s the same in Windows 10. It’s much faster to tap the microphone button (or even say, “Hey Cortana”) and reel off your request than to type it.
Sticking with search for a minute, you can type in a single word and Windows 10 will return a list of matching apps, settings and files, plus apps in the Windows store. It will also show a list of web results.
But there’s lots more you can do, as all the features from Windows Phone are now in Windows 10.