A few weeks ago, us Microsoft employees in the UK were invited to submit ‘ten great Windows 10 features’ in order to be in with a chance to win a Windows 10 goody bag. I was a lucky winner. I’ve updated my main work laptop (Dell XPS 12) to Windows 10, and also my Dell 8-inch tablet. I’m doing the Surface Pro 3 this weekend, but I’ll probably leave my home PC (Dell XPS 27) until the actual release date of Windows 10 on 29th July – I’ll take the free upgrade rather than register this one on the preview program.
Being a Windows 10 user on two quite different devices allowed me to get a good perspective on the notable new features, so here’s my list in no particular order with a bit of added explanation.
1. Improved task switcher – more intuitive than the Windows 8.x swipe thing, and also allows you to switch between desktops. Which brings us on to…
2. Multiple desktops – cue the Mac users saying “oh, we’ve had this for ages”. Fair enough. When you hit the task switcher, the available desktops are displayed below the open applications, and you can drag applications from one desktop to another. A nice feature for separating your work and personal stuff.
3. Snap assistant – snaps an application to one side of the screen, and then allows you to pick which application to place on the other half or quarter. Again, this was sort of in Windows 8.x but this is much-improved.
4. Resizable universal apps – they no longer have to be full-screen, they can now float on one of your multiple desktops. I always felt that Windows 8.x had two interfaces (the traditional desktop and the full-screen ‘Metro’ apps) and never the twain shall meet. Now the new and the old can sit together.
5. Cortana – your new personal assistant, first available on Windows Phone, and now featured in Windows 10. This could be a blog post in its own right. You can interact with Cortana via speech or typing, and set her (she is a she) to listen for the prompt “hey Cortana”. Best of the Cortana interactions are “when is my next meeting?”, “show me my schedule for tomorrow”, “how long will it take me to get home?”, “remind me to whatever at time“, “convert 13.1 miles to km”, “Microsoft stock price” and “tell me a joke”.
6. The return of the start menu – but this time with live tiles. Personally I didn’t understand the problem with the Windows 8.1 start screen, I found it easier to work with and find applications than the ol’ start menu. But I was clearly in the minority, so the start menu is back and the live tiles from the Windows 8.1 start screen can be included. You have a choice as to whether the start menu is full-screen (for a more Windows 8.1-like look) or partially takes over the screen, and you can remove the live tiles to just give yourself a lean start menu. Happy now?
7. Notifications – Windows 10 boasts a fully-featured notifications centre to keep you up-to-date on everything that’s happening on your device… e-mail, system alerts, social updates, reminders, and more.
8. Edge – the new browser, formerly known as Project Spartan, is fast, lean and modern… and includes some interesting innovations such as reading view (which strips away the navigation and stuff to focus on the main content), web notes (mark up web pages with highlights and notes), and sharing of pages (inclduing your notes) via Facebook, Twitter, e-mail and OneNote.
9. Windows Explorer enhancements – a quick access view shows you frequently-used folders and recently-used files.
10. Tablet mode – I mentioned that I had upgraded my Dell tablet, and it’s really breathed a new lease of life into it. For devices such as the Surface Pro 3, it can be used laptop-like but you can also pull the keyboard off and use it with your finger. In this case, Windows 10 will recognise that the keyboard has been removed and offer to go into tablet mode – any open applications will just keep going but certain aspects of the interface will re-arrange themselves to go you a better touch experience. The start menu becomes the start screen, the full list of applications flies out from the left, and you can optionally remove the pinned icons from the task bar.
11. New e-mail and calendar apps – this list goes up to 11 (there’s your Nigel Tufnel reference). I’ve removed full Outlook from the Dell tablet because on that small touch screen the new e-mail app is a better experience. Okay, it’s not as fully-featured as Outlook 2013 (soon to be 2016) but it’s great for ‘e-mail triage’, replies and rich-text messages. The new calendar app is very good too, and provides the display of multiple calendars from various sources.1