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The Computer Gnome Windows 10 Review, Pt. 3: Chock-full of Features!

Hey, just what is a “chock” anyway, and why is it always full? Hmm. In part 2 of our Windows 10 review, we took a broad-strokes look at how Microsoft has made Windows 10 a big improvement over its predecessor, Windows 8, by re-emphasizing use on “traditional” PC’s and scaling back or refining the “Modern”-style tiled interface. In the third and final part, we’ll be going over some of the most notable new features introduced in Windows 10.

Better Multi-Tasking With Task View

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Task View, showing a Chrome browser window, File Explorer, and the Microsoft app store.

Microsoft has taken a lot of mockery in recent years for copying all of the best features of Apple’s OS X and integrating them into new versions of Windows. And there’s no getting around it, Windows 10’s Task View feature isn’t at all an original idea. It’s very similar to a feature called Mission Control which Mac users have had for some time now. But a good idea is a good idea no matter where it came from.

Task View is a new button that appears on the Windows 10 taskbar, near the returned Start button. When you click on it, you’re given a zoomed-out, birds-eye-view of all of the windows for all of the programs you currently have open. From Task View you can close any windows or programs that you no longer need open, create new “desktop” spaces, move windows from one desktop to another, and switch between desktops. This is a nice way to get your bearings if you’re the type of person who tends to end up with, say, four Excel files, a browser window, six Word documents, and five different Explorer folders all open at once when you’re multi-tasking.

Searching From Your Desktop

The other new button that lives on the Windows 10 taskbar alongside the Start menu and Task View is “Search the Web and windows.” Clicking on it and typing will allow you to search by name both for files and programs on your computer and search the Web without needing to open a browser. By default, this feature uses Microsoft’s Bing search engine; if you prefer Google and use Chrome as your regular desktop browser, you can install a Chrome extension that will make the Windows 10 search use Google and open results in a Chrome tab instead. For the purpose of finding things on your system (like a misplaced document or a program you don’t use very often), the Windows 10 search is a definite improvement over the local search in previous versions of Windows. For searching the Web, there’s nothing earth-shattering here, but Windows 10 has made things just a little more convenient by saving you a click and letting you search without opening a Web browser.

Windows 10’s search is also tied into Cortana, which is Microsoft’s new virtual assistant – similar to Siri on the Apple iPhone and iPad, and Google Now in Android devices. Cortana probably isn’t up to the same level of quality as its competitors from Google and Apple yet, and you may or may not find it necessary or useful, especially if you’re already used to using Siri or Google Now for the type of life-organization tasks Cortana is designed to do. Still, it’s a forward-thinking move by Microsoft to integrate this kind of functionality into the operating system, and there’s no reason to think Cortana won’t continue to be improved.

More Action in Action Center

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Action Center notifications.

Action Center is technically not a new feature for Windows 10; at least, there’s been something called Action Center in Windows for a while. Windows 10 totally reimagines the Action Center, though, and gives it the potential to be a lot more useful. In previous versions of Windows, Action Center was just a place for showing you notifications and alerts about your system itself – that there were new Windows updates to install, for example. In Windows 10, Action Center is a central hub for showing you notifications from a wide variety of programs you have installed – new e-mails, social media messages, etc. – in addition to system-related alerts. It’s a lot like the notification system on your smartphone or tablet. Action Center also allows you quick access to a number of system actions and settings, like viewing and connecting to wireless networks or switching into tablet mode if your computer has a touchscreen. The only downside here is that the new notifications in Action Center only work with the built-in Windows apps or ones you download from the Microsoft store – you’ll be able to see notifications about new mentions or replies on Twitter if you install and set up the Twitter app from the store, for example, but you won’t get any notifications if you prefer to use use Twitter via the Web. Still, Action Center has gone from a feature of Windows that was at best pretty forgettable to one that some people may find extremely handy.

Better Security With Automatic Updates

The last feature of Windows 10 we touch on is one of the most important, but it’s not a feature you’re likely to ever notice much at all. In Windows 10, Windows updates are now completely automatic. The operating system will regularly check for updates and install them automatically without prompting or intervention from the user. The goal of this change is to better protect users from security exploits and malware. While there’s been some debate about whether Microsoft did the right thing in taking users out of the chain of command when it comes to installing updates, we think that all things considered, this will be a positive change for most people. Certainly there are drawbacks; Microsoft isn’t infallible, and there have already been cases in the past where Microsoft pushed out a Windows update which actually caused problems a subsequent update had to fix. Occasional hiccups like this are a small price to pay for users having peace of mind that their computers are better protected from security threats, however. Whether because of procrastination or forgetfulness, many people fail to keep their computers up to date with patches for the newest security exploits, and fall victim to irritating malware, data loss, or even identity theft as a result. For most of the people we work with, having critical Windows updates downloaded and installed without needing to lift a finger will be a huge benefit.

Conclusion: Come On In, The Water’s Fine

Are all of Windows 10’s new features worth getting excited about? No. Is Windows 10 perfect out of the box? Certainly not – no new operating system is when it’s first released. One of the great things about Windows 10, however, is that we shouldn’t have to wait as long for fixes and improvements as we did with previous versions of the operating system. Microsoft is advertising Windows 10 as the “last” version of Windows – but that doesn’t mean that they’re getting out of the operating system business. What it means is that Microsoft is changing the way it develops Windows. Instead of releasing a new, radically different version of Windows every few years, Microsoft’s plan is to make smaller tweaks to Windows 10 on a more frequent basis so that instead of being replaced, it will continually evolve and (hopefully) improve.

After one month of using Windows 10 as a “daily driver” operating system, though, it looks like Microsoft is already off to a strong start. Would we recommend upgrading to Windows 10 if you’re eligible to do so? Well, maybe. If you’re comfortable with Windows 7 or Windows 8/8.1, there is no one single “killer app” game-changing feature in Windows 10 that we would say makes upgrading a must. What we will say is that if you’re afraid of upgrading – don’t be! Microsoft has clearly listened to user feedback, learned from their mistakes, and gone back to the drawing board to create an operating system that almost seamlessly blends the familiar feel of Windows with forward-looking, mobile-inspired features. Microsoft has even catered to users who are nervous about upgrading by making it painless to “roll back” to your old version of Windows if you try out Windows 10 and find it’s not your cup of tea – a feature we’ll be explaining in a future blog post. You’ve got nothing to lose by sticking your toe in the waters of Windows 10 – it’s a greater operating system now, and it’s only going to get better.

Whether you’re planning to upgrade or not, hopefully this three-part series has helped you make an informed decision on whether or not Windows 10 is for you. We didn’t come close to covering everything; some of new features included in Windows 10 (like Edge, Microsoft’s new browser which replaced Internet Explorer) deserve a post or two on their own. Keep an eye out for more coverage of Windows 10 from Computer Gnome in the near future. And if you’re thinking of upgrading, or if you’ve already upgraded and need help figuring out some of the finer points of Windows 10, give us a call!

The Computer Gnome Windows 10 Review, Pt. 2: The Start Menu’s Back, And It Brought Friends

In the first part of our Windows 10 review earlier this week, we talked a little bit about why Windows 8 failed in the eyes of many users, and said that Windows 10 is a huge improvement because it manages to combine the high level of refinement for normal PC use of Windows 7 with the forward-looking, mobile device-inspired features of Windows 8. In today’s post we’ll be taking a look at some of the most important ways Windows 10 improves on its predecessor by better incorporating some of the concepts and features of Windows 8 into a more traditional Windows user experience.

The Triumphant Return of the Start Menu

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The Windows 10 Start Menu.

The disappearance of anything like the traditional Windows “Start” Menu was one of the biggest and most obvious changes Microsoft made in Windows 8, and one of the ones which drew the most criticism. Windows 8.1 brought back something that looked like the Start button, but all it did was switch from the desktop to the reviled “Modern” or “Metro” interface with its touch-centric tiles, which to a many people felt almost like Microsoft was just intentionally toying with our emotions. Well, the good news is that Microsoft has now bowed to the user outcry and Windows 10 has brought back the Start menu – a real Start Menu with the same functionality as what we got used to in previous versions, some tidying up and efficiency improvements, and the option of incorporating some of the Windows 8 live tile functionality as well.

Clicking the Start button in Windows 10 brings up a list of all of your recently used programs, as before. It also allows quick access to things like your documents and downloaded files, in addition to the Windows Settings menu, File Explorer, and the Power button which is used to make your machine shut down, restart, or sleep. At the bottom of this column is “All Apps,” which does exactly what it sounds like – it shows you an alphabetically sorted list of all of the programs installed on your computer.

To the right of all of this more traditional Start menu goodness is an area composed of “Modern”-style live tiles. You can put your most-used programs and widgets to quickly show you information like the current weather conditions here. This area of the Start menu is highly customizable; you have complete control over what items get their own tiles here, and all of the tiles can be rearranged and resized. If you don’t like or don’t have any use for the tiled section, you can even get rid of it altogether and leave a more minimal Start menu retaining only the more traditional functionality described above.

A Much More Mild “Modern” Interface

Aside from the Start menu tiles, there’s still quite a bit of the “Modern”-style interface in Windows 10, but compared to Windows 8 it’s integrated into the overall experience in a much more seamless and user-friendly way. The full-screen tiled interface that Windows 8 sometimes seemed determined to make you use is still there if you want it – which is a good thing, as it’s actually a pretty nice design for devices with smaller screens like tablets. But when you boot up your computer, the traditional Windows desktop environment is now the default.

Windows 10 also still comes with a range of “Modern” apps built-in, and you can install more from the Microsoft store. Using these apps is a much more pleasant experience than it was before, though. In Windows 8, opening one of these apps would cause it to immediately take over the entire screen in a way that made multi-tasking very difficult – a problem that was exacerbated by the fact many of the Modern apps seemed designed for tablets or other small-screen devices and were designed in an inefficient way for use on larger screens, with oversized design elements and lots of wasted space. It was almost as if Microsoft had forgotten the name of their operating system was “Windows,” because the Modern apps didn’t operate in windows at all. Happily, in Windows 10 Modern apps politely open in a window like any other program and generally behave more like any other program you’ve gotten accustomed to using in Windows over the years. There’s no longer the feeling of a weird, arbitrary distinction between Modern “apps” and traditional programs that plagued Windows 8. This allows you to incorporate Modern apps (if you choose to use them) into your multi-tasking more easily.

As you can probably tell, we like the overall feel of using Windows 10 a lot. It’s easy for people used to Windows 7 and earlier versions to pick up, while refining the rough implementation of some of Windows 8’s big ideas into something much more user-friendly. In Part 3 of our review, we’ll be digging into some of the brand new features Windows 10 has to offer. Check back next week!

The Computer Gnome Windows 10 Review, Pt. 1: Introduction and General Impressions

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It’s been about a month now since Microsoft released Windows 10 as a free upgrade for existing users of Windows, and it looks like the new operating system is off to a strong start. It’s hard to say exactly how many people have taken advantage of the free upgrade offer, but in mid-August sources at Microsoft told tech news site NeoWin had surpassed 53 million installs.

Maybe you’re still not sure if you want to get on board and upgrade to Windows 10 on your system, however. It’s natural to be a little leery; early adopters of new tech products often have to put up with some bugs. Or maybe you still feel burned by Windows 8. If that’s the case, maybe we can help you make an informed decision on whether to upgrade.

This won’t be a comprehensive review of Windows 10. If you’re looking for a more in-depth take, we recommend the reviews at CNET or PC Magazine. In this series, our goal is just to attempt to give an overall impression of what using Windows 10 is like and discuss some of the major new features to take the uncertainty out of the equation for those still unsure whether to upgrade.

Overview: A Happy Medium

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The Windows 10 desktop.

One of the biggest problems with Windows 8 was that at times it seemed like it simply wasn’t designed for use on a regular desktop or laptop computer. Microsoft tried to design an operating system interface that would give users the same experience whether they were using their computer, their tablet, or a phone. However, many people felt that objective was fundamentally flawed. You don’t use your desktop computer in the same way you use a tablet; a computer with a 24” screen that you use with a keyboard and mouse needs a different interface from a tablet with a 10” screen that you operate by touch. With Windows 8, it sometimes seemed as if Microsoft had focused too much on the tablet side, resulting in an experience on desktops and laptops that was frustrating, less functional, and less intuitive compared to previous versions of Windows.

Happily, Windows 10 makes it obvious that Microsoft learned from the mistakes they made in this area. Overall, the user interface of Windows 10 feels much more like it was designed for use on computers first and foremost, or at least that the computer experience was put on an equal footing with the needs of tablet operation. Using Windows 10 on a desktop or laptop computer feels a lot like using Windows 7 with a slight visual facelift and some of the best features of Windows 8 and features inspired by mobile devices incorporated. Windows 10 feels like a “happy medium.” If Windows 7 represented the pinnacle of the Windows design evolution that began way back when Windows 95 began the “modern” era of Windows by introducing features like the Start menu, and Windows 8 was an aggressive (perhaps too aggressive) look to a future of computing heavily dominated by mobile devices, Windows 10 is the “sweet spot” that largely incorporates the best features of each.

Check out Part 2 of our review for a more in-depth discussion of the look and feel of Windows 10!

 

 

 

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