10 Days With Windows 10
I’ve been playing with Windows 10 for over a week now, and I highly recommend that everyone who has access to it upgrade.
Overall, I’ve found that Windows 10 is faster, slicker-looking, and enables you to be more productive than previous versions of Windows. It’s generally easier to get things done; heck, I even started enjoying using Windows because of Windows itself, which has previously never been the case (I have stories… awful, awful stories…).
There are some features and services that I wasn’t able to use and test, due to region restrictions (such as Cortana, Groove Music, and Microsoft Movies & TV). This will also not be an exhaustive discussion or a comprehensive review of all the new features and changes in Windows 10. If you’re looking for something like that, you can check out Windows Central’s terrific, extensive feature on the matter.
That being said, I want to talk about the things that stood out to me most over a week and change of using it — these are my impressions of the Windows 10 experience so far.
The New Start Menu
The Start button has returned (right from the get-go, this time), and with it comes the new and improved version of the Start Menu.
The new start menu now lets you access all of your installed programs as you would expect, while allowing you to pin application tiles alongside it.
I really like this approach, as it retains the benefit of the at-a-glance information provided by live tiles, and I can appreciate the sense of familiarity this offers people who have been used to beginning their work flow through the start menu, and have been put off by the sudden, abrupt changes that Windows 8 brought in that respect.
It’s an elegant solution to one of the major issues that turned people off Windows 8.
Some of the more important things that Windows 10 brings to the table are new features like Task View, Virtual Desktops, and Action Center.
Task View exposes all your open program windows, giving you a bird’s-eye view of everything that you have going on in your desktop.
It’s a far better way to move between applications compared to the old Windows application switcher (Alt + Tab). Task View not only gives you a bigger visual preview of the apps that you have open, but it also lets you select them much more quickly using your mouse or the arrow keys versus the old switcher.
How to Invoke Task View
- Press WIN + Tab
- Swipe to the right from the left edge of a touchscreen device
- Click on the icon that looks like a square box between braces “[]” on the left side of the taskbar
It’s about time Microsoft implemented virtual desktops. This one of the single, most useful features that Windows 10 has for multi-taskers.
Virtual Desktops let you create multiple instances of the Windows Desktop and lets you quickly switch between them. It’s useful if you find yourself needing to have multiple programs and application windows open; instead of having all those windows on top of one another on one single screen (which is a nightmare to manage and switch between), you can organize your apps using multiple Virtual Desktops.
So instead of having to switch through a huge number of open windows in one place, you just move between screens and immediately have the application you need in-focus and ready for your input. This, combined with the Task Switcher, is fantastic for helping you get work done more quickly without being overwhelmed by the sheer number of things you need to cycle through before you get to what you need.
Here’s an example scenario: when I’m compiling research for an article I’m developing, I’ll have Rdio, OneNote, a Word Processor, and a web browser open. Let’s say I also like to keep tabs on my social feeds, so I’ll have Twitter and Facebook open (I know, bad for productivity, but for the sake of this argument, let’s just go with it) to stalk… I mean, keep tabs on my friends. Instead of dumping everything on one screen, I’ll have them on five separate virtual desktops, and just move through them as needed.
Here’s a sample virtual desktop layout:
- SCREEN 1: Rdio
- SCREEN 2: OneNote
- SCREEN 3: Web Browser
- SCREEN 4: Word Processor
- SCREEN 5: Twitter | Facebook
I’ll be mainly focused on switching between screens 2 and 3, as I’m compiling research from various online sources. I keep a word processor open on screen 4 at this stage just in case I get inspired to write a few sentences or paragraphs germane to the article, based on what data I’m collecting. I can also quickly take a quick glance at my social feeds, split-screened on screen 5, and I can quickly switch to screen 1 if there’s a particular song I want to listen or a playlist I’d like to switch to at the moment.
Windows 10 Keyboard Shortcuts for Invoking and Managing Virtual Desktops
- CREATE a new Virtual Desktop — CTRL + WIN + D
- CLOSE the current Virtual Desktop — CTRL + WIN + F4
- SWITCH between Virtual Desktops — CTRL + WIN + LEFT or RIGHT
Additionally, when you invoke Task View, you can create a new virtual desktop by clicking on the “New desktop” button on the bottom-right corner of your screen. If you already have virtual desktops created, Task View will show you your virtual desktops on the bottom part of your screen, beneath any open application windows.
I do wish there was a way to expose all windows across all virtual desktops; it seems that all I can do right now with Task View is expose the open windows on the current desktop I’m viewing.
The Action Center collects all of the notifications that you haven’t yet dismissed. These include all the emails that you’ve received in your inbox, as well as any and all system and application notifications.
It also contains a configurable set of shortcuts to system functions that you can quickly toggle on or off, which is useful, particularly for features and functions that you find yourself using frequently.
I’m glad to see this staple of mobile computing finally make it to desktop users — it’s a sensible and useful feature that lets you review and act on the notifications that you have received, but may not have taken note of immediately at the moment it appeared.
How to Invoke the Action Center
- Press WIN + A
- Swipe to the left from the right edge of a touchscreen device
- Click on the squarish dialog box icon in the taskbar’s system tray
Windows 10 comes with several new default applications, most notably for browsing the Internet, accessing your photo, music, and video collections, and email and calendar management.
Microsoft’s Edge browser is the replacement for the aging Internet Explorer (which is now 20 years old).
Edge sports a clean and simple user interface, is generally snappy and responsive, and sports a few new features that are quite useful and enjoyable to use, such as the ability to markup and annotate any web page directly from within the browser, and new tabs can auto-populate with the sites you visit the most and stories MS thinks are relevant to your interests.
There’s a Reading View that strips non-essential content such as advertisements and presents a clean, minimal, reformatted page with just the images and text for easier reading. The image above shows what a web page would normally look like, while the image below shows Edge’s Reading View in action.
Edge performs well enough to suit most people’s browsing needs, but it annoyingly lacks a few basic features you’d think should be available on a modern browser out of the box: things like the option to specify where to save the files you download (it won’t even ask you; it auto-saves everything to your Downloads folder), tab pinning, and full screen, among other things.
It also lacks extensibility, but Microsoft has said that this is in the works. For the meantime, this means no ad-blocking, no additional tools & utilities, and no useful inter-app functionality, such as with apps like Microsoft’s own OneNote (save for a very limited “share” function accessible from the toolbar). I could honestly live without extensions if it had just the aforementioned basic features, but for now I’ll stick with Firefox as my daily driver.
Photos lets you sort and display all the photos from your local collection, as well as those from your OneDrive account.
The collection view displays all your photos in a reverse-chronological order, while album view sorts them by — you guessed it — by album (or folder, depending on how Photos prioritizes meta data / folder hierarchy).
Opening a photo gives you the additional options to start a slideshow or edit the current photo using filters and a few other basic image manipulation tools, which I really appreciated. Additionally, photos gives you the option to enable non-destructive auto-enhancements and provides simple duplicate management, and both can be enabled in the app’s settings.
Groove Music replaces Xbox Music as the default audio player for Windows 10, and is also the default client for Microsoft’s Groove music service (formerly known as Xbox Music).
FLAC playback (Free Lossless Audio Codec) is supported out of the box, which is something that should please audiophiles (or people who just plain prefer .flac files), and there are numerous aesthetic tweaks and refinements. Groove Music does its primary job of playing music well: search is snappy even with fairly large collections, playlist creation and management is straightforward, and there’s a play queue (I can’t imagine using any music player without one nowadays).
Managing your music collection is a bit of different story, though. While Groove offers the ability to automatically retrieve album art and meta data, it doesn’t give you the option to select a source to get the information from (e.g., Last.fm, MusicBrainz, or a local file), nor can you manually edit the meta data yourself. The result is you’ll end up seeing a lot of blank album covers interspersed within your catalog, which I find mildly annoying. You might see some of your music listed within “Unknown Artist” or “Unknown Album” with no convenient way of fixing something that shouldn’t be cumbersome to remedy.
That said, if you already use a streaming music service (e.g., Spotify, Deezer, Rdio, etc.) that lets you tap into your local collection in some way, none of these little issues should be too much of concern.
Movies & TV
Movies & TV is the default video viewer and collection manager. It’s also the client for Microsoft’s creatively named Movies & TV service (formerly Xbox Video), but unless you’re in a region where the service is available, there’s not much else the app can do except expose your local video collection and play them.
Calendar & Mail
Microsoft has further refined their Mail and Calendar apps, and they’re quite pleasant to use.
It used to be a pain in the behind to try and get your Google Calendars to play nice on Windows 8, but now there’s no such problem. All my calendars appear as they should, and linking accounts is easy enough.
The new Mail app now makes better use of screen real estate, and no longer uses excessive amounts of negative space to the point where it looks like it was designed exclusively for use by people with abundantly fat fingers.
One thing I do wish that this mail client had is the ability to link accounts and receive all incoming mail into one universal inbox, as is possible on Windows Phone; I’ve been poking around the app and the settings, but I can’t seem to find a way to do so. As it stands, I prefer going through and processing my email on mobile simply because of this one killer feature.
Despite all the new additions, Microsoft hasn’t completely removed the old apps that the new ones are supposed to replace. Internet Explorer and Windows Media Player are still — and will apparently continue to be — available out of the box until, perhaps, the newer applications become mature enough, feature-and-experience-wise, to provide what the vast majority of Windows users might need on a day-to-day basis beyond the bare basics.
The Windows Store and Windows Store Applications
The Windows Store has also gotten a face lift and is now a bit more organized and easier to browse through. Featured apps are now more visually prominent and visible, along with app recommendations and collections of curated apps.
Searching the Windows Store is still a hit-or-miss experience, and I find myself turning to either Google or Bing to find and install an app that’s in the store more often than I’d like.
There are also quite a lot of Windows Store apps that haven’t yet been updated and optimized for Windows 10. For the most part they’ll run just fine in both full screen and windowed mode, but they’ll look and feel awkward to use to varying degrees.
Look and Feel
Windows 10 looks good and feels good to use. It boots up and shuts down faster than Windows 8 does, the system-wide search is speedier, and even the once-infuriating context menu that took quite literally 10 seconds or more to load after clicking the right mouse button for anything is now a non-issue.
It’s responsive, it’s light on its feet, it feels a lot more cohesive and thought out, and it doesn’t carry the Jekyll-and-Hyde user experience baggage that Windows 8 did, with both Modern and traditional Desktop apps being foisted upon the user.
It’s not without its quirks and inconsistencies, however minor they may be, though. As much as Windows 10 got its overall flat aesthetic done right, you can’t help but notice that there are few things that look and feel a touch out of place here and there.
On Iconography, Context Menus, and Hamburger Buttons
Obviously, programs developed by different developers translates to different visual styles when it comes down to it.
The thing is, even Microsoft can’t seem to settle on a particular visual style, apart from “it has to be flat in some way”. It’s easy to see the lack of cohesion once you’ve started using Windows 10 for a while. It’s not as bad as it was with Windows 8, but it’d be nice to see Microsoft get this down pat; attention to detail is always welcome when it comes to these sorts of things.
The now near-ubiquitous (and oft-debated about) hamburger button looks and behaves differently from app to app; apps from different developers can exhibit quite a wide degree of different implementations.
A Word About Updates
When it comes to software updates, you are no longer in charge: all Windows 10 users will be forced to download and install updates from Microsoft. There’s no getting around this: even Windows 10 Professional users can only defer updates for a time.
You can look at this as Microsoft getting quite serious about security. One of the biggest problems of systems that are out-of-date are the potentially serious vulnerabilities that their users and their data are exposed to. Automatic updates solves this problem.
You’ll know when Windows 10 has finished downloading and installing a system update through a notification on the Action Center, occasionally accompanied by a prompt for a restart.
A Few Other Odd Bits and Ends
- I imagine the section on my start menu labeled “Most used” is supposed to display my most used programs. It doesn’t, really.
- A small percentage of my programs and games have disappeared completely from my start menu. Reinstalling doesn’t solve this issue; live tiles and start menu entries will simply disappear again after a restart.
- In addition to disappearing live tiles and start menu entries, some programs will refuse to launch as well. I’ve also tried reinstalling these, but they just won’t work.
- These programs will appear on search, but a lot of the time I only get their program folders, and I can’t find the executable files that’ll let me launch the actual apps themselves.
- Occasionally I’ll get a notification in the Action Center that tells me I should “Disable some apps to improve performance”. When I click it and the dialog box opens to show me a selection of startup apps that I should be able to disable, it just comes up empty.
Overall, Windows 10 is a much-needed breath of fresh air. Where Windows 8 was a very ambitious-yet-poorly-executed attempt at reinventing the Windows experience, Windows 10 is a much more tempered, holistic approach that tries its best to to rectify the mistakes of the past, create a more cohesive computing experience, and actually help you get more done by implementing some thoughtful, considered improvements to the entire platform.
I feel like it hasn’t really hit the lofty mark to the degree that Microsoft might have wanted, though; there are seemingly small, innocuous issues and inconsistencies here and there, but there a lot more of them than one would expect of a company who has supposedly started putting far more thought into design and user experience than anyone would have dared given them credit for three or four years ago.
That said, I also have no doubt that Microsoft is well aware of these issues and will continue to push updates, fixes, and refinements that will solve said issues. The way they have been operating as a company and building solutions with the end user in mind as of late is something I can’t help but admire.
So far, everything Microsoft has done and accomplished with Windows 10 up to this point makes me feel cautiously optimistic. Gone is the arrogance and haphazardness that have accompanied previous releases of Windows; in its place is a balanced willingness to listen and take user feedback to heart and implement design decisions that, while perhaps not as ambitious or immersive as the best of what Windows 8 was able to produce at times, really add up to a user experience feels smoother, makes more sense, and is actually pretty good overall.
I’m looking forward to what Microsoft has in store for Windows 10 further down the road.
Originally published at andresalvatierra.com.