In case you missed it, Windows 10 launches today, July 29, for PCs, 2-in-1 devices, and tablets. It’s available as a free - yes, free! - upgrade for qualified Windows 7 and Windows 8.1 devices, though you’d better hurry, as this offer only lasts for a year.
We’ve talked a lot about Windows 10 since its official unveiling in October 2014; so admittedly, if you’re totally new to the OS, there may be too much info to digest at one go. So let’s take it slow here.
If you’ve questions about Windows 10’s system requirements, its pricing, and the OS being a service moving forward, check out our Windows 10 FAQ. If you want to find out more about the installation procedure and check out some setup screenshots, then may we point you to our Installing Windows 10: A pictorial walkthrough article.
Already downloaded the bits and are in the midst of installing Windows 10? Good for you! For those still waiting, don’t fret. Because Microsoft is doing a gradual rollout, not everyone will be able to upgrade on the very first day. So while you wait, here’s a list of 10 features to take note of and to try them out once the OS is up and running on your device.
Once again, welcome to Windows 10, an OS for the newest generation.
If you’ve shunned Windows 8 because you’ve heard of horror stories about the UI and the lack of a Start menu, well, Microsoft wants you to know that it has heard you, and is now trying to make Windows 10 a familiar environment again.
For a start, in Windows 10, the tile-laden, full-screen Start screen won’t be forced on you if you’re using a PC. More importantly, the Start menu has returned with a new look and newfound powers. While it looks a bit different from the one in Windows 7, it has all the usual features you’d expect, including a classic list of app shortcuts, PC settings, and power options on the left. And on the right, there’s space to populate tiles, just like the Windows 8 Start screen. You can customize this new Start menu (resize it, change its color, rearrange or even remove all the live tiles) to your heart’s content.
One of the tentpole features of Windows 10 is Cortana, an intelligent digital personal assistant designed to help you quickly manage your life and get things done. Accessed through the search button in the taskbar or when you call out her name, you can use Cortana to set reminders, add appointments, get directions, search the Internet, and more.
And in the office, Cortana turns from butler to secretary. That’s because Cortana in Windows 10 can also integrate with Office 365 for businesses, so it can do things like proactively help you prepare for an upcoming meeting, surface helpful information about the people you’re meeting with, recent documents they’ve worked on, and reminders about when and where you need to be next.
That said, know that Cortana won’t be officially available in all markets. More specifically, starting today, it’ll be on Windows 10 in these seven countries: the U.S., the U.K., China, France, Italy, Germany, and Spain. In the coming months however, it will head to Japan, Australia, Canada, India, Brazil, and Mexico, though only in preview form for testers enrolled in the Windows Insider Program.
(Protip: Want to try Cortana outside of a supported country? Well, you can try changing the region and language settings.)
Internet Explorer is dead! Long live IE!
Okay, technically Windows 10 still ships with IE11. But Edge is the browser that Microsoft really wants you to use, so much so that it’s made it the default browser on the new OS.
And for good reasons too. The new Edge browser (codenamed Spartan before this) supports the EdgeHTML rendering engine, and is optimized for modern websites and standards. It also has fancy but nonetheless useful features, like a note-taking mode whereby the webpage is frozen to let you comment or draw on it directly, along with the ability for you to save it to OneNote or share with others. It also gains a Reading Mode for distraction-free reading, a Reading List that supports offline reading and which syncs across devices, Cortana intelligent personal assistant integration, and many more. All these are features that IE11 can only look on with envy.
Here’s one for those with a 2-in-1 device, like the Microsoft Surface 3 and Surface Pro 3. Simply put, Continuum is a feature that allows you to move from one device mode to another with ease, as the OS is able to handle UI transitions gracefully. For PCs, the default mode is Desktop mode, where you get your familiar Start menu, taskbar, and floating windows.
For tablets or tablet-first 2-in-1 devices, the default mode is Tablet mode. Under this mode, you get the tile-based Start screen like Windows 8, with a collapsible menubar on the left side. Apps that you open also take up the whole screen, but you can still snap apps side by side (the number depends on your screen size). Unlike Windows 8 however, key functions like the power button, the All apps button, the back button, as well as a lightweight taskbar are placed in obvious locations, so it’s harder to get lost this time round.
Tablet mode can be toggled either automatically (e.g., when you yank off the keyboard of your 2-in-1 device) or manually. For the former, you can go to Settings > System > Tablet mode to further configure whether you want Windows to prompt you first before switching modes. To engage Tablet mode manually, the fastest way is to use the quick action tile in the Action Center.
(By the way, there’s also something called Continuum for phones. It basically works like this: when a phone running Windows 10 Mobile is connected to a monitor, keyboard, and mouse, Continuum for phones will kick in, and the UI will become more desktop-like, with the phone’s Start screen replacing the desktop’s Start menu at the bottom left corner. This feature requires new phone hardware, and rumor has it that new flagship Windows 10 phones will arrive in 4Q this year.)
Windows Phone users will understand this better; but for those who don’t use Lumias, Action Center on Windows 10 is like Notification Center on OS X. A vertical pane on the right of the screen, it’s activated when you press a button in the notification area of the taskbar, or when you swipe in from the right side of the display.
In Action Center, while you can see all your notifications at the top (and act on them), arguably it’s the bottom section where all the quick action tiles sit that one would find more uses for. Here, you get buttons for quick access to frequently used functions and settings like Tablet Mode, Rotation Lock, Note, All Settings, Connect, VPN, Bluetooth, Quiet Hours, Location, etc. Is this better than the Charms in Windows 8? That’s debatable, though at the very least, it’s more consistent with Windows 10 Mobile.
To configure which apps can show you notifications and the main quick actions, head over to Settings > System > Notifications & Actions. You can also tweak Action Center’s appearance by adjusting the colors under Settings > Personalization > Colors.
You know what else is free other than Windows 10? Office universal apps, that’s what!
Generally available on the Windows Store since mid July, these Office Mobile apps are for Windows 10 PCs and tablets. Comprising of Word Mobile, Excel Mobile, and PowerPoint Mobile, they look and work very similar to their iPad and Android tablet counterparts, which is a good thing, as it means familiarity even when you bring your work from one platform to another.
But take note: for 10.1-inch and below devices, viewing and most editing on these Office Mobile apps is free, provided it’s for non-commercial use. Anything larger and you’ll need an Office 365 subscription for the editing features. Need some convincing about paying for Office 365? Here’s the deal: for most consumers, we think that Office 365 Home makes the most sense. At S$13.80 per month, you can install full versions of the Office apps on up to five PCs or Macs, as well as on five tablets and phones. And each of the five users gets 1TB of OneDrive cloud storage and 60 minutes’ worth of Skype calls per month. The other big advantage of getting Office through Office 365 is that you’ll always get the latest versions of the apps.
While you’re at it, another free Office universal app you can try is OneNote, a super-charged note taking, info gathering, and multi-user collaborating app. Looking for Outlook Mail and Outlook Calendar? These are already installed as part of Windows 10.
Productivity is a central theme for whatever Microsoft is working on these days, and Windows 10 is no different. If you always work with one monitor and wish to have a more elegant way to deal with a cluttered desktop, know that Windows 10 supports multiple workspaces or ‘virtual’ desktops. (To longtime Windows users, yes, we know that Windows has supported virtual desktops for quite some time already; it’s just that the UI has never been obvious before this.)
For newcomers, the benefit of having virtual desktops should be easy to understand. For example, you can have one that comprises of all the things that you’re currently working on, and another for dumping all your IM windows. It’s like having a second monitor without really buying a second monitor. For those coming from a Mac, yes, this is like the Spaces feature in OS X.
Although you can use keyboard shortcuts to manage virtual desktops, we prefer the mouse because the steps are easier to remember. To create a new desktop, open Task View (it’s that icon to the right of the search bar on your taskbar) and click on ‘+ New desktop’. Task View is also where you switch between the different desktops.
To move one window from one desktop to another, enter Task View again, hover the cursor over a desktop thumbnail that has the window you want to move, and then just drag and drop the bigger window that appears above into the thumbnail of the target desktop. Alternatively, you can right-click on the window, and choose from the contextual menu the desktop you want to send it to.
In short, you can now play your Xbox One and Xbox 360 games on your Windows 10 PCs, notebooks, and tablets even when you’re not in front of your Xbox One console. Support for the Xbox controller is built right into the OS, so it’s a consistent gameplay experience throughout.
The July release of the Xbox app for Windows 10 also includes a ton of new features for you to access your gaming world and connect with your friends and the Xbox Live community. (In case you missed it, Xbox Live membership on Windows 10 PCs is free.) And with Game DVR, you can record game clips, edit, and share them with your friends effortlessly.
Since Windows 10 will also run on phones and the Xbox, in time to come, you’ll be playing games with or against others across different devices. You can even start a game on the PC and pick up where you left off on the Xbox.
Prefer PC gaming over console gaming? Know that DirectX 12 is built into Windows 10 too. If your GPU supports it and you’ve a DirectX 12 game like Fable Legends, you should get great graphics performance along with “console-level efficiency”.
Another cool feature debuting on Windows 10 is Windows Hello, which supports biometric authentication, so you can use your face, iris, or fingerprint to unlock your devices and automatically sign-in to Windows.
Of course, this requires hardware support, but Microsoft’s been working with PC OEMs to build Windows Hello-capable devices for a while now. If your device already has a fingerprint reader, you’re pretty much set. For facial and iris recognition, you need an Intel RealSense 3D camera equipped with an F200 sensor, something that Chipzilla is selling for US$99.
But you don’t need this camera attachment if your existing device already has it built in. Notebooks that currently have an integrated RealSense 3D camera include Asus’ N551JQ, ROG G771JM, and X751LD; HP’s Envy 15t Touch RealSense Laptop; Dell’s Inspiron 15 5548; Acer’s Aspire V 17 Nitro; and Lenovo’s ThinkPad Yoga 15 and ThinkPad E550.
There are also three all-in-one devices that have the RealSense 3D camera: Lenovo’s B5030, Dell’s Inspiron 23" 7000, and HP’s Sprout.
In addition to unlocking of devices, Windows Hello can also be used to authenticate applications, enterprise content, and online experiences. To solve security issues related to passwords being stored on servers, there’s “Passport”, which simply put, securely authenticates you to apps, websites, and networks without sending any password. In addition, this biometric signature is never sent over the network, and is stored on-device, thus reducing the risk of biometric data theft.
Security is another big theme for Windows 10, in case you haven’t noticed.
There are too many new features (both consumer facing and under the hood) in Windows 10 to go through in one page. We’ve gone through nine already, and we haven’t even come to Snap Assist, SmartScreen, Windows Defender, the various family features, or the new Groove Music and other built-in apps.
For our last feature, we’ve instead chosen to talk about something fun. We’re talking about emoji.
As detailed by Emojipedia, Microsoft is doing a huge update to its emoji character set in Windows 10. For example, there are skin tone modifiers (gray is now the default skin tone of emoji people), tweaks to existing emojis to make them more recognizable on other platforms, as well as new additions, like the Vulcan Salute and the Reversed Hand With Middle Finger Extended.
Yup, a middle finger emoji. Complete with a variety of skin tone options. This makes Windows 10 the first major OS to support this emoji, which is part of Unicode 7.
A frivolous feature? Maybe. To us, it perfectly encapsulates what we’ve been saying for a while now, and that is this is a new Microsoft we’re seeing today.
Live long and prosper.
(Editor's note: Can’t get enough of Windows 10? Here’s a collection of Windows 10-related articles on HardwareZone for further reading.)
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