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Ever since the bug-riddled Windows Vista release in 2006, Microsoft has been dodging stones from the tech world about botching their operating systems. Purists want their Windows XP back—and luddites hearken back to Windows 95. But now, Windows 10 is here.
Some people will love it, some will hate it, but it is an undeniable step in the right direction, and a breath of fresh air for the Windows platform. I’ve used a Windows operating system in some form my entire life (although I’m typing this on a MacBook Pro, my main computer). I am a #millennial; my first OS was Windows 95, housed in a frumpy off-white plastic tower with a heavy CRT screen. I once deleted System32 trying to install a Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone CD-ROM. A few years ago I built a desktop computer and installed Windows 8, which is probably the worst idea in tech history, apart from the time when campus IT deleted my Linux user profile trying to get rid of a virus. I also have a Surface 3, which is new and kind of smells like paint.
Now, I’ve been endowed with a Lenovo X1 Carbon outfitted with Windows 10. It’s equipped with a touchscreen, and is insanely light. I like it a lot. You can get Windows 10 on new machines starting today, or upgrade for free by clicking an icon in your Windows 7 or 8. (Or, if you’re antsy, you can download it here.)
Windows 10 is a streamlined version of all its predecessors. It has desktop icons like those in Windows 95 (although they are out of vogue), and pinned applications in the taskbar (so hot right now). Then there’s the Start button.
That beautiful Start button. The biggest complaint about Windows 8 was its Metro screen, a mishmash of all the applications as squares floating in front of you, disconnected from your desktop. Basically, Microsoft tried to put a mobile experience on a desktop computer way before they should have. This manifested in getting rid of the Start button, which they actually brought back with a mid-cycle patch. With Windows 10, Microsoft has brought the crowd favorite back for good. The Start screen makes you remember why humans created lists in the first place. The Start menu allows you to take tiles and arrange them next to frequently used programs, or not do that and stare at a open black canvas for your entire life as a study of existentialism. Microsoft’s strength has always been customization.
The Start screen makes you remember why humans created lists in the first place.
Next to the Start button (in some of the most prime OS real estate) lies Cortana. Cortana is Microsoft’s answer to personal assistants like Siri and Google Now. Cortana offers two types of help. The first is a robust engine able to find local files, settings, and web results with relative ease via text search, as well as great information like food options near me. I found that the more time I spent with Cortana, the better “she” became, using the Notebook feature to tell Cortana what I like. The second morning I had the laptop, some text appeared in Cortana’s “Ask me anything” box, telling me that the Yankees had won the night before. I clicked, which brought up to news, weather and the stock information for the company I had previously asked about.
Then we have the voice search, which seems to be a futile exercise in dictation. I asked Cortana for sports scores about 20 times, and got them once. People in the office started to giggle, and I had to sheepishly explain that my personal assistant was hard of hearing. I tried to use the Foursquare integration to find food near me, and it would search the internet at large for the phrase “What can I eat around here?” This needs work, and it’s frustrating, but it’s not a core function, and honestly not the end of the world.
When trying to transfer my entire life over to this computer, I found myself looking for familiar apps I use for work, like a Markdown editor, a Twitter client, and Slack. On my Mac, options are bountiful. But when looking for replacement applications, especially in the Windows Store that houses native apps, pickings were slim. This is understandable for a platform that nobody has really developed native Metro apps for, but still a little shocking. Windows used to be the operating system to develop on, while OS X and Linux were the underdogs. So, I found myself replacing a lot of standalone apps with web apps to avoid shoddy Windows versions of Slack and Tweetdeck. That brings us to Edge, Internet Explorer’s new big sibling.
Edge is fast, responsive, and Windows has optimized it as a work browser.
Microsoft has finally made a solid web browser. Edge is fast, responsive, and Windows has optimized it as a work browser; the integrated annotation tool, that allows you to scribble all over webpages and share them, is an unexpected killer feature. Sure, it crashed the browser the first two times I tried to use it, but when it finally worked, I was impressed. It’s one of those tools that was obviously designed with touchscreen laptops and Microsoft’s Surface in mind. The home screen aggregates news from all the major outlets, and can be customized based on interests. History, downloads, a Reading List a la Apple, and a bookmark bar all slide in from the right, and there’s a handy share button. Extensions aren’t available at launch, and since Flash doesn’t come baked into the software, you’re going to have to wait for all those great features Flash brings, like network vulnerability and bloated load times. It’s tough to replace Google Chrome though, which is already a well-worn ecosystem of my extensions and web accounts. But for someone just starting on a new computer, the first step on Windows isn’t to download another browser anymore.
I would like to interject that I just tried to scroll on my Macbook Pro as if it had a touchscreen. Windows 10 is infectious; the little features like seamless touchscreen support make you feel at home, even with the carousel of hardware it will be installed on. I find myself wanting some of the Windows features on my Macbook, like the Mail app and easy calendar access. The Mail app is tight and sleek, and I like it better than the Mac mail app. I was dubious when it set up my Gmail account as an Outlook account, because I use my Gmail as my Microsoft ID, but once that was sorted out the program was surprisingly easy to use. It’s a stark departure from the Windows 8 Mail application.
The little features like seamless touchscreen support make you feel at home.
Windows 10 is a distinctly different operating system than Windows 8, and it is missing some good things that got thrown out with the bath water. For instance, I liked Windows 8’s application switching. It made sense to me, and worked well with their split-screen feature, especially on my Surface. The new system, which is similar to the Mission Control on a Mac, works decently well, and integrates new desktops for less clutter, but it’s a little clunky. Microsoft actually takes more than one page from Apple’s book. It’s replaced the infamous Charms bar with an Action Center, which is more than welcome: a place for integrations like calendar events and social media notifications, with a slew of buttons to toggle things like Bluetooth and screen brightness. There’s also a button for Tablet mode, which takes you into a confusing, pared-down version of the Metro screen. This brought back the anxiety of the sporadic fullscreen app launches in Windows 8 for a second, but it’s definitely not as bad. Like with most new features of Windows 10, there’s a learning curve, but once that understanding is reached the software it becomes incredibly natural.
Windows 10 feels like coming home to a real Windows operating system after years of being confused and unsure of how to work my own computer. It takes a while to get used to, but certainly not as long as Windows 8. The Metro screen is gone, I can scroll through my applications, and can actually work without worrying about Windows getting in its own way.
But don’t just take my word for it, if you’re already on Windows 7 or 8. The upgrade should be available today, and it’s free, so there are few reasons not to try it out. After all, there’s a way to retreat back to Windows 7.