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Issue #422: August 23–29, 2015

Last week I promised to give my perspective on Windows 10, and discuss some of its new features.  So, if you haven’t pulled the trigger and installed this free upgrade yet, this issue may be of particular interest to you.

Let me first say that Windows is back!  What I mean is that Win 10 is a version of Windows that I can appreciate, and even like.  It is what many of you who got lost in the quagmire of Win 8/8.1 have been waiting for.  I’m not sure why it took Microsoft so long to get so much right, but I couldn’t be more pleased if they continued support for Win XP!  Often times when reading other geeks’ reviews of a new version of Windows the takeaway is, at best, cautious optimism, and at worst, somewhere between “Eeew” and “Stinkeroo”.  Not this time.  There seems to be a general consensus that Microsoft finally got it right.  Let’s look at a few highlights.

The overall feel of the interface is much darker than previous versions of Windows.  That’s only because Microsoft chose a black default theme instead of one with bright colors and vivid, contrasting hues.  You are, of course, free to change it to anything you like.  Many of the visual effects that people liked in the Win 7 Aero interface are back in Win 10.  Those horrid Windows 8 hot-corners that caused stuff to cover your work with every errant mouse movement are blessedly gone, and a new feature called the Action Center serves the dual purpose of providing a central location for alerts from running applications and providing quick access to system settings.

Love it or hate it, the Start menu has returned to its rightful place on the Win 10 taskbar.  Despite all the criticisms of it in earlier versions of Windows, there was quite a bit of complaining when it was removed in Windows 8.  A spate of 3rd-party utilities to put it back soon followed, but they are unnecessary with Windows 10, as Start is back on the left side of the task bar.  That means that Win 10 also boots to the actual desktop, rather than a confusing morass of tiles.  Microsoft has attempted to strike a balance between the former text-only Start menu, and the graphic-intensive Live Tiles of Win 8.  What you’ll find in Win 10 is a hybrid of the two, with the Live Tiles now incorporated right into the menu, rather than commanding the entire screen.  All the typical features you remember are also tucked inside: application launch, the hibernate/restart/shutdown group, Settings etc.  It’s all customizable; with the ability to pin frequently used items to the menu, super-handy jump lists that can quickly take you to the most recently used files of your favorite applications and more.

Then there’s Win 10’s new web browser.  Rather than call this new Microsoft-authored web browser “IE 12” they re-branded it as “Edge”.  I’m sure this was intended to evoke an image of something on the bleeding forefront of technology, and someone in marketing probably got paid big bucks for that, but on the surface (no pun intended) this newest browser seems to have little more to offer than Microsoft’s previous browsers.  The interface is simple and clean, as you might expect a streamlined version of IE to be, and page loading is reasonably fast, but to a point, it runs much like a re-packaged IE 11, and there remain some compatibility issues to be resolved.  For those occasions, Internet Explorer is still on board, and accessible.  There are two real claims to fame for Edge, and they are the ability for you to mark-up websites and then share them with co-workers or friends (although the actual usefulness of this capability has yet to be proven to this Geek), and the integration of Microsoft’s intelligent assistant, Cortana.

Having a live-in assistant in your desktop or laptop is just a natural extension of the way most of us have become conditioned in our use of handheld devices such as smartphones and tablets.  If you’re not familiar with assistants such as Cortana and Apple’s Siri, you’re in for a nice experience.  Cortana doesn’t just live in the Edge browser, but in the operating system itself, and feels rather like an extension of the Start menu.  Like Apple’s Siri, you can ask her questions, and she will serve-up answers she finds online.  She is context-aware as you perform web searches, and you can even enable an option that allows you to simply say “Hey Cortana” to activate her.  Like Siri, Cortana’s power lies in the cloud, but unlike Siri, Cortana is not chained to a single device.  She keeps everything she learns about you in an editable, virtual notebook (so you can trim-out stuff you don’t want her to remember).  You can download a Cortana app for Android (and in the future, for Apple’s IOS) and get the same features to-go.

There’s a lot more to this new version of Windows than I can possibly hope to put in my little column.  Hopefully you’ll go and get your copy, and enjoy all that this new version has to offer.  You can bet I’ll be doing the same, and doing my best to get ready when the Win 10 questions start rolling in the door!


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