Windows 10: Our first impressions

The most eagerly awaited new version of Windows since – well, since the last new version of Windows – has finally arrived. Windows 10 starts rolling out to consumers from today and it’s a free upgrade for users of Windows 7 and Windows 8. So, what’s it like and has it been worth the wait? Here are our first impressions.

Getting started

There are four main versions of Windows 10, Home, Pro, Enterprise and Mobile. The differences have been well documented elsewhere so we’ll skip the detail here, but most people will encounter the Home or Pro versions. This review is based on Windows 10 Home.

If you don’t want to wait for Microsoft to offer the upgrade to your Windows 8 or Windows 7 machine you can download and create install media from the Microsoft site. This allows you to do an in-place upgrade or make a flash drive or DVD for another machine. You’ll need your original licence key for a corresponding version – Windows 7 Home Premium for Windows 10 Home for example.

The setup is straightforward, you have the ability to set up a PIN to log in rather than using a password. If you’ve been used to Windows 7 you’ll notice that boot times are faster, we installed the 32bit version on a five year old laptop and the improvement in performance is impressive. There’s not a noticeable difference compared to Windows 8 though.

What’s different?

So, you’ve installed the software and booted for the first time. The first thing you’ll notice is that Windows 8’s split personality is gone. No longer are you presented with tiled Start screen before the desktop. You can still get it if you want it, which makes sense for tablet and touchscreen users. Unlike in Windows 8 you can use apps from the desktop. The snap feature has changed too, rather than a snapped application taking up half the screen you can now have four apps open together, acknowledging today’s larger screens.

W10 desktop

Windows 10 Desktop

For those still mourning the loss of the Start menu after Windows 7 there’s good news, it’s back, albeit in a slightly different form. On the left you get your most used programs, File explorer, Settings and an All apps view. There are echoes of Windows 8 on the right with live tiles to give easy access to a range of programs apps. The Windows 8 Charms bar on the right-hand edge of the screen is no more.

Rather than being on the Start menu the Search box is now placed on the taskbar where it’s easy to access, and it integrates with the Cortana personal assistant – more of which later. Click the icon to the right of the Search box and you’ll see the Task View, which shows you all of the programs you have open in a tiled format.

Automatic updates will be forced on Home users. Whilst this is a positive in terms of making certain that people stay secure, it’s likely to be a problem when faulty updates appear – this has already happened to pre-release users with a rogue Nvidia driver crashing some systems.

If you had a Media Center version of Windows you’ll find this is no longer part of Windows 10. You do get apps named Music and Movies & TV which take the place of Media Center and the old Windows Media Player. These integrate with any media you have stored on One Drive and with the Microsoft store.

What’s new?

Windows 10 has a feature that’s been present in operating systems like Linux for years but has until now been denied to Windows users. That’s the ability to create multiple virtual desktops. You can switch between them using Ctrl+Win+left arrow or Ctrl+Win+right arrow.

There are several new pieces of software that come bundled with Windows 10. There’s the Edge web browser which is designed to have a minimal interface in order to give maximum screen space to web pages. It also has an annotation feature that lets you highlight and crop part of a page and add notes then send it to someone else.

W10 Edge

Edge web browser on Windows 10

The Cortana personal assistant you’ll be familiar with if you’ve used Windows on a smartphone, or if you’ve seen those annoying TV adverts. The first time you click the Search box you’ll have the option to activate Cortana. It can be used via typing or using voice commands. As well as searching you can use Cortana to set reminders and alarms, show news stories, identify what music is playing and more. It would be easy to dismiss Cortana as a gimmick but you’ll quickly find yourself coming to rely on it.

W10 Cortana

Cortana on Windows 10

You also get OneNote which has been around as an option for a while but many people may not be familiar with. It’s a clever tool that lets you make notes combining text, images, maps and more.

If you have several devices running Windows 10 there’s tight integration between them which means you can, for example, set a reminder on one machine and pick it up on another PC or your phone.

Verdict

Windows 10 combines a look and feel that will be familiar to Windows 7 users with some of the best bits of Windows 8 – like live tiles – implemented in a neater way. Add in some cool new features like Cortana and the fact that it’s a free upgrade, and unless you’re particularly wedded to Media Centre or some other feature of an older version it makes sense to upgrade.

Pros

  • Virtual desktops
  • Easy to access Search box
  • Run tile apps from the desktop

Cons

  • Forced updates for Home users
  • No Media Center