Exploring Windows 10
I am pleased to report Windows 10 feedback has been overwhelmingly positive!
Customers tell us that Windows 10 feels natural and intuitive on desktops, notebooks, and tablets. Many new features and updates have been mentioned as “Quality of Life” improvements, making it easier to get things done and reducing frustration. Ideas implemented in Windows 8 that didn’t work have been transformed or reverted. The core stability, speed, and compatibility of the operating system is exceptional. Given the relatively few issues reported, and substantial improvements, Windows 10 is the most compelling OS upgrade since XP.
While an overall positive experience, Windows 10 has some rough edges and issues. The upgrade process has a reliable rollback method in place, and a rollback is needed more often than we would like to see. I suggest that if you have not already made the plunge, round up a tech savvy friend if not confident before starting the upgrade process, and ensure you have a backup.
A few unpolished and seemingly incomplete features in Windows 10 detract from the experience, but on a positive note, they also point to a refreshing strategic change at Microsoft. The attitude seems to be: release a core feature when done, then extend and polish that feature with frequent updates. Most importantly, take on board feedback with respect to what works, what doesn’t, and adapt the design to suit what the customer wants. The new Edge browser is a good example of this new approach.
In the spirit of the design philosophy, this article will outline some of the changes worth exploring in Windows 10, and why we think they matter. In later articles I will drill down into some of these new features, but for now, lets just explore.
The Look – User Interface
The user interface in Windows 10 has in many ways reverted to the familiar XP style, but at the same time has progressed beyond the clunky Windows 8 interface. The start button isn’t exactly back, but an evolved version of it is there, incorporating live tiles that can readily and more naturally morph into a tablet friendly style.
There are still clunky aspects and a discontinuity between elements of the interface. The “app style” tablet friendly settings interface still feels out of place and is inconsistently matched with old style interfaces, such as the control panel. It might make more design sense to create a single style where the interface can comfortably morph into a different presentation depending on the screen its displayed on, less information at a time for mobile and small screens, dense control for desktops and large screens. Hopefully improvements will continue in this area.
Tablet mode in Windows 10 has seen major changes and improvements. Part of the “Continuum” technologies introduced in Windows 10, the OS is smart enough to detect the type of device you are running and switch modes, anticipating your needs. In tablet mode, universal and desktop applications run in full screen with task view available to quickly view and switch between open applications. The task bar is visible, but app icons don’t appear there to save accidentally switching apps. Tablet settings let you set your device to switch modes automatically, or stick to one mode only, or even put back you icons on the desktop in tablet mode.
For desktop and tablet mode, the jarring discontinuity of search that was Windows 8 is gone, and replaced by a Windows 7 style text field right on your task bar. Between that and the new Task View button, you may find you feel cramped. You can shrink the search field to an icon or get rid of it and the Task View icon completely. Just right click to change settings, and start using the Windows key and shortcuts. WINKEY alone will let you start typing for search and WINKEY-TAB gives you the Task View (try ALT-TAB if you don’t know that shortcut, also handy).
Cortana – Your PA in Training
I won’t say a lot about Cortana, given she has not been officially released in Australia yet (pretend you are American – region settings). I will say that as a long term change in how we interact with our technology, Cortana is the most exciting new feature in Windows 10, and will see focused, ongoing development. Clippy has grown up!
At the moment Cortana is little better than a fancy search interface that can respond to voice commands, but over the long term, decades, this feature will become the primary interface to your computer. AI systems are a huge areas of R&D at the moment, with Microsoft, IBM, and Google the frontrunners ( I don’t expect Apple and Siri to keep up).
Expect incremental improvements in the intelligence and scope of Cortana to the point you will be able to ask her anything, and to perform advanced tasks for you. The ultimate goal is the Turing test matched with Star Trek computer functionality.
Cortana will be a slow burn, no big deal now, then one day it will be something you can’t live without.
Speech Recognition has been built into Windows for some time now, but I mention it here as I believe Windows 10 is where it will finally gain traction.
If you are in a quiet environment, talking with Cortana, “Hey Cortana, what’s the weather today?”, or writing your blog by microphone, it makes for a pleasant and efficient change over hammering at a keyboard.
Give it a go, search for “Windows Speech Recognition” and you can be playing with it in a couple of minutes, and be ready for when Cortana launches in Australia.
Edge – A MS Web Browser that Doesn’t Suck
Microsoft was caught by surprise at the growth of the Internet and the World Wide Web. They were not involved in early web browser development and rushed to catch up with Internet Explorer.
For a while, IE was competitive and became dominant, but as Microsoft tried to enforce their own web “standards”, they went down a path where IE became increasingly clunky, slow, and vulnerable to malware. They lost the Browser Wars.
Edge is an attempt to regain competitiveness as the new default browser in Windows 10. Microsoft went back to the roots of their browser, stripped out much of the Microsoft centric rubbish and built a much faster, secure, and compatible browser that has more in common with Chrome than with IE.
Features worth looking at include the Reading View where the browser will strip out menus and other distractions, formatting the page to make it easier to read core content. It’s particularly handy for small screens.
The notetaking and sharing feature is particularly innovative. With Edge you can make text comments directly on the page or scribble all over it to highlight interesting parts. The feature integrates well with other apps, allowing you to post your notes via a link directly to Facebook or Twitter.
Cortana is tightly integrated with Edge, and will pop up to provide context when you highlight text and select “Ask Cortana” or when you type search terms directly into Edge’s search bar.
The new features are fun to play with, and quite usable, if needing some polish. More annoyingly, core functions are not complete with serious omissions that make the browser impractical for everyday use. There is no easy way to synchronise your favourites between devices. Plugins and extensions are not available as yet. Options to change basic settings seem not to exist yet, like setting where to download files. Even the behaviour of downloading from a link fails at times, try downloading a song and find it streams instead of saving with no obvious way to change the behaviour. No panic though, IE is still there if you need it, and the core functions to Edge will come.
Edge is fast, with a clean interface, supports all the major open standards, and adds innovative features. It is probably not ideal for most people today, it is just not ready, but I suspect within 12 months it will be a strong option as your primary web browser.
OneDrive – Cloud Storage Revised
OneDrive is Microsoft’s cloud based storage product. You get gigabytes of storage with a free signup (15GB at time of writing plus add to that with freebies), and unlimited capacity if you have an Office 365 subscription. If you have a Microsoft account, you have OneDrive.
OneDrive will create a folder on your computer, and any files or folders you add are automatically uploaded into the cloud. You can access those files through the OneDrive website, and set files to synchronise with your other devices, including apple and android devices.
The process by which files are uploaded “automatically and flat out” is an ongoing gripe for me. You need to take care not to clog up your internet connection by dumping a large number of files in there at once. Limiting the use of your bandwidth is a weak point with OneDrive, to put it generously.
Windows 10 reverts some ideas implemented in Windows 8. The single most incomprehensible change I have noticed is the removal of the “Pause Sync” setting previously available by right clicking the desktop icon. That’s gone and there seem to be no way to stop OneDrive hogging your upload bandwidth short of closing OneDrive. I find it strange that MS would encourage users to shut down a core program when it is integrated with so many other apps.
I have no idea why bandwidth control has been neglected since OneDrive was released. I would start with an algorithm that occasionally tests peak upload then throttles back to say 70% of peak. That by default would avoid slowdown when OneDrive is syncing. A manual setting for a upload speed cap for advanced users would be trivial to add. Finally a simple pause sync option! These are all technically simple solutions and Microsoft seems to have removed the most basic of them.
So what else was reverted? Previously OneDrive would create placeholder files on all your devices which looked like the files they represented, but were only small stubs pretending to be your files. The idea was to have a full representation of your OneDrive content on all devices, even mobile devices with limited space where most files could be kept “offline” and accessed on demand from the cloud. You could set any file or folder to be available always on the local machine, or only as a cloud download. If you wanted to open a file not on the local machine by clicking on a placeholder, it would download from the OneDrive cloud, taking a long time for large files, and then maintain it offline.
It sounded like a good idea, but feedback I received suggested people found it was confusing and inconsistent, and it is gone. Some will miss it, but for me, its a positive change.
Windows 10 also brings back an old feature to OneDrive; you can now use it to retrieve any file on your PC, not just those in the OneDrive folder. This can be handy when on the road and you need a document not stored in OneDrive. The feature is off by default, and you might consider it a minor security risk, so only turn it on if you will actually use it.
New features in Windows 10 include some minor quality of life improvements, for example you can right click a file in explorer and share it with OneDrive, a function where previously you needed to log into the web interface.
OneDrive is tightly integrated with Windows applications. In Windows 10, you might load music files into OneDrive, then stream that music to any other device, including your phone. Windows 10 has a built in app called Groove that can be used to stream or playback. If you have space, you can synchronise some or all of your music to play without an internet connection, otherwise stream from the cloud where you have limited local storage.
OneDrive needs ongoing development, especially flow control. I think we will find that development will come, alongside increasingly useful and tight integration with other applications.
Deep Linking with Groove Music
Windows Apps are strange sort of program. They are something new, something constrained and controlled, very unlike Windows Applications and a bit uncomfortable for those of us used to the usual free range applications. But there are good reasons for this new invention. No Bill, not to force everyone to the Windows Store, but to limit security issues, to share resources in a controlled way, to integrate with Windows and other apps in a way not possible with old school applications, in general to be more civilised in how they behave within their software ecosystem.
But apps are new, and there is plenty of room to improve their architecture. One positive change for Windows 10 apps is the ability to add additional entry points to an app. Instead of needing to open an app, then select and load your content, with Windows 10 Apps you can set a link to content and start the app with the content. It’s a simple change, but it does much to remove some of the clunky feel with apps.
Groove Music is one of the new apps in Windows 10 that takes advantage of deep links. You can now start and play your music right from the start menu. Pin any artist, album, or song within Groove direct to the Start Menu and fire it up with a single click. Easy.
Faster Gaming with DirectX 12
DirectX 12, introduced in Windows 10, will result in a major performance boost for supported games. This new version reduces the overhead incurred when a program uses the Direct3D API, and less wasted processing time means faster games. Think of it as removing the red tape with less overhead in administration, leaving more processing cycles for your 3D frames.
This feature is on a slow burn. To gain advantage from DirectX 12 you need a supporting video card and games that are programmed take advantage of DirectX 12. Most recent graphics cards provide support, at least in part, with the most recent cards providing the best support. Some games supporting DirectX 12 will be released this year, but it will take time for all new games to take full advantage of the API. As developers catch up, Windows 10 will be increasingly essential for gamers (older versions of windows will not support DirectX 12).
Record Gaming Action – Xbox app
I was a little surprised the first time I fired up a game in Windows 10. A small bar appeared telling me to hit WINKEY-G appeared. I duly complied and found a simple video capture device that with one click will let you record in game action. It’s built into the Xbox App and provides basic capture and cropping options. Take a look, its fun to play with.
Streaming Games – Xbox app
The Xbox app also enables you to stream games from your Xbox One to your Windows 10 PC while using your Xbox controller. An August update to the Xbox app added 1080p/60fps game streaming, bringing the quality up to par, as long as you are running on a fast LAN (wired gigabit). Expect Microsoft to keep adding features to this app, and to extend Xbox as a gaming platform, rather than just another console.
Many Apps, Handle It
Sorry, Warcraft reference there, could not resist looking at the handsome troll in the above screenshot!
I enjoy a bit of photography, and one of the most disappointing and useless apps in Windows 8 was their photos app. The new one is much improved. Like most other Windows 10 apps it supports deep linking to facilitate links by content and it scales and flows far better on any size screen. It organises photos by date and while its not very customisable, if you want something to display recent photo shoots on smaller screens or with a live tile, it does the job.
An email application was a standard feature for windows till Windows 7, when it became part of the free download Windows Essentials. That made sense as the usual home POP based email client (where the mail client downloads mail from a server and deletes the mail there) was best suited to using email on a single device.
Windows 8 introduced a basic mail app that just was not up to scratch. It lacked polish and missed basic features.
Windows 10 introduces a major update at Mail, an app still probably at its best on smaller screens, but with considerably more useful features and polish. It even (finally) works with Gmail!
Its worth taking a fresh look at the apps included with Windows 10, especially if you use a small screen.
Tweaks to Windows Explorer include the Quick Access view, on by default, a view that lets you pin important folders for faster access and highlights recently used files and folders. It may be useful for some, but personally I find the always changing recent folders annoying and sometimes confusing.
To change the default view, in Windows Explorer go to View/Options, and change the drop down entry to “This PC”. On the same tab under Privacy you can either/or untick the option to show recently used files and folders.
Command Prompt – Be Saddened and Rejoice!
If you know how to tweak your autoexe.bat, config.sys, and himem.sys, then prepare to feel a little nostalgic for things past.
Long before Windows was a glint in Bill Gates eye, the Command Console was the window into our computer. Decades later, the Command Prompt in Windows 8 is still a useful tool and largely familiar to our younger selves of the late 80s and early 90s. It has been stuck in time, aging like an old pair of shoes, but shoes that never quite fit.
Well, times pass, the Uber Power Shell has been encroaching on our little black boxes territory and I expected it to slowly fade away. But lo and behold, Windows 10 overhauls the mighty Command Prompt.
Common keyboard shortcuts for Copy, Cut, and Paste now work, line wrap works, and may other improvements and customisation options have been introduced. I won’t spoil the revelations for use old school crowd, take a look under Properties and be amazed.
Microsoft Family -Parental Controls
I encourage parents to set up a separate login for their kids for security reasons. Yes, it’s a hassle, but taking away administrator rights and keeping their interface away from the adults has major benefits. There is more information about this idea in my article: Why are you Logging in as God?
Furthering the idea of a separate account is a new parental control system labelled Microsoft family. It requires the kids to login with a Microsoft account and since that account can be shared across devices, the account settings and interface become global. The kids take the account and settings with them no matter which PC, notebook, or tablet they may log into. It also allows for central web administration for parents. Once enabled, parents can set up reporting, web site, app, and game blocking, and limit screen time.
Learn to Use Keyboard Shortcuts
I am lazy with learning new keyboard shortcuts. They can save you a lot of time, and I am forever regretting not learning the old ones, and then a new batch appear.
Windows 10 is no different, new shortcuts most of us will never use but should. Try WINKEY-TAB (you are already using ALT-TAB aren’t you?) . Take a look at: Keyboard Shortcuts from Microsoft
Print to PDF
Windows 10 includes a “Microsoft Print to PDF” device. It’s a positive change in attitude where Microsoft are less inclined to force their own technology on users where there is a clear better standard (XPS document, anyone?).
A quality of life improvement that’s long overdue.
This could be a biggie in the long term. Available in a much more restricted form in Windows 8 Enterprise, sideloading apps lets you bypass the Windows Store when sourcing modern apps. Its not being encouraged outside corporates, and it’s a function well hidden by language, but an interesting move.
This capacity breaks from the Android and Apple model of forcing all published apps through their respective stores and is aimed at Corporates who want to build in house apps. The change in Windows 10 not only makes it easier for those Corporates, but also allows the possibility of developers publishing without the need to immediately go through the windows store. That’s lowers a barrier to entry where in some cases it may be more viable to develop a basic app and see how it goes, to later polish and go through the formal Windows Store process if it looks promising.
Disk Cleanup Tool
If you have upgraded from Windows 7 or 8, the Windows 10 installer will keep your old windows available in case you need to roll back. If you have been using Windows 10 for a while and are confident you won’t need to roll back, it’s a good idea to free up space and reduce backup sizes by removing those old files.
Run the Disk Cleanup and pick your OS drive (C: normally), let its do its thing, scroll down and select the checkboxes to remove Previous Windows Installations and Temporary Windows installation files. Done
This article has barely scratched the surface of the new features and changes in Windows 10. Along with major new features, changes this time are subtle and comfortable compared to the traumatic, slam in the face impact that was Windows 8. Take a look through the new apps, dig through settings, and find the changes that interest you. There is a lot there that will get get you closer to the information, people, and processes you need to get the most out of your computing experience.