If you want to upgrade your current PC, check out Windows 10 upgrade guide for how to get the OS for free.
Windows 10 Design
Windows 10 has a new design, but most of it isn’t brand new. It borrows heavily from the flat design ethos we’ve seen in serval operating systems now including Windows 8 and 8.1. Windows 10 flows better than Windows 8 thanks mainly to the removal of interface elements like the Charms (the things you used to swipe or mouse in from the right to get to).
The main interface element is the new Start menu, but there’s a mobile-style Action Centre where notifications are gathered and where you can turn key elements on and off, such as Wi-Fi, Location settings and so on. This works well, as the Centre is there when you need it and unobtrusive if you don’t.
Windows 10 Features
Also in the Action Centre is a feature called Tablet Mode. This can be initiated manually, but is designed to be automatic for 2 in 1 PCs when you detach the keyboard. The desktop becomes more touch-friendly and the Start menu goes full screen. App switching has also been given an overhaul, with a new Task View feature that also enables you to have virtual desktops so you can, say, have one for work and another for your personal apps.
- Check out our full Windows 10 features guide.
There’s also a new browser, called Microsoft Edge. It is lightning quick, but currently lacks some of the features so useful in Chrome and Firefox like extensions. It is already good enough to be used day-to-day.
The Cortana virtual assistant is also integrated into Windows 10, though you have to manually enable it and you don’t have to use it. It does get better as it learns your likes and dislikes and presents you with decent information even if you don’t talk to it. Talking to our PC is still something we’re not sure about.
The integrated apps have also undergone a complete overhaul. They’re now called Universal apps and are designed to work across Windows 10 desktops, laptops, new Windows 10 phones and even the Xbox One when it gets a forthcoming update. There is also a new Video and TV app, plus Xbox Music is now Groove Music.
Windows 10 apps now show on the desktop rather than in a separate environment as with Windows 8. But the jury is still out on them; Microsoft hopes it can encourage developers by making it easy for them to port apps from iOS and Android to Windows, but that’s no guarantee that they actually will.
Both Universal and desktop apps can now be downloaded from the Windows Store.
Xbox gamers will also love Windows 10. As well as a revamped, integrated, Xbox app there will be the ability to stream games from your console to your desktop (or Windows tablet).
Windows 10 will form the basis of the Xbox One's next major software update.
Windows 10 Performance
Windows 10 is very quick on every PC we’ve used. Basic navigation of menus and functions like file copying don’t cause a problem. Performance benchmarks put the Edge browser ahead of Firefox and Chrome, though expect both to bounce back. Task View makes app switching fast, with multiple desktops adding virtually no slowdown in performance.
Graphically, gaming platform DirectX 12 is also coming with Windows 10. Game developers will also be able to significantly push the limits of what’s possible.
The performance of the integrated search is a big bonus. We love the new Search that finds basically anything including files, folders, settings and apps (yes, we know Spotlight in OS X has been able to do that for ages). It will also offer to do web searches for you if that’s what you want. And it’ll use your default browser to do it.
Windows 10 Usability
Windows 10 is clever because it will be a shallow learning curve for those used to Windows 7 yet can be fully customised for Windows power users.
Despite appearances, the new Start menu does everything the Windows 7 equivalent did and more. The familiarity should ensure that almost anybody can pick up Windows 10 and get going straight away. Although Microsoft tried to claim this was the case with Windows 8, it was plain wrong.
The new Settings app is a worthy replacement for the Control Panel (which is still there in the background), and it’s testament to the strength of the new app that we’ve hardly seen the Control Panel in the nine months we’ve been using the early development version of Windows 10.
The new Action Centre could be a little more visible to the user, but clearly the decision has been taken that it’s there if you need it but otherwise it should be as unobtrusive as possible.
The ability to snap Windows to the side of your desktop (Aero Snap) is a feature that we first saw in Windows 7, but it gets powered up in Windows 10 with the ability to do a four-way snap. This isn’t useful for a laptop monitor, but if you’ve got a 28 or 32-inch display it will be awesome.
Windows 10 is a triumph, but it’s not without a few question marks. While it seems strange to question an OS that’s as dominant as Windows, it has a weakness in terms of mobile. Microsoft is unifying the app store and wants to make Windows 10 a Windows for every device, but it is so far behind in the mobile market as to be non-existent. App developers also need to get more on board with the Windows Store, though we wouldn’t bet against Microsoft making this happen.
As an operating system for getting things done though, Windows can’t be beaten. Apple’s OS X is brilliant, but the sheer variety of devices that will run Windows 10 reveals that support from manufacturers is second to none. We’ll see some terrific new Windows ultraportables and tablets over the next few months, too as well as the new version of Apple's rival in the form of OS X El Capitan – we can’t wait.
Liked this? Why not check out T3 Opinion: Windows 10 corrects Microsoft's stupid mistakes of the past