Review About Microsoft Window 10
Intuitive and responsive. Fast startup. Rich software and device ecosystem. Familiar interface with Start menu. Biometric login with Windows Hello. Fast, compatible Edge browser. Improved gaming features. Improved security features.
Separate Settings app and Control Panel. Lacks video editing app. Skype integration doesn’t match up to Mac’s Continuity. Windows 10 Mobile not widely used.
Windows 10’s Anniversary Update delivers a host of new technology that makes interacting with your PC more natural than ever. The interface, security, Edge Web browser, and more have improved to the point that Windows 10 is worthy of our Editors’ Choice award.
Windows 10 has been a far greater success than its ill-fated predecessor, Windows 8. In just a year, Windows 10 has attained a 20 percent desktop operating system share, with more than 350 million copies installed, and a faster adoption rate than any previous version of Windows.
The company also tells us that Windows 10 has a higher satisfaction level than any previous version. Contributing to that satisfaction, according to Microsoft, are more than 75 million feedback points from preview testers, which has resulted in over 5,000 new features in Anniversary Update. We can’t cover them all in even a review as long as this one, but we’ll hit the high points.
Following user feedback, Microsoft decided to reinstate the Start Menu in Windows 10. Now, it seems Solitaire is being brought back to life too. You can play familiar freecell green felt with Windows 10 free.
How to Get Windows 10 Anniversary Update
The Windows 10 Anniversary Update is available to most users in just two editions: Home and Pro (with 32-bit and 64-bit options for each), but all of the major features appear in both version. Pro adds business-y things like network domain joining, Hyper-V virtualization, group policy management, and BitLocker encryption. That last one may be of interest to security-conscious personal users, too. Unsurprisingly, if you upgrade from Home levels of Windows 7 or 8, you get Windows 10 Home, and if you update from the professional versions of 7 or 8, you get Pro.
There are, of course, other editions of Windows 10 for special use cases: Enterprise is still an option for large organizations that want bulk licensing deals. Anniversary Update also introduces two new Education versions for K-12 institutions: Windows 10 Pro Educationand Windows 10 Education (which don’t include Cortana for now). And let’s not forget the lightweight edition that powers Internet-of-things devices and the Raspberry Pi: Windows 10 IoT Core.
If you never took advantage of the free upgrade, you can get the software via download or on USB sticks for the same prices as previous Windows versions; that is, $119.99 list for Home and $199.99 for Pro. Your data and programs come along for the ride when you update from previous versions, though it’s always a good idea to back up before an OS upgrade.
Windows 10’s minimum system requirements are surprisingly low: a 1GHz processor, 1GB of RAM, and 16GB of hard drive space. The 64-bit version of Windows 10 increases the RAM requirement to 2GB and the disk space to 20GB. You’ll also need a DirectX 9-capable graphics card and a display with at least 800-by-600 resolution. You can find out whether your system is up to snuff by reading Can My PC Run Windows 10?
Windows 10 Anniversary Update presents almost no learning curve for longtime Windows users, while managing to incorporate many of the advances of Windows 8—faster startup, tablet capability, better notifications, and an app store. Its windowing prowess remains unmatched, letting you easily show the desktop and snap windows to the sides and corner quadrants of the screen. The newest Windows still runs the vast majority of the millions of Windows programs in the wild. Yes, that means it still uses the much-derided Registry to maintain configuration settings, but on today’s fast hardware that no longer presents issues. (Microsoft recommends against using any third-party registry-optimizing software for Windows 10.)
When setting up a Windows 10 account, unlike with Mac OS X, which requires an Apple account, you can log in to a local account, without the need for a Microsoft account, but you’ll lose many of the OS’s best features if you do so. A lot of critics have nevertheless called out Microsoft for harvesting usage data by default, so if you’re the paranoid type, you shouldn’t set up the PC using Express Settings, which enable anonymous usage data collection. For details, read Windows 10: How to Protect Your Privacy.
Aside from the improvements to headliner features like Cortana, Hello, and Ink, the Anniversary Update makes some more subtle but useful improvements to the desktop interface. For example, the Start menu has been updated: Now it shows the All Apps list without a second button press, and it also shows most used and newly installed apps. I’ve often found clicking the date in the Taskbar useful, since it pops up a calendar; now you can also see your appointments in that view.
Live tiles have also been updated in a way that makes more sense than before. Now, when you click on a live tile, you’ll go to the content highlighted there, rather than just to the app. For example, you’ll go directly to the news story or the email or the photo showing on the live tile.
The Windows Store also gets another redesign, this time with features designed to appeal to gamers in particular. It’s aligned more closely with the Xbox Store, and now offers game bundles and subscriptions. For everyone else, the new design does make it a bit easier to get to the top apps, music, and movies. The Store’s download progress indicator is now bigger and clearer, too. One other tweak is that the Action Center (see below) icon now is all the way at the right of the Taskbar, making it easier reach. And one final new interface option, Dark mode, shows apps with black window backgrounds, which can be gentler on the eyes—as well as just looking cool.
Another interface feature I’ve really started to cherish is File Explorer’s Quick Access section. This lets you easily find whatever file you were last working on in whatever application you were using. So if you edit an image and want to add it to another app, it’s right at the top of the Quick Access list; you never have to remember where you just saved a file to find it.
Overlap between the Settings App and Control Panel still remains an interface legacy of Windows 8, but really, it’s no longer such an issue. For simple system settings, you use the Settings app, for deep, technical system options, you go to the Control Panel.
New Cortana Tricks
Cortana, Windows’ voice responsive AI digital assistant, may be Windows 10’s highest-profile feature. The intelligent voice assistant predates Apple’s Siri on the Mac by over a year. The Windows Anniversary Update bestows some interesting new capabilities on the feature. I should note that you can no longer completely disable Cortana in the Update, but you can prevent her from accessing your location, email, contacts, and browsing history, and communications. You can also turn off her listening for “Hey Cortana.” Cortana is, however, the search function in the OS, but you can hide the search bar if you never want to use it.
You can now use Cortana from the lock screen. This is useful for things like playing a particular music playlist, asking about today’s weather, or asking for information. Speaking of music, the Cortana panel now has a musical note button that serves a Shazam-like function to identify songs in range of your PC’s mic. Intel also has new wake-on-voice technology that means you could say “Hey Cortana!” and have the PC respond even if it’s in sleep mode. It’s sort of like an Amazon Echo, without needing a separate device.
Cortana Notebook, where you specify your interests so that you’ll be notified about what matters to you, has added a few more categories, including On the Go, which pops up suggestions for when you arrive at work or home. Unlike Siri or Google Now, with Cortana, you specify exactly what the assistant knows about you—interests, important people, locations—and you choose whether to have her respond to your spoken “Hey Cortana,” or whether you want to use the feature at all.
One improvement to Cortana Reminders is the removal of the Place, Person, or Time requirement: Sometimes you just want to be reminded of something without having to specify any of those. With the previous version, I sometimes tried to set a reminder but gave up because I didn’t have a time or place in mind. This simple tweak makes the tool a whole lot more useful.
Cortana Reminders is now a share target; when you hit the share button in a Universal Windows App (UWA), you can set a reminder that’s richer than before. For example, if you’re in the Edge Web browser, you can hit the Share button, choose Cortana Reminders, and attach the site URL to the reminder. If you do this from thePhotos app, the picture is included in the reminder.
Cortana in Windows 10 now interacts more tightly with Cortana apps on other devices, such as Android phones and iPhones. You can enable notifications from the phone, including things like low-battery warnings, to show up on Cortana on Windows. You also see messages from WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, and SMS from the phone. With all of these improvements, Windows 10 is edging towards the tight integration between mobile and desktop that you find in Mac OS X, though it still doesn’t let you reply, except to Skype messages.
The integration also works more fully with Android devices than with iOS devices, since the latter restrict access to some system capabilities. Of course, it works best with phones running Windows 10 Mobile, but while they’re still available, even with new models like theAcer Liquid Jade Primo coming out, the platform has failed to make significant inroads into the smartphone market.
Touch and pen input support is a major differentiator between Windows 10 and Apple’s Mac OS X. Apple sticks with Steve Job’s edict that touch screens don’t make sense on laptops and desktops. But a touch screen is the most intuitive interface type possible. You see something you want to interact with, such as a button, you press it with your finger. In using PCs with touch screens for the past year or so, I’ve gotten to the point of trying to tap my old, work-issued ThinkPad’s screen out of habit from using a Surface Pro 4$1,032.27 at Amazon and an Asus Zen AiO Pro Z240IC$1,449.99 at Best Buy all-in-one PC.
Microsoft is touting Windows’ digital ink capabilities for this release, which allows stylus input to work just like a pen or pencil, converting it to text. This is a technologically cool feature, but it will only be of interest to owners of tablets and convertibles like the Surface Pro 4, the Surface Book or the Lenovo IdeaPad Miix 700.$496.21 at Amazon The new Windows Ink Workspace offers sticky notes (with extra smarts), sketchpad, and screen-sketch options, as well as showing recent apps you’ve penned in and suggesting pen-friendly apps in the Store. You can turn off the feature’s icon if you don’t expect to use it.
This new Ink Workspace can be summoned by clicking a stylus button. You can also take advantage of some Cortana smarts in the new sticky notes. For example, if you write “Wednesday,” the text is turned to a blue link, and clicking this gives you the option to set a Cortana reminder. I actually had better luck getting Cortana to notice flight information when I typed it in the note, rather than penning it, however. Info on flight status for such notes appears at the bottom of the sticky.
Sketchpad offers ballpoint pen, pencil, highlighter, eraser, ruler, and touch writing tools. Sketchpad resembles the whiteboard app on the Surface Hub. It also lets you crop the image, copy it, and share it to any Universal Windows app in the share sidebar. A ruler tool lets you draw perfectly straight lines, and even includes a compass. Double-clicking the pen button or choosing Screen sketch from the Ink Workspace snaps a screenshot of your desktop and opens it in Sketchpad so you can annotate and draw on top of it with any of the aforementioned tools.
One of the coolest inking capabilities is the pen keyboard. You switch to this mode from the standard on-screen keyboard. Start writing on the line there, and text predictions show up. Hit enter, and your writing turns into text in whatever text area you’re writing in. It does surprisingly well with even poor penmanship, and striking through your writing deletes it easily.
Edge Web Browser Gets More Capable
The Edge Web browser that comes with Windows 10 is fast and compatible, and it offers unique tools like Web Notes that let you mark up and share webpages, a clean (ad-free) Reading view, and built-in Cortana information. Until now, however, it has lacked a feature that power users insist on: Extensions.
After downloading the LastPass extension in the store, I hit the Launch button on its store page, and then saw a message in the top-right corner of the browser notifying me that a new extension was available and offering to turn it on. I then had to log in to my LastPass account on a webpage. (I also use Duo Mobile for two-factor authentication, which I allowed from my iPhone).
Unlike most browsers’ extensions, Edge’s appear in the overflow menu rather than next to the address bar. The LastPass extension worked fine with this setup, but I do prefer having the icon in the toolbar, saving me two clicks. LastPass’s on-page features, such as automatic password fill-in, also worked well via the extension.
Edge now gets 460 out of a possible 555 points in my testing on the HTML5Test.com site, making it highly compatible with modern Web standards. It’s actually ahead of Firefox, which gets a 456, though Chrome still leads with 492. The update further reduces Edge’s battery drain on portable PCs and tablets, too, doing things like turning on Flash only when the user requests it. I also did a quick speed test using the JetStream benchmark on a Surface Bookwith an Intel Core i5 and 8GB RAM. The benchmark runs three times through a bank of 38 tests. Bigger scores are better. Firefox got a score of 142, Chrome achieved 168, and Edge came in at 196. That’s not so surprising: Earlier Edge versions even beat Chrome on Google’s own Octane benchmark.
Tablet and touchscreen users will like Edge’s new swipe gestures, which let you go back and forth in history, and desktop users will appreciate that the back button now drops down tab history, as most browsers do. I also appreciate that Edge, like other browsers, now offers a Paste-and-go option and the ability to pin tabs. Unfortunately, there’s still no full-screen browser view and you can’t set an image as your desktop background from the browser. I’ll publishing a full new review of Microsoft Edge soon.
Windows Hello and Improved Security
Another focus of the Anniversary Update is security, and Windows Hello biometric authentication. Hello is not only supported on Surface Pros and Books, but you can also use third-party biometric login devices, such as the Eidon Mini fingerprint reader and Intel’s RealSense cameras. Coming for Hello is the ability to log in simply through proximity with aMicrosoft Band 2 health monitor/smartwatch wearable.
And on the software side, Windows Universal Apps and websites you browse in Edge can also use Hello for authentication, similar to identifying yourself on an iPhone or Apple Watch with Apple’s TouchID. Apps that support Hello now include Dropbox and iHeartRadio.
In more security news, the included anti-malware software, Windows Defender, adds the ability to schedule regular system scans and new notifications about threats. Enterprise security feature adds include two major new features: Windows Defender Advanced Threat Protection, which detects and resolves advanced network threats; and Windows Information Protection, which isolates corporate data from personal data on work PCs. Though our security expert, Neil Rubenking, found the pre-Anniversary version of Defender showed some improved scores on independent lab tests, it still trailed most third-party antivirus. We’ll report on the latest version as soon as Neil and the independent labs he works with have had a chance to consider it.
A Windows 10 feature with roots in mobile operating systems is the Action Center. While previous versions of Windows included something also called Action Center, the new feature is more like a smartphone’s notifications plus quick action features. In fact, that’s exactly what it is. Windows 8 had notifications, but they were ephemeral—if you missed one, whether it was a Facebook message or a severe weather alert, it was gone after a brief appearance.
The Windows 10 Action Center, similar toApple OS X El Capitan’s Notification Center, keeps those messages available in a right-side panel. You open Windows 10’s Action Center panel from a taskbar button, or on touchscreens with a swipe in from the right edge of the screen. The panel also offers frequently needed functions like power, settings, networking, and screen brightness and rotation. One of these actions, Connect, is pretty neat, in that it lets you project your screen onto another one on your network. I was able to display my Surface Pro 3’s screen on a big Samsung TV with no setup aside from choosing OK on the TV—pretty nifty.
Store and Universal Windows Apps
If you never upgraded to Windows 8 or 8.1, you don’t know what it is to have an app store on your PC desktop. Why do you need an app store on your PC? Mac users have had one for several years, and it offers the advantages of automatic updating and a single source for finding programs you need. It gives you access on all your PCs (and Windows Phones) to apps you’ve bought. Acceptance to the Windows Store also means it’s been vetted by Microsoft for security. You can also install apps to external memory—something tablet users will appreciate.
For Windows 10, there are even more advantages for these modern apps: They can tie in with the notifications and share panels. For example, if you use the Facebook app rather than going to the Facebook website, you can see notifications for new messages and you can send shareable content via the app.
Windows 10 Store apps are called Universal Windows apps, meaning they can run on desktops, tablets, phones, the Surface Hub, and eventually on the Xbox and Microsoft HoloLens reality-augmentation 3D headset. Underneath these apps is Windows 10’s OneCore platform, a common base that underlies all these device types and allows not only apps, but also device drivers to work with them. UWAs have one more benefit: They run within containers so that they don’t mess with the rest of your system. One recent addition to the Universal Windows app club is the Viber communication app.
Continuum and Tablet Mode
Continuum refers to switching among desktop, smartphone, and tablet modes. The idea is that the single OS can automatically reformat itself to work best with the form factor at hand. It’s most impressive on smartphones, where Continuum lets you use the small handheld device to power a large screen along with a mouse and keyboard, for a desktop-like experience. That’s been the idea of the future for several years: A world in which your only computer fits in your pocket.
You can either use the Microsoft Display Dock for this or connect over Wi-Fi using a Miracast-supporting HDTV or set-top box. It’s brilliantly done, and pretty impressive when you first see it. The phone turns into a trackpad and keyboard when needed, yet you can still use it as a phone while it’s displaying Windows on the big screen. One drawback: Continuum only allows the phone to display one full-size modern Store app (including Office apps) at a time. Another issue is that it only works with the latest Windows Phone models, such as theLumia 950.
For Anniversary Update, Tablet mode is no longer considered a Continuum feature, but is simply referred to as Tablet mode. This is a trimmed down, more touch-friendly version of the OS, with a full-screen tile-based Start screen. After you pull off the keyboard from a tablet, such as the Surface Pro 4, or convert a convertible laptop to tablet mode (often by bending the screen backwards), Windows pops up a message asking if you want to switch to Tablet mode, in which the Start menu and modern apps become full screen. Touch gestures like closing an app by swiping down from the top of the screen work in this mode. For Anniversary, the All Apps view stretches across the screen with large tiles, making it easier to get to any app on the PC.
Continuum and tablet mode should not be confused with Apple’s Continuity, which is all about switching from one device to another while continuing an activity, whether that be SMS texting or editing a document. Windows 10 actually does have an option for using Bluetooth to continue app experiences from one device to another, however.
Included Apps—Office Mobile, Mail, Calendar, Photos
You get a surprisingly full kit of apps with Windows 10. Not only do you get the modern information apps that came with Windows 8—Maps, Money, News, Sports, Food & Drink, Health & Fitness, and so on—but you also can get Microsoft Office from the Windows app store. You heard that right, but there’s a catch: Unless you have an Office 365 subscription, you can only read, not edit, documents with these productivity apps.
The version of Office you get with Windows 10 is equivalent to the iPad version of Office, called Office Mobile. It’s capable of most word processing, spreadsheet, and presentation needs, but pros who need to dig into Excel pivot tables and Word advanced formatting will want the Office 365 version. The included Mail app (which is called Outlook on the mobile version of Windows 10) is also perfectly functional, but misses some of the niceties in the Office 365 desktop version.
In addition to the Office apps, you get the new Groove Music app, which you can use either to simply play music sitting on your hard drive or in your OneDrive cloud storage or with its paid ($9.99 per month) ad-free, on-demand streaming service. The latter offers a huge library, though it has limitations compared with the Mac’s iTunes and Apple Music. Another included app is Movies & TV, which also offers a content store as well as the ability to play your own videos.
You still get lots of utility-type apps, too, including a scanner app, alarms, a calendar, a calculator, a camera, a reader (for viewing PDFs and several other document formats), and a voice recorder. There’s even a Phone Companion app that works with iOS and Android mobiles as well as with Windows phones.
Of special note is the updated Photos app, which lets you organize your photos into albums, apply fixes like red-eye correction, lighting, and color, and effects like selective focus and Instagram-like filters. The app can even create automatic galleries for you based on photos taken at a similar time and place, picking the best of similar photos to include. But again, at this point in its evolution, it still slightly trails the Mac OS X counterpart, Photos, which adds face recognition. And an entry-level video-editing app like the old Windows Movie Maker or Apple’s iMovie is completely AWOL from Windows 10.
OneDrive and Skype
Microsoft’s two cloud services—OneDrive for online storage and syncing, and Skype for communication—will play an increasingly important role in Windows 10. There’s an important distinction between these and Apple’s analogous iCloud for Mac OS X: They can be used on any platform. So there are Skype and OneDrive apps for Macs, Androids, and iOS devices, as well as for PCs and Windows phones.
While OneDrive does a great job syncing Office documents and personalization settings, and Skype is a very rich communication tool, there’s still some work for Microsoft to do in integrating them with Windows 10—work that I have no doubt will happen over the next few months. For example, when using the Photos app, you can tap the Share icon to send selected images to Mail, Facebook, Twitter, or any other app that accepts sharing of that file type—but not to OneDrive.
Skype integration in Windows 10 is also somewhat in flux. In fact, the service’s UWA is still called Skype Preview. Windows has the potential for parity to OS X’s Messaging and Facetime apps, but it’s not there yet. The Action Center now shows Skype messages, but still not missed calls. You can now directly reply to messages inside the panel just as on the Mac. The Mac solution here is still more seamless, but Windows 10 is getting closer. Also keep in mind that Skype is a full, standalone VoIP solution that can call standard phones, while the Mac is just hooking into the iPhone’s mobile connection. And like OneDrive, Skype works on all major platforms, not just one.
Microsoft continues to make the Window 10 proposition sweeter for gamers. The Xbox app for Windows 10 not only lets them see an activity feed, but it also includes game DVR and can even stream games from an Xbox One$244.50 at Amazon to the PC. PCMag’s game maven Jeff Wilson has taken a good look at Windows 10’s Xbox gaming app. While he found that game streaming and the DVR feature worked well, he was less impressed with the game selection—it can’t compete with Steam’s. He was also disappointed that you can’t buy games right from the app, but instead have to switch to the Windows Store app. He also found the interface somewhat cluttered.
On the plus side, the Xbox and Windows 10 Stores have been unified, and the Play Anywhere initiative means you can buy games for one platform and play them either on the console or the PC. Game progress stays in sync between platforms. Play Anywhere games have begun to appear, but the list is still quite short: At the moment, the only choices Ark: Survival Evolved and Killer Instinct Season 3, but Gears of War 4, Forza Horizon, and a few more are on preorder.
Beyond the Xbox app, Windows 10’s 3D video engine is now DirectX 12, which, according to some game developers, could open up a whole new level of realism to games. And Windows 10 was recently enhanced with the ability to turn off VSync and instead enable AMD’s Freesync and Nvidia’s G-Sync in Universal Windows Platform (UWP) games and apps. The same update also unlocked frame rates for UWP games. Microsoft’s own Gears of War: UE game will soon be updated with those features, as will Forza Motorsport 6: Apex (free).
You can read more about what Freesync, G-Sync and unlocked frame rates mean for Windows 10 on our sister site, Extreme Tech. All of this adds up to one more reason it’s never been a better time to be a PC gamer. If you have doubts about that, you should check out all the first-rate titles in our Best PC Games of 2016 feature.
Many Windows of Opportunity
Windows 10 Anniversary Update offers more ways to interact with your desktop PC than any competitor, along with more third-party hardware and software options. Whether it’s using your voice with Cortana, gesturing on a touch screen, or writing with a digital pen, Windows is the OS of choices. It’s the platform that offers the most choice in form factor, from the smallest tablets to massive gaming PCs and the giant Surface Hub. Its only device-based weakness is the flagging Windows Phone ecosystem.
After the long dark period of Windows 8, Microsoft has delivered an operating system that’s familiar, innovative, and adaptable to the size and capabilities of the hardware it’s running on. For managing to include so much new technology while remaining intuitive to use, Windows 10 earns a PCMag Editors’ Choice for desktop operating systems, an honor it shares with the polished and impressive Mac OS X.