I keep hearing and reading things about how scary Windows 10 is, but in my own experience (and that of many I know), it’s been pretty delightful to use. Things like Windows Hello face login, touch-screen support, multiple desktops, Quick Access in File Explorer, and even the Edge browser improve my daily computing.
Sure, those few souls who depend on Windows Media Center for their home entertainment will be disappointed, and some may be running very ancient software that will no longer work. Privacy is another fear, but you can disable any usage reporting if you like (though you lose some of the best new features), and you don’t even need to sign into an account (something not possible on Macs).
The key takeaway, however, is this: In most of the things that really matter—speed, security, interface, compatibility, and software tools—Windows 10 is a vast improvement over its forbears.
A major thrust of Windows 10’s design was to be more familiar to users of pre-8 versions of Windows and more attuned to use with a mouse and keyboard than Windows 8, with the return of the Start menu (albeit in modernized form) a major part of that effort. Nevertheless, Windows 10 is a chance for everyone who missed out on all the real performance, security, and feature advances in Windows 8 and 8.1 to get caught up.
With Windows 10 having reached the one-year mark, a major update, Windows 10 Anniversary Update, rolls out Aug. 2. The operating system was a free upgrade for a year, but now that party is over, and you’ll have to pay. The Home edition costs $119.99, and the business-focused Pro edition goes for $199.99. If you’ve already made the upgrade to Windows 10, the Anniversary Update is free, and if you buy a new PC, it will most likely come with the new OS. You can also purchase USB installers for both editions at a physical Microsoft Store or on the Microsoft Storewebsite.
Tablet users should now upgrade to Windows 10, since the Anniversary Update takes their needs into account as well. For example, the Edge Web browser now lets them swipe back and forth through browsing history, and the All Apps view on tablets now fills the screen, rather than being a very deep list. Of course, the vast majority of update candidates are running existing Windows versions on laptops and desktop PCs, and for them the upgrade, as the list below shows, is highly recommended.
Note that the new operating system sheds some features that weren’t used by a large enough audience for Microsoft to continue offering them. Things like the aforementioned Windows Media Center, Windows 7 desktop gadgets, and a few more trifles bite the dust. You can read more about what’s going away and how to replace it in 6 Features Disappearing in Windows 10 (and How to Replace Them).
An underlying reason to upgrade, aside from any features listed here, is to take advantage of advances that come with newer technology; simply experiencing the little conveniences and updated design that accompany any new operating system can be refreshing. Several of the advantages listed below were also features of Windows 8.1. But a major goal of Windows 10 is familiarity and a much simpler learning curve than Windows 8. From that standpoint, Windows 10 aims to give you the best of both worlds.
Without further ado, here is why you should upgrade that old Windows box:
Startup and more. If you never made the move to Windows 8 or 8.1, you’ve missed out on one of the best things to hit Windows operating systems in forever: Fast startup. There are even comparison videos showing that Windows 8.1 starts up faster on a MacBook than OS X. And that’s compared to a fast booting operating system. Compared with Windows 7, the newer Microsoft OSes leave the older one at the gates. Another speed boost mostly aimed at gamers will come from DirectX 12, the new 3D engine that will get game developers closer to the metal for a new level of immersive performance.
2. The Start Menu
The loud voices in the tech community have long clamored for the return of the Start menu after its replacement by the Start screen in Windows 8. Which is kind of funny, since the same group scoffed at Start when it first appeared in Windows 95, as something too noob-like to bother with. Anyway, Microsoft has heeded the cries for its return, but given it a tile-based appendage, so as not to lose live tile info, and to still allow for the OS to be touch-enabled.
It’s nice to be able to talk to your technology. If you’ve used an Xbox One$238.00 at Amazon or talked with Siri, you know how convenient it can be to interact with your technology hands-free. “Hey Cortana, play music,” or “take a note” are just for starters. You can get more specific with reminders that will show up on any device running Cortana—which will soon include Androids and iPhones along with Windows Phones. You can say, “Remind me to buy milk when I’m near a supermarket,” or “remind me to ask my wife about her mother when she calls.” And Cortana isn’t just about voice commands: Her Notebook keeps track of your interests, popping up info such as your favorite sports team scores, local weather, and even traffic conditions for your commute home.
4. Universal Apps
If you use Windows 7, you don’t have an app store. Windows 10 lets you find software you need for large and small tasks, and you can run apps either windowed or full-screen. These apps run in their own sandboxes, so they’re more secure than old-school Windows apps. They also integrate with the system by offering notifications in Action Center and built-in sharing; for example, a photo app could share to an Instagram app using a standard share button. Windows 10 also comes with slicker and more powerful productivity and media apps, including new Photos, Videos, Music, Maps, People, Mail, and Calendar. The apps work equally well as full-screen, modern Windows apps using touch or with traditional desktop mouse and keyboard input.
Just about every screen in your life these days is a touch screen—your smartphone, your tablet, even your car navigation system. So why not your desktop or laptop PC? I’ve heard the whining about fingerprints on the screen, but why is that more of a problem than on a smartphone, where a fingerprint takes up a much larger percentage of the surface area? I’ve used the all-in-one PCs like theAsus Zen AiO Pro Z240IC$1,299.99 at Best Buy, the Surface Pro 4$1,099.80 at Amazon convertible tablet, and a tower with an Acer T232HL$359.90 at Amazon, and I can tell you that, while touch isn’t my primary way to input to the computers, it can be darned convenient at times.
6. Action Center
Your smartphone pops up notifications for messages, updates, and even breaking news, so why shouldn’t your PC? With Windows 10 it does. Similar to the Mac OS X Notification Center, the Action Center shows messages from email, the system itself (you’ve installed an update, for example), and from apps. You may see a weather warning or a birthday reminder. An advantage of these over Windows 8/8.1’s Toast Notifications is that you can go back and looks at the entries you missed, until you specifically dismiss them. The same holds for Windows 7’s ephemeral system tray notifications.
7. A Better Browser
Formerly known as Project Spartan, Microsoft Edge brings the OS’s default browser into the modern world of browsers. That means improved compatibility and speed, and add a few helpful new capabilities like webpage markup and reading mode. Edge has also been shown to be much less demanding on laptop and table batteries than Chrome. New for the Anniversary Update version is support for extensions, with a few heavy hitters like LastPass and Adblock available already. Read all about the new browser in my full review of Microsoft Edge.
Windows 10 inherits the Secure Boot feature from Windows 8 and makes it even more secure. This requires any code that runs right when the OS starts be signed by Microsoft or the hardware maker. Unlike Windows 8, Windows 10 PCs can be set up so that this feature may not be bypassed. Three other security feature for Windows 10 are Device Guard, Microsoft Passport, and Windows Hello.
9. Virtual Desktops
For years, some of the more-sophisticated Mac users have found the ability to switch among several virtual desktops useful. Windows 10 finally brings the capability to Microsoft’s desktop operating system. In Windows 10, the feature is incredibly easy to use: Just click or tap the task-switching icon next to the Cortana search box in the taskbar.
10. Xbox App
If you’re a gamer, you’ll love the integration with Xbox that comes in Windows 10. Not only does the Windows 10 Xbox app let you keep track of your friends and achievements, you can also stream games from the console to the PC and play multiplayer games from your PC against other players on Xbox. The Windows Store now eases the process of finding games and purchasing them for use across PC and Xbox.