Windows 10 feels fresh yet familiar at the same time

Many improvements and great new apps; give it a chance and it may grow on you

There is something for everyone in Windows 10. Whichever version you are coming from, Windows 10 will feel familiar, yet different.

But not so different that it turns off users as Windows 8 did.

For a start, Microsoft's second attempt to create a single operating system for all devices brings back the Start menu.

This, along with a desktop interface similar to what you find on Windows 7, should be comforting for long-time Windows users.

At the same time, the tile-based interface (known as tablet mode in Windows 10) from Windows 8 also makes the cut. Even the touch- based swipe gestures have been retained, though tweaked.

Here are some of the key features in Windows 10:

 The facelifted Windows Store; the Start menu with a left panel showing frequently used apps, File Explorer and the revamped Settings apps; Microsoft's alternative to Flipboard; and Action Center, which displays notifications fro

START MENU IS BACK

The Start menu is back, but it is not as you remember from Windows 7. For one thing, you can resize it by dragging the top and right edges.

It is a hybrid: the left panel shows frequently used apps, File Explorer and the revamped Settings apps. More importantly, there is a power button here, so you should have no issue switching off the computer, unlike in stock Windows 8.

Meanwhile, the right panel has the interactive app tiles found in Windows 8. Hold down a tile to remove it from the Start menu, or to resize the tile.

A nice touch: Swipe the left panel on a touchscreen and the menu will list all the apps in alphabetical order. You can do the same with a mouse by clicking All Apps at the bottom of the menu.

As in Windows 8, right-clicking on the Start menu will bring up a different menu with shortcuts to features such as Power Options, Command Prompt and Control Panel.


Action Center, which displays notifications from apps and shows icons for key functions.

ACTION CENTER

In Windows 8, swiping from the right edge on a touch device brings up the Charms bar. In Windows 10, it brings up the Action Center.

Using a mouse, click on the Action Center icon at the System Tray (bottom right corner). Action Center displays notifications from apps. It also shows icons for key functions, such as toggling Wi-Fi and adjusting screen brightness.

As with the notification shade on Android phones, you can customise the list of icons to be displayed.

Compared with the Charms bar, the new Action Center is more intuitive and offers more functionality.

CONTINUUM

To work on a range of devices, Windows 10 switches modes, depending on how it is being used. On the Surface Pro 3, a notification pops up asking if I wished to switch to Tablet mode when the keyboard accessory is detached. In Tablet mode, icons in the System Tray and taskbar are larger and easier to tap.

Clicking on the Start menu button brings up a Windows 8-style interface. But the taskbar remains and acts as a familiar marker for users. You can also switch to Tablet mode manually in the Action Center.

 

SETTINGS APP

The new Settings app is more useful. You can use it to adjust most Windows settings.

There are still jarring moments when you select an option and the old-style Control Panel pops up. But it happens less frequently than in Windows 8.

WINDOWS HELLO

Say goodbye to passwords. Windows 10 lets you sign in to your devices with your face or fingers. Third-party apps can do the same, but it is more convenient when the function is integrated in Windows.

The facial-recognition feature requires a special camera, such as the Intel RealSense 3D camera on the new Dell Inspiron 15 laptop.

Setting it up was easy. Download a driver from Intel's website, go to sign-in options in Settings, create a numeric PIN and stare into the camera for a few seconds.

It mostly worked, too, though I had to use the PIN to sign in when it failed a few times. While it is faster than typing in a password, most users are unlikely to have the required hardware on their existing devices.

NO CORTANA IN SINGAPORE

Windows 10 comes with a personal assistant, like Siri on Apple's iOS and Google Now on Android phones. It can answer questions ranging from the weather to sports scores and create events and reminders on your calendar.

Cortana is not available in Singapore. Microsoft says that Cortana will be on Windows 10 in seven countries tomorrow: the United States, Britain, China, France, Italy, Germany and Spain. By the end of the year, it should be available in Australia, Brazil, Canada, India, Japan and Mexico.

 
 

SHOULD YOU UPGRADE?

Windows 10 has come a long way since the first version was released to beta testers in October. Then, it felt like a fan-made mish-mash of Windows 7 and Windows 8.

The latest version is much more polished. It is also stable, with no major crashes or screens of death during the week I tried it out.

The new Microsoft apps - Mail, News and Calendar - are excellent and there are many improvements under the hood.

Since it is a free upgrade for most Windows users and you can revert to your previous Windows within a month of upgrading, you should give Windows 10 a chance.

Perhaps, it will grow on you.


This article is based on impressions of a pre-release version of Windows 10 (Build 10240) that was made available to beta testers last week, and tested on a Microsoft Surface Pro 3. It may differ from the version released to users today.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 29, 2015, with the headline 'Windows 10 feels fresh yet familiar at the same time'. Print Edition | Subscribe