Microsoft has listened, and Windows 10 debuts with compelling new features—Cortana, Task View, a familiar Start menu—well worth the upgrade.
We may as well refer to Windows 10 as a date, or an hour, as much as an operating system. It’s a moment in time. A month from now, it will have changed, evolved, improved. But right now? Microsoft has shipped an operating system that was meticulously planned and executed with panache, but whose coat of fresh paint hides some sticks and baling wire.
There’s a lot to cover, so feel free to dive in—or click one of the links below to jump to a specific part of the review.
Windows 10 will keep evolving
Note that this review is not, and will never be, the review of the final version of Windows 10. Microsoft may have frozen its core operating system in advance of the July 29 launch, but the OS and its apps will be updated continually over their lifespan—which, in the case of Windows 10 itself, will be 10 years. We’ve received multiple assurances, however, that what we’re reviewing will be what existing Windows users will begin to receive starting July 29 (remember, the rollout will be in phases), and what will be installed on new PCs from a vendor like Lenovo or Dell. We’ll revisit this review on launch day, just to be sure.
Let’s emphasize this—there is an incredible amount of activity going on right now. Microsoft is busy fixing bugs, hour by hour. Several issues which we noticed in a draft of this review were resolved by the time the final draft was edited. We expect this will continue.
Windows 10 is designed to welcome most Windows users. It will be a free upgrade for users of both Windows 7 and Windows 8/8.1, assuming they switch within a year’s time. Don’t dilly-dally; it’s worth it.
Several innovations sell Windows 10 by themselves. The new Start menu blends Windows 7 and Windows 8 for maximum comfort. Cortana, Microsoft’s digital assistant, serves up relevant information. A new set of reminders and updates slide in from the side, then vanish. A few quietly powerful apps, like Photos, show you the potential of Microsoft’s new “Universal” mission. Task View, a somewhat obscure feature that creates virtual desktops, could become a sleeper hit beyond the power users for whom it’s intended.
In an ideal world, Windows 10 could have baked a little longer. Quite a bit of the operating system ably demonstrates the care Microsoft took to listen to users and make substantive improvements. The UI designers also seem to have gone out of their way to make Windows 10 less in-your-face than Windows 8 was, though arguably it’s swung a bit too far in the direction of blah. But then there’s the ragged Edge browser. It could use a livelier palette, but its real flaws are functional. Microsoft promised Edge would be our browser for the modern web, and it’s not—at least, not yet.
Which Windows 10? Home vs. Professional
The first two questions you should ask yourself are this: Which version of Windows 10 is available for my computer? And which do I need?
The first question is relatively easy to answer: if you’re upgrading from Windows 7 Home or the basic version of Windows 8, you’ll receive a free upgrade to Windows 10 Home (officially priced at $119). If you own a Surface Pro or a business PC, chances are you’ll upgrade to Windows 10 Professional ($199). I tested both flavors of Windows 10, using a Microsoft Surface Pro 2 with a version of Windows 10 Professional installed on it, as well as an HP Spectre x360 with the consumer version of Windows 10.
Microsoft’s professional version of Windows 10 differs from the consumer version in many ways, but three really matter: BitLocker encryption, Remote Access, and the ability to run Hyper-V virtualization on your PC. BitLocker encrypts entire storage volumes with your hard drive and a password, with the option to print or save a recovery key to your OneDrive folder in case you forget it or are eaten by a grue. Remote Access allows you to take control of other PCs—such as those owned by relatives seeking tech support, for example—with the appropriate permissions and passwords. Hyper-V lets you create virtual partitions to test out future builds of Windows 10 (or other software), without the risk of borking your system.
Next: Hello lets you log in with your face, and the new-old Start menu
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