October 28, 2014
I recently bought a laptop with Windows 8 pre-installed and I cried a little. I loved Windows 7, and suddenly I was stuck with an interface that was completely different from what I was used to.
It was obvious to me, and everyone else who was frustrated with the OS, that Microsoft had attempted to smush a touch screen interface into a non-touch screen environment, and had failed miserably. Critics observed that they should’ve just split the worlds so there was one interface for a tablet and one interface for a PC. Well, as most of us who have ridden this Microsoft train for a while now know, it takes them a few tries for them to “get it right.” It seems they may be back on the right track with Windows 10.
My first frustration with Windows 8 – and as I’ve learned, practically everyone else’s as well – was the missing Start Menu. Oh, sure, it looks like it’s there, but when you click on the familiar icon in the lower left corner of your screen, whatever you’re working on disappears entirely, replaced by this crazy tile mosaic that I had no idea how to navigate. How do I find that excel file I just created yesterday? Never fear. Windows 10 brings back a real Start Menu, complete with the navigation tools I am familiar with, while adding the tiles you navigated in Windows 8 to the sidebar to create a nice blend of the two worlds. The tile bar is customizable, too, so you can re-size it, move it to the bottom of your screen, re-color it to match your desktop background, and pin to it the applications you use most often, including the recycle bin. How cool is that?
Those who use a tablet-and-keyboard will not be disappointed by the roll-back, either. The tiled-app interface still exists for these users, and they’ve designed the Start Menu to re-appear and disappear with the addition/removal of the keyboard. They’ve also improved some of the cross-device applications with enlarged buttons which are more easily accessed through touch screens. This happens automatically when a touch screen is detected.
Hailed as a nod toward OS X Expose and Linux/Unix interfaces, Windows 10 adds a new feature called Task View. A button on the taskbar allows you to easily manage multiple applications across different virtual desktops, swapping between them seamlessly. When clicked, all running applications are displayed across the center of the screen, and in a row of thumbnails along the bottom.
Running apps are highlighted in the taskbar, regardless of which virtual desktop they’re running on. While these virtual desktops aren’t new to Windows, they were more difficult to manage with previous generations of the OS. Microsoft is hoping Windows 10 fixes that problem, allowing this functionality to be easier to use for more people.
Another surprise I discovered moving from Windows 7 to Windows 8 was the Charms bar that pops up on the right-hand side of my screen if I move my mouse in that direction, but only sometimes – and usually when I don’t want it. It’s a common complaint. Meant to be handy, it turned out to be quite frustrating for a number of users. Windows 10, with the ability to swap interfaces from touch-screen mode to keyboard-and-mouse mode, has modified the Charms bar to make it more user-friendly. Expect to see a smaller drop-down menu when navigating your PC, instead of something that takes up an inch of space on the right-hand side of your screen, and expect the bar to remain when you’re navigating your touch screen.
When using my computer at work, I often multi-task, utilizing multiple applications simultaneously. One of my favorite things to do is to line up windows vertically to each other to compare one to the other. Since Windows 7, you’ve been able to drag a window off the viewing area and have it snap to full or half-screen. Windows 10 adds a quarter-screen option, allowing four windows open and evenly-spaced at a time, by simply dragging the window into the corner of your viewing area. The improvement doesn’t stop there. Once you’ve auto-docked your second application, the new Snap Assist feature provides you with thumbnails of the other running applications to help you fill the other corners.
The full-fledged operating system will not be released to the general public until mid- to late-2015, but the company is allowing adventurous users an opportunity to check it out for free. They’re even encouraging feedback with an easy-to-use application that comes with the release. Before you get too excited by the allure of a free Windows OS, Microsoft explains that this release is meant for “PC experts who are comfortable downloading unfinished software.” If that sounds like something you’re up for, or if you want the chance to have a voice in tweaks made to the final product, Lifehacker has a nice walkthrough for installation here: http://lifehacker.com/windows-10-technical-preview-now-available-for-download-1641212531. Just make sure to back up your data before you install – preferably on a secondary machine you don’t depend on – and remember that unpolished software can be buggy and prone to crash, so experiment with caution.
Andrea Eldridge is CEO of Nerds On Call, which offers onsite computer and laptop repair service for homeowners and small businesses. Based in Redding, Calif., it has locations in five states. Contact Eldridge at www.callnerds.com/andrea.