Archive for the ‘Windows 10’ Category

Windows 10 quick tips: How to protect your privacy

Worried about possible privacy problems in Windows 10? Here are some quick ways to protect your data.

There has been some concern that Windows 10 gathers far too much private information from users. Whether you think Microsoft’s operating system crosses the privacy line, or just want to make sure you protect as much of your personal life as possible, we’re here to help. Here’s how to protect your privacy in just a few minutes.

Turn off ad tracking

At the top of many people’s privacy concerns is what data is being gathered about them as they browse the Web. That information creates a profile of a person’s interests that is used by a variety of companies to target ads (resulting in the current popularity of ad blockers). Windows 10 does this with the use of an advertising ID. The ID doesn’t just gather information about you when you browse the Web, but also when you use Windows 10 apps.

You can turn that advertising ID off if you want. Launch the Windows 10 Settings app (by clicking on the Start button at the lower left corner of your screen) and go to Privacy > General. There you’ll see a list of choices under the title “Change privacy options;” the first controls the advertising ID. Move the slider from On to Off. You’ll still get ads delivered to you, but they’ll be generic ones rather than targeted ones, and your interests won’t be tracked.

To make absolutely sure you’re not tracked online when you use Windows 10, head to choice.microsoft.com/en-us/opt-out. In the “Personalized ads in this browser” and “Personalized ads wherever I use my Microsoft account” boxes (on the right side of the page), move the sliders from On to Off. Note that you need to go to every browser you use and make sure the slider for “Personalized ads in this browser” is set to “Off.”

Turn off location tracking

Wherever you go, Windows 10 knows you’re there. Some people don’t mind this, because it helps the operating system give you relevant information, such as your local weather, what restaurants are nearby and so on. But if you don’t want Windows 10 to track your location, you can tell it to stop.

You can turn it off on a user-by-user basis as well — so if you have several people with different accounts using the same device, they can each turn location tracking on or off. To turn location tracking on or off for any single account, sign into the account, head back to this same screen and, instead of clicking Change, go to the slider beneath the word “Location” and move it to On or Off.

Finally, this doesn’t have to be all or nothing affair — you can turn off location tracking on an app-by-app basis. If you want your location to be used only for some apps and not others, make sure location tracking is turned on, then scroll down to the “Choose apps that can use your location” section. You’ll see a list of every app that can use your location. Move the slider to On for the apps you want to allow to use your location — for example, Weather or News — and to Off for the apps you don’t.

When you turn off location tracking, Windows 10 will still keep a record of your past location history. To clear your location history, scroll to “Location History” and click Clear. Even if you use location tracking, you might want to clear your history regularly; there’s no automated way to have it cleared.
Hey, Cortana, don’t invade my privacy

Cortana is a very useful digital assistant, but there’s a trade-off in using it: To do the job well, it needs to know things about you. You have a number of options for how to handle that, from turning it off completely, to only stopping some of its information-gathering.

Let’s start with the simplest: Turning it off. Click in the Cortana search box on the lower left of the screen; then from the menu that appears, click the notebook icon (it’s the third from the top) and click Settings. To turn Cortana off, move the top slider from On to Off.

It’s not difficult to turn Cortana off: Click in the search box, click on the notebook icon on the left, click Settings and move the slider from On to Off.

That will stop Cortana from gathering information about you in the future, but what it already knows will still be stored in the cloud. To delete that information, click in the Cortana search box on the lower left of the screen and from the menu that appears, click the notebook icon, click Settings and then click “Manage what Cortana knows about me in the cloud.”

You’ll be asked to sign into your Microsoft account. Then you can clear the personal information Cortana and other Microsoft services such as Bing Maps has gathered about you under several categories: Interests (for example, Finances, News or Sports); Saved places; Search history; and Other Microsoft services.

For instance, you can delete all the information about your interests by going to the Interests section and clicking Clear. If you want to delete only information about some of your interests, first click “Interest manager” in the Interests section. In the page that appears, click the Edit button next to a type of interest (such as News or Sports). You’ll then be able to delete specific interests (such as about your hometown baseball team) or add any that you do want Cortana to track.

If you want to leave Cortana on but manage what information it gathers about you, you can do that as well — to a certain extent. Click in the Cortana search box on the lower left of the screen, then from the menu that appears click the notebook icon and then Settings. You can now turn off information gathering in several areas, such as the searches you do via Cortana on your PC and the Web, or the flight information from your emails.

Does it make sense to turn off Wi-Fi Sense?

One of Windows 10’s most misunderstood features is Wi-Fi Sense. It’s designed to let people easily share Wi-Fi connections, but some people believe it will allow friends of friends to log onto your network, and possibly do nefarious deeds.

That’s not really the case. What it does do is let you share your network’s bandwidth with specific people, while making sure they can’t run rampant through your entire network. The feature can also automatically connect you to Wi-Fi networks that your friends share with you. For more details about how it works, you can check out this FAQ from Microsoft.

If you’re still worried about Wi-Fi Sense, you can turn it off. Launch the Settings app and go to Network & Internet > Wi-Fi > Manage Wi-Fi Settings. Here you’ll find all the settings that control whether and how Wi-Fi Sense should be used.
wifi sense

Wi-Fi Sense is not as intrusive as some have said, but if you don’t want to use it, you can turn it off.
To stop connecting to networks shared with you by friends, turn the sliders from On to Off for “Connect to suggested open hotspots” and “Connect to networks shared by my contacts.” To stop sharing the Wi-Fi networks you log into, go to the section titled “For networks I select, share them with my” and then uncheck Outlook.com contacts, Skype contacts and Facebook friends.

What else should you do?

All this shouldn’t take you more than five or ten minutes and will do a great deal to protect your privacy. However, if you want to dig even deeper into privacy protections, there’s something else you can do.

Launch the Settings app and click Privacy. On the left-hand side of the screen, you’ll see the various areas where you can get even more granular about privacy — for example, you can click “Account info” to stop apps from accessing your name, picture and other account information; or click “Call history” to stop apps from accessing your call history from Skype.

These steps can take you a long way towards making sure that Windows 10 doesn’t cross the line into gathering data you’d prefer remain private.

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Is Microsoft about to get rid of MCSA?

On Monday, Microsoft Learning’s Born To Learn blog released some information on upcoming Windows 10 exams and related certification news — and if you read between the lines, it appears the Microsoft Certified Solutions Associate (MCSA) certification may be riding off into the sunset sometime in the near future. I’ll talk about why I think this is the case a little later on, but first let’s look at the Windows 10 exam news.

In this blog post, Microsoft announced that the first Windows 10 exam will be 70-697: Configuring Windows Devices. This exam was released in beta back in September, and is reportedly still available to candidates. If you decide to take the beta exam, be warned that it does not qualify for Microsoft’s “Second Shot” free retake promotion, and score reports won’t be issued for several weeks after the beta period ends.

For those interested in the 70-697 exam, here is a list of the knowledge domains and how much exam content is devoted to each:

● Manage identity (13 percent)
● Plan desktop and device deployment (13 percent)
● Plan and implement a Microsoft Intune device management solution (11 percent)
● Configure networking (11 percent)
● Configure storage (10 percent)
● Manage data access and protection (11 percent)
● Manage remote access (10 percent)
● Manage apps (11 percent)
● Manage updates and recovery (10 percent)

The blog post goes on to say that the second Windows 10-related exam will be 70-698: Planning for and Managing Windows Devices. This exam is still being developed, and hasn’t been released to beta yet.

There was also Windows 10 certification news for software developers. There are two new Microsoft Certified Solutions Developer (MCSD) exams currently running in beta:

● 70-354: Universal Windows Platform – App Architecture and UX/UI
● 70-355: Universal Windows Platform – App Data, Services, and Coding Patterns

If you pass both of these exams, along with exam 70-483: Programming in C#, you earn the MCSD: Universal Windows Platform certification.

Okay, now for the good stuff. Let’s talk about the MCSA, and why I think it’s going away. Eh?

Here is a list of every MCSA certification track available as of this writing:

● Windows 7
● Windows 8
● Windows Server 2008
● Windows Server 2012
● SQL Server 2008
● SQL Server 2012
● Office 365

There is no longer an MCSA track for SQL Server — the exams for the new SQL Server 2014 product were added to existing MCSE certification tracks. So, when the SQL Server 2008 and 2012 exams are eventually retired, the SQL Server MCSA tracks will be gone.

On the desktop side, the MCSA: Windows 7 certification is still available, and will likely be so well into 2016. Why? Because Windows 7 is still the most prevalent client OS among Microsoft’s enterprise customers. Windows 10 is gaining momentum, but it will take more time and testing before it takes over the business world.

That said, the MCSA: Windows 7 exams are now six years old, and Microsoft will want to retire them as soon as Windows 10 reaches a certain market share. Once this happens, the MCSA: Windows 7 track will be gone.

What about the MCSA: Windows 8 track? According to the MS Learning blog, the MCSA: Windows 8 certification is being retired on Jan. 31. The Windows 8.1 upgrade exams (70-689 and 70-692) will also be retired on that date. The two current Windows 8 MCSA exams (70-687 and 70-688) will be available until July 31 — but passing either exam will result in a Microsoft Specialist certification, not an MCSA.

Exit, MCSA: Windows 8 track. We hardly knew ye.

But, surely there will be an MCSA track for Windows 10, right? Wrong! And don’t call me Shirley. (Leslie Nielsen, FTW!)

The aforementioned smoking gun blog post states that passing one of the upcoming Windows 10 exams will earn candidates a Microsoft Specialist certification — and that these exams will be recommended prerequisites for the MCSE: Enterprise Devices and Apps track. So no, there will be no MCSA for Windows 10.

The sun may be going down on Microsoft’s long-lived MCSA certification level.That just leaves us with nothing but the Windows Server and Office 365 MCSA tracks.

If the MCSA is to live on, it will most likely hang its hat on the upcoming Windows Server 2016 release. If this is not the case, however, then the MCSA for Windows Server 2008 and 2012 will eventually be retired, and that will be the end of the MCSA for Windows Server track.

That leaves the MCSA: Office 365 certification track. This oddball MCSA only contains two exams, and it isn’t hard to imagine that Microsoft would simply reclassify these exams as Specialist certifications to eliminate the MCSA: Office 365 track.

And, that’s it. If the above comes to pass, then the MCSA certification will no longer be available.

One last piece of info … in the MS Learning blog post, a commenter directly asked about the future of the MCSA certification. The response from the author of the post, Senior Product Manager for Technical Certification at Microsoft Learning Larry Kaye, was as follows:

“There are no plans to retire the MCSA level of certification at this time.” (Emphasis mine.)

So, we will see. Personally, I think there is ample evidence to demonstrate that Microsoft is at least seriously considering ending the MCSA. What do you think? Let us know in the comments below.

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User guide to Windows 10

Windows 10 officially launches this week, so if you’re going for an immediate upgrade from your Windows 7 or Windows 8/8.1 computer, this guide will get you up to speed as quickly as possible.

Ready for Windows 10?
Windows 10 officially launches this week, so if you’re going for an immediate upgrade from your Windows 7 or Windows 8/8.1 computer, this guide will get you up to speed as quickly as possible. It covers the main features new to Windows 10. We start — appropriately enough — from the Windows logo (Start) button.
user guide to windows 10 2

START MENU
The classic interface returns in a new form. Click the Windows logo button, and the Start Menu interface of Windows 10 pops up. It looks similar to the one last seen in Windows 7, but with the Windows 8/8.1 Start Screen sized down into a panel stuck to its right. You can resize the Start Menu by clicking-and-dragging on its top or right-side border.

Tile menu pop-up
As in Windows 8/8.1, clicking a Tile launches its corresponding Windows app or desktop application. To move a Tile, you click on and drag it to another spot on the layout. Right-click on a Tile and a small menu pops open which gives you options: Unpin from Start, Resize, Turn live tile on (or off), Pin to taskbar, and (if available) Uninstall.

All apps list
Situated at the lower-left corner of the Start Menu (and right above the Windows logo button) is “All apps.” Click these words and the left panel will switch to an alphabetical list of all programs (both Windows apps and desktop applications) that are installed on your computer, and their folders. Any of these listings can be turned into a Tile by clicking and dragging it to a spot on the right half with the other Tiles.

Windows apps now run in resizable windows
Windows apps now launch in resizable windows, just like desktop applications, that you can drag-and-move to other areas of the desktop environment as you please. Their title bars also have the familiar trio of Minimize, Maximize/Restore Down, and Close buttons at their upper-right corners.

Pinning an app
Alternately, right-clicking on a program listing will trigger a small menu, which lists, among its options, pinning the program listing as a Tile on the Start Menu, or onto the taskbar.
user guide to windows 10 7
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Look for the hamburger

In fact, it may be initially difficult to distinguish between Windows apps and desktop applications, but one clue is that most Windows apps have a settings button (an icon with three bars, sometimes referred to as a “hamburger”) located toward their upper-left corners.

Cortana takes center stage
A major new feature is Microsoft’s digital personal assistant technology. You speak to your computer’s mic, asking a question or making a request, and Cortana may reply by talking out the answer. Cortana can also be used by entering text into its search box labeled “Ask me anything.”

Cortana the weather girl
You can set Cortana to activate whenever you say aloud to your computer’s mic, “Hey, Cortana.” From there, you can ask her something, like “Hey, Cortana, what is the current temperature?” A card with a weather forecast will sprout from the search box, and a female voice (i.e. Cortana herself) will tell you the current temperature in your area. She can also be asked to perform basic calculations (“Hey, Cortana, what is 6 times 7?”) and even launch programs (“Hey, Cortana, start Word.”).

Cortana panel of info cards
Click inside Cortana’s search box, and a panel rises showing cards of real-time information that has been personalized for you, such as your local news and weather forecast. This information that Cortana presents to you throughout your day can be configured by clicking on the Notebook or Reminders settings.

Task View: The new way to switch among programs — and desktops
Windows 10 ditches the inelegant “switcher” UI of Windows 8/8.1 that you used to jump from one running Windows app to another. Instead, you use the new Task View. Clicking the Task View icon (which is to the right of the Cortana search box) takes you to a screen that shows large thumbnails of Windows apps and desktop applications that are running on your computer. You can jump to any program by clicking its thumbnail. Or, programs can be closed by clicking the “X” on its thumbnail.

Double your instances, double your fun
Task View also lets you run multiple instances of the desktop environment. This may be helpful if you want to organize programs you are using for personal and work reasons into separate desktops. You do this by clicking “New desktop” on the lower-right corner; a new desktop thumbnail will appear to the right of the thumbnail of your first, current desktop. You can then jump to this second desktop by clicking its thumbnail.

Moving programs
When there are two or more desktop environments open under Task View, a program can be moved from one desktop to another by clicking its thumbnail and dragging it down and onto the thumbnail of the desktop where you want it to be moved.

Edge replaces IE
Windows 10 comes with a new web browser, Edge. It’s totally brand-new with a different codebase that Microsoft built from scratch. IE is still included in Windows 10, listed under Windows Accessories in the Start Menu, if you need it, but Edge is the default browser for Windows 10. Edge is a Windows app, so it shares the same design language as the other new Windows apps that are included with Windows 10. Compared to IE, Edge has a cleaner looking UI with simpler graphical elements in its toolbar.
user guide to windows 10 15
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Edge Reading view

Edge can re-render certain web pages to display only the main body of text and a related image, stripping out extraneous graphics and text from the original layout, to make an online article more visually comfortable to read. To do this, click the open-book icon to the right of the URL address bar. This function isn’t available when this icon is grayed-out: Not every page is able to be stripped down to its essentials.

Edge Web Note
Clicking the icon that’s an image of a square with a writing instrument will capture an image of the web page that’s open in the browser’s window, and then gives you basic drawing and highlighting tools to doodle over it. You can also annotate the image with notes you type in.

Action Center: Keeps you informed of your computer’s status
Click the Action Center’s icon in the notification area (to the immediate left of the clock and date) to evoke this new panel, which slides in from the right. It lists important notices about your computer’s hardware and programs that are running. Along its lower part, the Action Center provides several buttons that let you access hardware settings faster.

Settings: Doesn’t replace Control Panel or PC Settings
Clicking the “All settings” button on the Action Center panel will take you to a new Settings interface. This is the first attempt to merge the PC Settings (introduced in Windows 8) and classic Control Panel UIs into one. When you click the System icon here, you’re taken to a new version of what was called the “PC settings” menu under Windows 8/8.1.

Control panel
The Control Panel is still available in Windows 10, but some of its settings have been moved to PC Settings.

Start Menu in full screen
On the Action Center panel is a “Tablet mode” button. Click it, and the Start Menu expands to fill the entire screen whenever you click the Windows logo button. Tablet mode also locks out the user from interacting with the desktop environment. The desktop is grayed out to indicate this. As its name implies, this UI is designed to be used with a tablet, but you can still interact with it on a computer that doesn’t have a touchscreen. You may want to use it when you don’t want to be distracted by the desktop, for example.

Settings for showing programs on taskbar in Tablet mode
Two main things to keep in mind while you are in Tablet mode: Icons for actively running programs do not appear on the taskbar. (This can be changed under the System menu.) And Windows apps (and, for that matter, desktop applications) will display at full-screen when launched.

 

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Microsoft designed Windows 10 to pull users into Windows Store, and it might be working

Microsoft designed Windows 10 to pull users into Windows Store, and it might be working

Windows 10 users are downloading more apps than Windows 8 users did, and that’s exactly what the Store needs to attract better apps.

Windows 10 users may finally be giving the Windows Store the love it needs to survive—largely due to smart plotting by Microsoft to make it happen.

Microsoft announced in a blog post Thursday evening that Windows 10 users are downloading apps at a vigorous rate. “The average Windows 10 customer is downloading six times more apps than the average customer on Windows 8,” said Microsoft’s Todd Brix, who authored the post.

This is hardly a grassroots movement, though. Microsoft has designed Windows 10 to drive users to the Windows Store. If it is indeed working, then that’s hopeful news for the future of the lackluster app store.

Why this matters: A critical mass of Windows 10 users, downloading lots of apps, is exactly what Microsoft needs to solve its chicken-and-egg problem with Windows Store. The Windows Store needs better apps, and it won’t get better apps until it gets more users. Windows 10’s design apparently addresses the user need. Now we wait to see whether app developers will follow the crowd.

How Windows 10 lures users to Windows Store
Microsoft’s Brix stated clearly that Windows 10 lay at the heart of Microsoft’s campaign to promote the Windows Store. “We have taken steps to change the way people discover and experience apps in Windows 10,” he explained. Brix added that the user-hooking techniques are broadly deployed, incorporating “features both inside and outside of the Store that are fast becoming part of people’s daily lives.”

Brix went on to describe how Microsoft designed Windows 10 to drive those users to the Store. “For example, Cortana provides app recommendations based on the customer’s personal interests. In addition, the Start menu, Microsoft Edge and the Notification Center will also suggest apps that customers might enjoy.”

(Of course, if you’ve adjusted your Windows 10 privacy settings to fend off the attentions of these services, you might not get any app suggestions.)

Now all those users need are more and better apps. Microsoft’s working on that, too: The blog post describes a host of new features designed to make it easier for users to find and buy apps on the store, and for developers to port existing apps to the Windows 10 platform.

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Deep-dive review: Windows 10 — worth the wait

Deep-dive review: Windows 10 — worth the wait

Microsoft makes up for Windows 8 by delivering a truly integrated operating system.

Finally, an operating system from Microsoft you can love.
With Windows 10, Microsoft undoes the damage wrought by Windows 8. This is a cleanly designed operating system that works equally well on traditional computers and tablets, brings back the much-mourned Start menu and introduces useful features such as the Cortana digital assistant and new Edge browser.

I’ve been following the progress of Windows 10 ever since the first technical preview last year, and wrote about the second technical preview back in January 2015. I lived with, tested and reviewed its major iterations. I’ve seen rough edges smoothed, new features introduced and some features dropped.
ALSO ON NETWORK WORLD: What if Windows went open source tomorrow?

This shipping version (which will be officially available on July 29) is much improved over the last time I reviewed it in late May. Since then, the overall interface and Start menu has been tweaked, Edge has been completed and bugs have been squashed. It’s now a more complete and refined operating system. (Note: A separate version for smaller mobile devices is expected to be released in the fall.)

That’s not to say that all is perfect. In this review, I’ll give an in-depth look at the new operating system, including its best and worst features. Read on for the complete rundown.

Starting with the Start menu
In Windows 10, everything starts with the new Start menu. Tap the Windows key to launch it; tap it again to make it disappear. The Start menu is command central for the entire operating system, displaying live tiles with changing information from Windows 10 apps, letting you launch all your apps, giving you access to your settings and to File Explorer, and letting you shut down and restart Windows.

And note — there’s been yet another name change. Microsoft has a new designation for the touch-screen apps once called Metro and then called Modern: They are now simply Windows apps. Applications written for use with a keyboard are called desktop apps.


Windows 10 start menu
In Windows 10, everything starts with the new Start menu.

If you use Windows 10 on a non-touch desktop or laptop PC, you thankfully never need to see the touch-oriented tablet mode (what Microsoft called the Start screen in Windows 8) — you boot right into the desktop. The Start menu and desktop is all you need and all you get. For me, this alone makes the new operating system a winner.

The left side of the Start menu has links to your most used programs, recently added programs, File Explorer, Settings and Power, along with a link that leads to a list of all the apps on your computer. At the top left of the menu is an icon that shows you which user account you’re currently using and takes you to a menu that lets you switch accounts, log out of your account or go to the Lock screen.

Eye-candy fans (such as me) will appreciate that the Start menu is transparent. It’s also customizable. You can change the menu’s height (but not its width) by pulling down the double-headed arrow that appears at the top when you move your cursor over it and dragging it to make it the menu taller or shorter. Oddly enough, a double-headed arrow appears when you put your cursor on the right side of the menu, implying you can change its width, but I wasn’t able to drag the arrow to do that.

There’s a lot more you can do to customize the Start menu. You can group related applications and then name them — for example, you might want to put the Groove Music, Movies & TV and Xbox apps into a group that you call Entertainment. You can also pin and unpin apps to and from the Start menu and Taskbar, and resize the tiles by right clicking on them. Depending on the app’s capabilities, you might also be able to turn a live tile off so that it’s static instead of displaying changing information. (I found this a surprisingly useful feature. With too many tiles flashing at me, I felt at times as if I was in a Vegas casino.)

Right-clicking also lets you uninstall apps. Some Microsoft apps, though, can’t be uninstalled, including the Movies & TV, Calendar and Groove Music apps. They can, however, be unpinned from the Start menu; if you want to run them later, you can type their name into Cortana.

The upshot? The Windows 10 Start menu is more than just a redone version of its Windows 7 predecessor. With it, you run both Windows 10 apps and desktop apps, which goes a long way towards making Windows 10 feel like a truly integrated operating system.

Continuum and tablet mode
Also helping to unify the operating system is a new feature called Continuum, which lets Windows 10 perform a shape-shifting trick by detecting the type of machine you’re running, and then changing its interface to the one suited for the device. It’s particularly useful for two-in-one devices such as the Microsoft Surface Pro, which works as a tablet or laptop, depending upon whether you have a keyboard attached.

And the OS will change dynamically. If you’re using the tablet with a keyboard attached, you see the desktop-based interface, complete with Start menu. Detach the keyboard and you get a pop-up notification that asks if you want to switch to tablet mode. If you don’t want to be bothered by the notification again, you can select “Remember my response and don’t ask again.” From then on, you’ll switch automatically from desktop to tablet mode and back again.

Windows 10 continuum
A new feature called Continuum lets Windows 10 detect the type of machine you’re running and switch the interface to suit the device.

Continuum worked for me without a hitch, switching every time I unplugged a keyboard from my Surface tablet, or plugged the keyboard back in.

Tablet mode offers much the same Start screen interface that many Windows 8 users, including me, have come to hate: Big tiles representing the apps you want to run. It’s ideal for tablets, though. And although most of the changes Microsoft has made in Windows 10 have to do with the desktop, the company has also made some improvements to the tablet interface.

Gone is Windows 8’s kludgy Charms bar with links for sharing, settings, devices, moving to the Start screen and searching. Of all those links, the only truly useful one was for searching — and in Windows 10, you search in tablet mode by tapping the Cortana search button at the bottom left of the screen. (For more about Cortana, head to the next section of this article.)

I won’t miss the Charms bar. I think that few people will.
Windows 10 tablet mode
Tablet mode offers much the same Start screen interface that came with Windows 8, although with improvements.

There have been other changes as well. There’s now what some people call a “hamburger menu” at the top left of the screen — three horizontal stacked lines. In a way, it’s a mini-Start menu for tablets: Tap it and you get a menu that lists your most-used and most recently added apps; it also contains links to File Explorer, Settings, the Power button and all your apps.

I’m a big fan. There’s no longer any need to scroll and hunt through the Start screen for apps I frequently run. Instead, they’re easily available from the menu. And you can run desktop apps from this menu, not just Windows apps. It’s one more way in which Windows 10 now works as a unified operating system.


Windows 10 all apps
A “mini-Start menu” for tablets lists your most-used apps, your most recently added apps and links to useful system tools.

At the bottom left of the Start screen there’s another menu icon that looks like a bulleted list. Tap it to see a list of all of your apps, including desktop apps and built-in Windows apps such as Settings.

Also new is that the Taskbar runs at the bottom of the screen in tablet mode — the same Taskbar that is on the desktop. Although I risk sounding like a broken record, it’s one more way that Windows 10 feels like a single interface spanning two modes, rather than two operating systems uneasily joined together.

Cortana
I’m not much of a fan of iPhone’s Siri digital assistant or Google’s Google Now — I tried them briefly and found them only moderately helpful. They sometimes felt more like parlor tricks than practical features I could use throughout the day. So I didn’t think I’d be happy with Cortana.

I was wrong. Cortana is more than a mildly useful appendage to Windows 10. It’s embedded deeply into the operating system. The more you use it, the more useful it becomes, because it learns about you over time. Not that it’s perfect, because it makes errors along the way and there are some important things it can’t do.



Windows 10 cortana

The Cortana digital assistant is present primarily as a search bar under the Start menu.

Cortana is present primarily as a search bar under the Start menu; you can also launch it by tapping its tile on the Start menu. (In tablet mode, it’s accessible from an icon on the Taskbar). You wake it up by saying “Hey Cortana” or “Hi Cortana.” You can then ask it to do something, such as find a file, launch a program or find information. If you prefer typing to talking, type your request into the search bar.

What you’ll see next depends upon your request. Cortana, which is based on Bing’s search engine, looks through your files, your Microsoft OneDrive cloud storage account, your videos and music, the apps on your PC, your settings, your email and the Web. The actions it takes or the way it shows your search results varies according to what you’ve asked for.

For example, when I said, “Show me my photos from Italy,” Cortana quickly found them on both my PC and on OneDrive — and displayed them. At the top of the results, I could click a link to search for photos of Italy on the Web.

When I asked, “What’s the weather?” it knew my location and told me it was 74 degrees and sunny, and also displayed the weather forecast. And when I said, “Add an appointment on Sunday,” it asked me what time the appointment was scheduled to start, and from there I was able to quickly add an appointment to my calendar.


Windows 10 Cortana photos
The search results after a request to Cortana to see photos from a trip to Italy.
There are limits to Cortana’s capabilities, though. I use Gmail as my primary email account, and Cortana wasn’t able to reach into it to search through messages. In fact, it wouldn’t even launch Gmail for me. Instead, it did a Bing search for Gmail and showed me a page of search results on the Web. If Cortana is going to become a truly useful digital assistant, Microsoft will have to figure out a way for Cortana to interact with all the major Web-based apps.

I will say this for Cortana, though — it’s a fast learner. When I said “Launch Google Chrome,” it asked whether I wanted to launch Google Chrome or Chrome App Launcher. I told it to launch Google Chrome. Every time after that, when I made that same request, it launched Google Chrome without asking for clarification.

When Cortana runs, it displays a menu made up of a group of four icons stacked underneath a “hamburger” menu on the left side of the screen, which are both somewhat useful and somewhat confusing. The top one, Home, simply navigates you to the main Cortana interface. Beneath it, the strangely-named Notebook icon leads you to a tool to change Cortana’s settings — such as whether you want to get recommendations about places to eat or events to attend; what your home, work and other “favorite locations” are; how to change the name Cortana uses for you; and so on.

Beneath Notebook, the Reminders icon does exactly what it says — lets you set reminders, which can be triggered by a time or a location you visit. And the bottommost icon, Feedback, lets you provide feedback about Cortana.

Cortana is tied to your Microsoft ID, so it has the same information about you on all the Windows devices you use, including smartphones.

Overall, Cortana is still a work in progress. It does an excellent job of reaching into your PC; searching the Web; knowing your location, likes and dislikes; and delivering you information based on that. But until it can also reach into Web-based apps like Gmail, Cortana can never be a complete digital assistant.

Gaining an Edge

Another big addition to Windows is the new Edge browser, which replaces the justifiably maligned Internet Explorer. Edge is Windows 10’s default browser and with it, Microsoft hopes to eventually bid farewell to IE.

Microsoft can’t entirely get rid of Internet Explorer yet, though, especially because enterprises have built apps based on it. So you’ll still find it in Windows 10. But unless you have to run it for compatibility reasons, don’t — because Edge is a considerable improvement.

With Edge, Microsoft focused on creating a speedy browser — and the work has paid off. I found that it displayed Web pages extremely quickly, much faster than Internet Explorer, and equal to or possibly faster than Chrome.

To check my impression, I ran three browser speed tests using Edge, Internet Explorer and Chrome. I ran each test three times for each browser and averaged the results. Edge scored faster than Internet Explorer in all three tests and faster than Chrome in the SunSpider and Kraken tests, while losing to Chrome in the Octane test.
Windows 10 Edge browser: Test results

But even though Edge is speedy, you may encounter rendering problems with some Web pages. It won’t run Google Inbox, for example. And when I ran the HTML5 test, which tests for compatibility with HTML5 standards, it lagged behind Chrome, scoring 402 out of a possible 555 points, compared to 526 for Chrome. Internet Explorer did even worse than Edge, with a score of 348.

Edge takes much of its inspiration from Chrome, dispensing with as many menus and extraneous design elements as possible. For example, it has jettisoned Internet Explorer’s oversized back and forward buttons, so that the content of a Web page stands out more. Edge will also support add-ins, but that feature is not yet available, and will be included at some time later.

Windows 10 edge
The Edge browser will eventually replace Internet Explorer.

The browser’s basics are straightforward — there are several icons to the right of the Address Bar that offer access to a variety of features.

To begin with, you click on a star to add a favorite. A menu icon just to the star’s right lets you to browse favorites, view downloaded files, see your history list and use the browser’s reading list feature (more on that in a bit).

Another icon lets you share a URL via Mail, Twitter, OneNote and the reading list. And over on the far right there are three small dots that, when clicked, bring up other features such as zooming, launching a new window, printing, pinning the current site to the Start screen, opening a new “InPrivate” window for anonymous browsing, and launching the current page in Internet Explorer.

There is an icon to the left of the star that resembles a book and activates Edge’s Reading View, which is much like a similar Safari feature: It strips out everything extraneous to a page’s content, including ads, navigation, sidebars and anything else that diverts attention from the content. You read the text in a scrollable window, with graphics included. The icon will be grayed out if you’re on a page that Reading View can’t handle, such as a page that is primarily used for navigation.

As for the reading list, it’s a list of your Reading View favorites. So when you’re in Reading View, click the star icon for adding favorites and the current page gets added to your reading list.

Edge also offers the ability to annotate and share Web pages. Click the annotation icon (to the right of the menu icon — it looks like a pencil and paper) and you’ll be able to mark up a Web page using highlighters and note-creation tools, save the annotated page and share it as a .jpg graphics file via email, OneNote or Twitter. You can also save the annotations to your PC via Microsoft OneNote. I personally found that feature less than useful; others may differ.



Widnows 10 Edge markup

Edge includes the ability to annotate Web pages.

On the other hand, one of Edge’s most useful features is the way in which it takes advantage of Cortana, which inconspicuously appears at the top of pages for which Cortana can offer help. For example, when I went to the Web page of one of my favorite restaurants, the Cortana icon appeared to the right of the Address Bar with the message, “I’ve got directions, hours, and more.” When I clicked it, a sidebar appeared on the right-hand side of the page with a map, address, phone number, description of the restaurant and reviews. There were also links for getting directions, looking at the menu and calling the restaurant.

For me, this is the biggest edge that Edge has over competing browsers. It doesn’t just display specific Web pages, but it can also deliver useful information not found on that page.
Windows 10 cortana helps edge

Edge doesn’t just display specific Web pages, but can deliver additional useful information not found on the page.

My verdict on Edge? Given its speed, Reading View, Cortana integration, simple design and eventual ability to use add-ins, it’s a winner. For now, it may not render all Web pages correctly, but I expect that will be fixed eventually. When that happens, I may abandon Chrome for it.

Windows Apps on the desktop
One reason Windows 8.1 felt like two separate operating systems was the dramatically different behavior of the apps that were written for the touch interface (now called Windows apps, remember?) and those written for the non-touch desktop. Desktop apps could be run in resizable windows, but Windows apps ran either full-screen, “snapped” next to another Windows app (but not a desktop app), or minimized. So you couldn’t have multiple Windows apps running in separate windows on the desktop alongside desktop apps.

That changes in Windows 10. Windows apps can now be resized, minimized and closed in the same familiar way as desktop apps. You can drag the edges of a Windows app to resize it and use the familiar desktop menu on the upper right for minimizing, maximizing and closing the app.

Windows 10 apps
The apps in the Windows touch interface can now be resized the same way that desktop apps can.
Windows apps have been redesigned in another way as well. On the left-hand side of the screen is a series of icons for accessing different features in an app. These icons change depending on the app. For example, the Weather app has icons for news, maps, historical weather and so on. And in the news app there are icons for local news and videos, and for customizing your news interests.

Another improvement: Windows apps in version 8 were low-powered and not particularly useful — more like simple tablet apps than fully featured desktop apps. In Windows 10, that changes. Some are quite good. You may even find yourself wanting to run them.

Three apps in particular have been powered up: Maps, Mail and Calendar. Mail has been notably improved with a new interface and new features. Unlike the Mail app in Windows 8, it supports POP-based mail. It’s also much simpler to manage your mail in it. When reading an email, icons across the top let you reply, forward, delete, archive and flag mail. You can click the menu at the upper right to get at more features, including moving mail, marking it as read, printing and zooming.

Text-formatting features are also better than in the Windows 8 version. When you compose mail, a large toolbar appears at the top of the screen, which lets you change text formatting; undo and redo text changes; insert tables, pictures and links; and attach files. You can also spell check your mail and change its language.

Windows 10 mail

The Mail app’s text formatting features have been greatly improved.

Tablet users will be pleased to know that gestures work in the Mail app. Swipe an email to the right to archive it and swipe again from the right to unarchive it. Swipe to the left to flag a message.

The Calendar app is also much improved. I found the Windows 8 version so cluttered and confused-looking it felt unusable. If you wanted to do something simple like change the view (Day, Work Week or Month) it wasn’t clear at first how to do it. You had to call up a menu, and then make your choice.

In the Windows 10 version, the Day, Work Week, Week, Month and Today views are all accessible by clicking an icon at the top of the page. I also appreciate that even when looking at a day’s calendar, the month view is available on the right side of the screen.



Windows 10 calendar

The new Calendar apps has a much cleaner interface than the previous Windows 8 version.

As with Mail, improvements are more than skin deep. Notably, unlike in the Windows 8.1 version, the new Calendar supports Google Calendar. Just click Setting / Accounts / Add Account, click Google and follow the instructions on-screen. You can add an iCloud calendar in the same way.

Maps is also improved. Travelers who use tablets or laptops will appreciate that you can download maps and use them when you’re not connected to the Internet. This is especially useful if you’re travelling overseas and want to keep down your data use, or if you know you’re going to be somewhere beyond the reach of an Internet connection.


Windows 10 maps

The app is much better designed than previously. Icons down the left let you search for a location or for places such as hotels, restaurants and coffee shops; add a location to a favorites list; get directions for driving, walking or for public transportation; change your settings; and visit what Microsoft calls 3D cities. Go to one of these 3D cities and you’ll see a view of it similar to Google Earth. I didn’t find them particularly useful, but you can’t beat the feature if you want to virtually visit Aix en Provence, Paris or Barcelona. (I passed on Brownsville, Tex. and Abington, Penn.)

On the right side of the Maps app you’ll find buttons for zooming in and out, tilting the map, changing its orientation and adding overlays for traffic and other tools.

One piece of big news is that the app now has a Street View-like feature called Streetside, which works much like the Bing Maps Streetside feature. With the addition of Streetside, the Maps app could give Google Maps a run for its money. It has much the same features and integrates well with Cortana. For example, if I tell Cortana, “Give me directions to Ithaca, New York,” the Map app launches, complete with directions. If I ask Cortana to see a map of a city, Maps launches to it.
One Settings app to rule them all

In Windows 8.1, if you wanted to change your settings, you had to go on a treasure hunt. Some settings were in the Windows Settings app, which was accessible via the Charms bar, while others were in Control Panel. It was difficult to remember where each setting was located.

In Windows 10, you’ll find almost all settings in the Settings app, accessible from the bottom of the Start menu. It’s cleanly and logically organized, with nine sections: System, Devices, Network & Internet, Personalization, Accounts, Time & Language, Ease of Access, Privacy and Update & Security. Click on the icon for any section, drill down, and you’ll easily navigate to what you need. There’s also a search bar so that you can forgo browsing and search for a specific setting instead.

People who do a great deal of customization and tinkering (including me) won’t find everything they need in Settings. If you want to assign your PC a static IP address, have your system display files that are normally hidden, display file extensions for common files or access a host of other techie settings, you’ll have to go to the old standby, Control Panel. On the other hand, having settings that you don’t use much relegated to the Control Panel makes sense, because it makes the main Settings app easier to navigate.
Hello, Action Center

New in Windows 10 is the Action Center, which is accessible via an icon on the right side of the Taskbar. The Action Center performs two functions: It displays notifications for such things as new emails and security and maintenance messages, and it gives you access to a handful of common settings for such tasks as connecting to Wi-Fi networks, turning Bluetooth on and off, and changing brightness settings. The notifications for new email, security alerts and others first appear on their own on the lower right of the desktop and disappear after a few seconds. But they live on in the Action Center, so that you can attend to them there when you want.

For example, if you tap an email notification, the email opens in the Mail app. Tap a security notification, and you’ll be taken to the appropriate tool. When I received a notification that I could speed up my PC because three unnecessary programs were launching on startup, I was sent to the Task Manager, which let me stop those programs from running.


Windows 10 action center

The Action Center displays notifications and offers access to commonly-used settings.

At the bottom of the Action Center are icons for making quick changes to common Windows settings. You can turn Bluetooth on and off, change your screen’s brightness, and switch between tablet mode and non-tablet mode, among other settings.

Other changes

There have been a lot of other lesser changes in Windows 10. The Taskbar now runs on the Start screen when you’re in tablet mode, which helps to unify the tablet and non-tablet interfaces. It’s now black, which makes the icons on it stand out more clearly.

File Explorer has seen changes as well. Its icons are more colorful and brighter. You can pin and unpin folders to it on the Start menu. You also get to OneDrive from inside File Explorer; it appears as a folder with subfolders underneath it. And you can share files — click a file and select Share from the top menu and you get a variety of ways for sharing, including via email and Twitter. You can compress a file and burn it to disc from the same menu.

The Windows Store has also gotten a makeover. The design is simpler, cleaner, even elegant. More important than that, though, is that you can now download and install desktop apps from it, something not previously possible. Microsoft is also making a push to get more apps into the store by introducing what it calls Universal apps that will be able to run on any Windows device, including desktops, laptops, tablets and phones.

Also new is Task View and the ability to create multiple desktops. Tap the small icon just to the right of the Cortana search bar and you’ll see all of your currently running apps and applications as thumbnails on the desktop. Click the X on any of the thumbnails to close it.

More importantly, though, you can create multiple desktops, each with different apps and applications running on them. To do that, when you’re in Task View, you click New desktop to create a second desktop; you can then run apps and applications inside it. In fact, you can create several desktops; to switch among them, click the Task View icon, and then click the desktop you want to switch to.

Windows 10 task view running
Task View shows all of your currently running apps.

If you’ve got the proper hardware, Windows 10 supports a biometric security feature that Microsoft calls Windows Hello, letting you log into Windows via a fingerprint scan, face scan or iris scan.

Not everything about Windows 10 is an improvement over Windows 8, though. Whether you like it or not, Windows 10 updates are always automatically installed. In Windows 8 you could pick and choose which updates to install. Not so with Windows 10. What Microsoft sends via Windows Updates gets installed. Case closed.
The bottom line

It’s this simple: Windows 10 is a dramatic improvement over Windows 8. It works as single, unified operating system rather than a Rube Goldberg kludge of two operating systems poorly bolted together. It changes its interface depending on whether you’re on a tablet or a traditional PC, and runs well on both.

Cortana, despite some shortcomings, is a very worthwhile addition, and the Edge browser gives Chrome a run for its money. Built-in apps are greatly improved.

Despite some bugs and annoyances (like being forced to accept Windows updates), it will be worthwhile to upgrade from Windows 8.1 before July 29, 2016, when Microsoft’s one-year free upgrade offer runs out. Windows 7 users should consider upgrading as well, thanks to Cortana, Edge and the advent of useful Windows apps. (That said, you do have that full year to upgrade, and there are compelling reasons to wait a little while.)

As for me, I’m upgrading every Windows device I have to it.


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Windows 10: A guided tour

Here are some of the most prominent changes to Windows 10 from its predecessor.

A guided tour
Microsoft released a technical preview of the next version of Windows for the public to download and try for free. Although a final release with additional features isn’t expected until the middle of 2015, there are already a number of changes compared to Windows 8.1. Here are some of the most prominent.

Return of the Start Menu
Clicking the Windows logo Start button, or pressing the Windows logo key on the keyboard, summons the Start Menu, which was last seen in Windows 7, but absent from Windows 8 and 8.1. The left half of this Start Menu lists pinned applications, apps and folders, and recently opened programs and other items. The right half displays the tiles of Windows Apps — it’s like a mini version of the Start Screen from Windows 8/8.1 attached to the Start Menu. Just as on the Start Screen, you can rearrange the placement of these tiles by clicking-holding-and-dragging on each one.

All Apps
Clicking “All Apps” will show a listing of apps, applications and folders on your system.

You can drag the name of a Windows App (in this example, the Weather app), or even a desktop application, from the left half of the Start Menu over to the right half, so that it can be placed as a tile with the other tiled Windows Apps or applications.

Expand to fit
As you add more Windows Apps or applications to the right half of the Start Menu, the panel will automatically expand to fit them.

Start Menu can expand or shrink
Click-and-hold onto the top border of the Start Menu, and you can drag up to increase the height of the Start Menu panel…

Colorful changes
The background color of the Start Menu can be changed by right-clicking on a blank area of it and selecting “Personalize.”

Return of the Windows 8/8/.1 Start Screen
If you prefer the Windows 8/8.1 Start Screen, you can turn it back on by right-clicking on the Taskbar and unchecking “Use the Start menu instead of the Start screen.”

Resizable windows
In Windows 8.1, Windows Apps can run on the desktop environment but only in full screen. Windows 10 Technical Preview now allows them to be run in smaller, resizable windows. You can click-hold-and-drag on all sides and corners of the windows of Windows Apps to resize them.

Don’t ignore the three dots
Clicking the three dots that are set toward the left of a Windows App’s title bar will open this panel which provides features that are specific to that app.

Oh, snap
Windows 10 Technical Preview expands upon the user interface in Windows 8.1 that allows you to auto-resize an application’s window by “snapping” it to the edges of the screen. In this example, as the File Explorer window is dragged to the right edge of the screen, a light grayed-out region appears.

More snapping
Releasing the mouse or touchpad button will then automatically resize the File Explorer to occupy exactly the right-half of the screen. The other two actively running programs, which in this case are both Windows Apps, then appear as thumbnails. You can also snap a windowed application or app into smaller sizes.

It’s a snap
In this example, the Windows Store app has been snapped to occupy the right half of the screen. The File Explorer has been dragged to the upper-left corner of the screen.

Make it snappy
T
his causes the File Explorer to auto-resize to take up the upper-left portion of the screen. The Chrome browser application appears now as a thumbnail, which when clicked, snaps into place, resizing itself to fill the screen’s lower-left portion.

Switch it up
In Windows 8 and 8.1, you switch among running Windows apps and the desktop environment through this app switcher toolbar, which appears when you move the mouse pointer to the upper-left corner of the screen. But in Windows 10 Technical Preview, this interface won’t be available if you are using the new Start Menu.

Task View
In Windows 10 Technical Preview, there’s a new Task View function. It’s activated by clicking the overlapping-rectangles icon toward the left on the Taskbar. It displays all active applications and apps as thumbnail shortcuts. Just click on one to go to that program, or you can close a program by clicking the “X” that appears when you move the pointer over its thumbnail. Clicking “Add a desktop” along the bottom will open another instance of the Windows desktop environment…

No Charms
In Windows 8 and 8.1, when you move the pointer to the upper- or lower-right corner of the screen, the Charms toolbar appears. Like the app switcher, Windows 10 Technical Preview does away with the Charms, if you are using the OS with the new Start Menu activated. Instead, the Charms’ search function has been relocated as its own icon on the Taskbar set to the right of the Windows logo Start button.

Shutdown
And you access sleep, shut down and restart from the Start Menu; whereas on Windows 8/8.1, you had to go to the Charms bar or Start Screen to get to these.

Command
The command prompt program has a few improvements, and one is keyboard friendly cut-and-paste functionality. Here, a folder directory location is highlighted in the File Explorer and copied by pressing CTRL+C…

Internet Explorer 11
Windows 10 Technical Preview comes with a version of Internet Explorer 11 that includes just a few new features, such as support for the HTTP/2 protocol, and improvements to its JavaScript engine (called Chakra). Otherwise, the Microsoft browser in Windows 10 Technical Preview is the original desktop application, not the Windows App version.

The GUI
Regarding the overall look of Windows 10 Technical Preview: There are hardly any changes from Windows 8.1 at this very early stage of its release, and no new color themes or wallpaper backgrounds. The File Explorer’s icon is a new design, and appears for now to be the only default Windows application to have an updated one.

The only notable change is that the bottom and side borders of windows and many panels have been removed, lending an even more “flat” design that is perhaps meant to unify with the look of Microsoft Office 2013.


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