Microsoft’s Windows 10 operating system is an ambitious beast. Having carved out a market for Windows 2-in-1s, Microsoft utterly failed to properly educate users on the benefits of having a device running Windows 8. Windows 10 is a recalibration, a move that Microsoft hopes will bring disenfranchised notebook and desktop users back into the fold.
Microsoft revealed last year that it had plans to kill of the Start Screen for notebook and tablet users. It also announced that it would move to one app store for Windows phones, Windows notebooks, Windows desktops and Windows tablets. In place of the Start Screen the company rolled out Continuum, a use interface that adapts to whatever input methods are present.
Two weeks in I can’t say that I’m necessarily loving Windows 10, but I can say that I think Microsoft has a hit on its hands. It’s also worth rethinking the narrative surrounding Windows 10. Windows 10 isn’t an apology for Windows 8 as much as its Windows 8 with sense tweaks.
Windows 10 is Windows 8 Remixed
Microsoft skipped a version number and is trumpeting the death of the Start Screen for some users, but make no mistake: Windows 10 is Windows 8. It’s just done correctly this time. Full disclosure, I happen to have liked Windows 8.1, the last major update that Microsoft made to Windows. I loved the way it added customization options to the Windows 10 Start Screen. I liked the way it smartly added Search and Power buttons.
That’s not to say I loved the way the operating system worked. The Charms Bar, that black toolbar that floated out on notebooks and tablets when you put your mouse pointer in the right corner, was a horrible idea. The App Bars that hid crucial settings in a drawer at the bottom of apps was just as bad.In fact, hidden interfaces are always a horrible idea, I’d say. Windows 10 kills the Charms Bar and relies on the Action Center for most of its functions. Windows Store apps have a menu button on the far right for more options too. Want to quickly see who messaged you? Now you can. Want to access the Settings app, they’re individually available too. In Tablet Mode Windows 10 makes every app and the Start Screen take over almost the entire display. With Tablet Mode off, apps and the Start Screen fall on top of the Desktop.
In these past two weeks, I’ve yet to see a single Windows thing that felt entirely new or smart. Instead, I’ve noticed Microsoft carefully putting on-screen buttons and options for features that were previously hidden. Every version of Windows 10 has on-screen cues for the new Action Center, Search area and TaskView area. As a person who interacts with Windows 8 with a mouse and keyboard as much as I do touch, this is a way better experience than I’d envisioned.
Windows 10 on Tablets
There are a lot of people out there who were comfortable with the way Windows 8 worked on tablets. I’ve seen a few vocal critiques discussing how Windows 10 is terrible for users on tablets. I can’t say I share their view.
Yes, Microsoft has made some compromises in Windows 10. The Taskbar that many Windows 8 fans rebelled against in the Windows 8.1 update for Windows 8 is still here. It’s gotten a visual upgrade to match the Start Screen though, which is important because it’ll be present whether you’re in tablet mode or not.
At first, I had a hard time understanding why Microsoft thought I needed this thing amongst my Start Screen and Windows Store apps. Then I found myself switching between apps with it in Tablet Mode on the Surface Pro 3 and I realized this just makes sense. Users who still need a quick gesture for app switching can swipe from the left of their screen to change apps and add multiple Desktops if they’d like, but the upgraded Taskbar addresses a real problem. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been asked by Windows tablet users how to switch or close an app or go back to another they just had opened.
I think a lot of people have characterized Windows 10 as a complete rethinking of Windows 8. That’s false. Managed notifications are still here, the Start Screen is still here, Windows Store apps are still here. Windows 10 is still a mix of the Start Screen and desktop on 2-in-1s. Live Tiles are still a big highlight of the operating system.
The difference between Windows 8 and Windows 10, and the real reason I suspect it’ll be a hit, is that Microsoft stopped hiding things from users. That sounds small, but it’s a sea change for anyone who sat through a Windows 8 tutorial trying to figure out edge gestures and swiping. The company isn’t adding a ton, but thinking more critically about how it makes the things it does add available for users to interact with.
Microsoft expects to release Windows 10 for free to Windows 7 and Windows 8 users later this year.