What's New in Windows 10? - dummies

By Andy Rathbone

Microsoft views Windows 10 as a one-size-fits-all computing solution that runs on laptops and desktop PCs as well as phones and tablets. Windows 10 can even run on your TV through Microsoft’s Xbox One game console. Windows 10 behaves almost identically on every device, and it brings a huge bonus: Apps known as universal apps will run on a Windows 10 phone, tablet, PC, laptop, and Xbox One.

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Windows 10 behaves almost identically on laptops and desktop PCs, phones (left), and tablets (right).

Besides aiming to run on everything but clock radios, Windows 10 brings these changes to your computer:

  • Start button and menu: Removed from Windows 8 and half-heartedly tacked back onto Windows 8.1, the Start button and Start menu triumphantly return to the desktop in Windows 10. The revamped Start menu sports a column of icons, as well as fingertip-sized tiles for launching apps.
  • Apps on the desktop: Apps, which are small programs from the world of phones and tablets, consumed the full screen in Windows 8 and 8.1. Windows 10 now lets you choose whether to run apps full screen or within desktop windows.
  • Continuum: This buzzword simply means that Windows 10 senses how you’re using a device and behaves accordingly. When Windows 10 runs on a tablet, for example, Continuum enlarges the Start menu and apps to fill the screen with larger buttons, sized appropriately for fingertips to tap. But when you attach a mouse or keyboard to your tablet, your tablet switches away from Tablet mode; the Start menu retreats to a small corner of your screen, and apps begin to run in desktop windows. Continuum lets your tablet switch quickly into a desktop PC and then back to a tablet when needed.
  • Cortana: The digital assistant in Windows 10, Cortana, helps you manage your computing by fetching lost files, stocking your calendar with appointments, grabbing up-to-date traffic information about your commute, and extracting informational tidbits from the Internet. Controlled through either your voice or keyboard, Cortana works from the Search box adjacent to the Start button.
  • OneDrive: Formerly called SkyDrive, Microsoft’s online file storage service comes built into the Windows 10 desktop. However, OneDrive no longer stores your files on both your PC and the Internet (sometimes called the “cloud”). Instead, OneDrive asks you to choose which files and folders should live only on the cloud and which should live on both the cloud and your computer.
  • More Apps: The Windows Store offers more than 700,000 apps. That’s nowhere near the number of apps found for the iPhone, iPad, or Android phones and tablets, but you can find plenty of big names like Facebook and Netflix, with more on the way.
  • Multiple desktops: Windows 10 lets you create extra desktops, and you can switch between them with a click or tap. You can set up one desktop for work and another for gaming, for example. (Or, you can completely ignore the feature.)
  • Windows Hello: This welcome security update allows you to sign into your computer without typing in a password. With the right fingerprint reader or camera, your computer can recognize either your face, fingerprint, or iris and automatically let you in. You can even access supported websites without having to type in your username and password.
  • Windows Ink: This big update lets you write on your tablet’s screen with a special pen, letting you add handwritten notes and drawings to apps like Maps, the Microsoft Edge browser, and Office.
  • Windows 10 is now a service: Perhaps most important, Microsoft treats Windows 10 as a constantly changing service rather than a finished product. Microsoft plans to keep adding new apps, features, and updates to Windows 10 for as long as you own the device.

Unlike Windows 8 and 8.1, Windows 10 no longer feels like two operating systems crammed into one computer. It feels like a single operating system that brings out the best in both tablets and desktop PCs.

For its first year of release, Windows 10 was a free upgrade for people owning fully patched Windows 7 or 8.1 computers. The upgrade is no longer free, but it still keeps all of your files, apps, and programs in place. Owners of older PCs can also upgrade to Windows 10, but the upgrade will wipe out all of your files and programs. You’ll need to reinstall everything from a backup. (If your old computer is a slow crawler, it will still be a slow crawler after upgrading to Windows 10. You’re probably better off buying a new PC with Windows 10 preinstalled.)

Windows no longer comes in a Windows RT version. If you bought a Windows RT tablet, such as the Surface RT or Surface 2, you can’t upgrade it to Windows 10.