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article imageMicrosoft launches Windows 10: Here's where to start

By James Walker     Jul 29, 2015 in Technology
Today, Microsoft has officially launched its new operating system, Windows 10. Computers worldwide will be downloading it now so here's a look at some of Windows 10's fundamental new features so you can hit the ground running once you've upgraded.
Microsoft unveiled the first version of Windows 10 over nine months ago. Since then, it has evolved from the feedback given by millions of Windows Insiders to create what people will be waking up to this morning.
Windows 10 is a critical step forward for Microsoft and for computing. It represents the first stage of the new "Windows as a Service" model envisioned by Microsoft and could be the last major release of Windows. From now, updates will be delivered as they are ready instead of the old model of an all-new release every few years.
Windows 10 is also different for other reasons. For the first time, millions of people will be upgrading to Windows 10 on their current devices without paying a penny. Microsoft wants as many people as possible to be using the latest version of Windows and by making it free people have added incentive to oblige.
The new operating system isn't just an embodiment of Microsoft's new business strategy though. Windows 10 is the most feature-packed release of Windows yet, so here's a quick look at some of what's new while you wait for your machine to update. This article is far from exhaustive though and is intended only to give a quick overview of the most fundamental changes in Windows 10. You're sure to notice many other improvements and features when you start using it yourself.
The upgrade process
Downloading and installing Windows 10 should be simple and fairly pain-free but there are some important things to remember. First and foremost is to backup. Microsoft may claim that all of your data will be protected and left untouched but it is still best to play it safe and copy your critical files to external storage or the cloud, just in case anything does go wrong.
You'll also want to check that you have enough free disk space on your computer. Microsoft will tell you if you don't but remember that the download is quite large and it will balloon once the installation files have been extracted for use.
If you have Windows 7 or 8.1 and haven't reserved 10 yet, you can still do so from the prompt in the notification tray. This will ensure that you get the upgrade as soon as it is ready for your computer.
Some people will find the update is ready to be installed immediately this morning. Microsoft began quietly preloading Windows 10 onto reserved machines yesterday so you don't have to wait for the download to complete before installing.
It's likely that you won't be seeing Windows 10 on your machine today though. The update is rolling out in waves, starting with Windows Insiders already running Windows 10 preview builds, so be patient. As long as you've reserved, you'll be notified in due course.
Expect the update to take anywhere from 20 minutes to an hour to complete, depending on your system. Eventually, you'll get to the new setup wizard and from there to the new-look desktop and the start of our feature tour.
After admiring Microsoft's new light and smoke-filled default desktop background, you'll probably notice the changes to the Taskbar first. You'll find a slightly flatter design using new wireframe iconography.
The default desktop background for Windows 10  known as  the Hero image
The default desktop background for Windows 10, known as "the Hero image"
Several of the core apps now use plain white icons instead of full colour, giving things a nice uniform feel. The bright overlay for open apps is replaced by a narrow bar of accent colour beneath the app's icon.
The Start button is in the usual place with Cortana's search bar next to it. To the right of that is the new Virtual Desktops button, followed by the usual pinned and open apps. On the right side, you'll notice that the system tray area has received a much needed refresh, including the addition of an all-new notifications pane, Action Center. We'll look at all of these things in more detail later.
One of the biggest and most requested additions is the return of the Start menu. Start now blends the best of the traditional Windows 7 two-paned menu with the colourful, dynamic Live Tiles of the Windows 8 Start screen.
The Start menu on Windows 10
The Start menu on Windows 10
Photo courtesy Microsoft
The left pane is much the same as in Windows 7. You'll find your username and profile picture at the top, followed by a list of frequently used apps. You can also pin apps to this menu to make them easy and quick to find.
Beneath this list, you'll find links to File Explorer, the settings app, a Power menu to let you sleep, shutdown or restart your computer and an "All apps" button. This displays a list of all of your installed apps in the same manner as Windows 7 did.
The right pane is somewhat different. Gone is the static list of shortcuts to folders and places that Windows 7 had, replaced by what is essentially Windows 8's Start screen. You'll notice that the tiles now use a different 3D animation but otherwise much is the same. You can resize the menu to suit your taste (or monitor) and it now overflows vertically. Microsoft has decided against horizontal scrolling for Windows 10.
You'll find that you can pin the same things as you could in Windows 8. Microsoft has removed the feature that synchronised your Start layout between computers though, citing consumer feedback that different device sizes meant they had a different layout on every machine.
Action Center
Microsoft has added a proper notifications centre to Windows 10. It's called Action Center and it lives on the right side of the screen. You can get to it by clicking the speech bubble icon next to the system clock.
Action Center in Windows 10
Action Center in Windows 10
It's worth noting that the notifications Action Center is completely different from the existing "Action Center" in Control Panel which gives you an overview of the security and maintenance operations running on your computer.
The new Action Center makes it easy to keep track of notifications from all of your apps. On Windows 8.1, notifications vanished after a few seconds. If you didn't see it, you missed it completely. On Windows 10, notifications will congregate in Action Center until dismissed, like on a smartphone.
Indeed, it is very similar to Action Center on Windows Phone but with several improvements for Windows 10. Notifications can be expanded to view more detail and interacted with directly. Action Center can display pictures inline, making it a versatile method for app developers to deliver information.
Like on Windows Phone, Action Center also contains a row of toggles for common system functions, found at the bottom of the screen. The toggles can be assigned to things like Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and rotation lock and are a quick way to adjust often used settings. You can click the "Expand" button to show additional rows of toggles for your lesser-used functions. They are likely to be more useful on tablets than on desktops but it is good to see the best bits of Windows Phone 8.1 coming to Windows 10 and then being improved upon.
Tablets and Continuum
When using a tablet running Windows 10, you'll notice that the Start menu expands to be much more reminiscent of the Windows 8 Start screen. Apps will run in full screen mode as on Windows 8, allowing you to make the most of the smaller display and touch input.
Windows 10 s Continuum feature
Windows 10's Continuum feature
You'll also notice that a back button is now added to the taskbar too. This works as you'd expect it to, in a similar way to a back button on Windows Phone or Android devices. It makes it easier to navigate in apps by allowing you to quickly return to the last screen.
If you connect a keyboard and mouse, you'll be asked if you'd like to stay in tablet mode or switch to the full desktop used on laptops and desktop computers. This is Continuum and it's designed to ensure that you're always using the best possible Windows interface.
When you're using a tablet on its own, the large, finger-friendly Start screen is beneficial. But once a keyboard and mouse has been connected, it becomes a hindrance, as millions of Windows 8 users found.
In Windows 10, Microsoft has blended both worlds together by creating a seamless link between the Start screen and desktop. You can switch between tablet mode — with the expanded Start screen — and the conventional desktop at will, using the one which most suits the way you are currently using your device.
Cortana is undoubtedly one of the star features of Windows 10. Cortana is another app built for Windows Phone that has now grown up and become even more useful on computers too. You can now type queries into the "Ask me anything" Cortana search bar on the taskbar or say "Hey Cortana" and use your voice. You'll be able to use Cortana on Windows 10, iOS and Android with your data syncing seamlessly to them all.
Cortana on Windows 10
Cortana on Windows 10
Cortana can do everything that it can on Windows Phone. Try asking for the weather forecast or the latest news and see her response. You can tell her to set reminders, add calendar appointments, sing you a song or predict the winner of a major sports competition, among numerous other options.
She has also acquired some new abilities to herald her arrival on the desktop, such as some nifty file handling features. Cortana can now search for files intelligently, allowing you to ask for specific file types that were created in a certain period.
Opening Cortana without asking anything will display information that is relevant to you, as on Windows Phone. The news, weather, upcoming calendar appointments, stock updates, sports fixtures and traffic conditions will all appear, alongside anything else you add to Cortana's Notebook.
Microsoft wants Cortana to be the default way to search on Windows 10 but you can remove the taskbar search bar by right-clicking it and choosing "Properties" if you'd prefer. It does take up a lot of room that could be better used for pinned apps on smaller monitors.
Multitasking has always been one of the strongest points of Windows and this version is no exception. Multitasking — or "multidoing," as Microsoft now calls it — is now better than ever thanks to two new productivity-focused features.
Multitasking in Windows 10
Multitasking in Windows 10
Windows 7 introduced "Snap" window management which allows you to drag windows to the edges of your screen and have them automatically arrange themselves in a 50/50 split. Windows 10 takes this a couple of steps further.
You can now snap in quarters, dragging apps to the corners to give them 25 percent of your screen estate each. Snapping to the edges will arrange them 50/50 vertically as before.
Snapping one window will now invoke a new "Snap Assist" feature that fills in the remaining space. It provides previews of your other open apps and allows you to pick one to snap against the original app, making Snap even quicker than before.
Virtual desktops in Windows 10
Virtual desktops in Windows 10
Windows power users will be delighted by the addition of virtual desktops. Accessed by the taskbar icon next to the Cortana search bar, you can create an infinite number of virtual desktops that act independently of each other. The programs that you have open on one won't appear on any other, making it great for people who use their computer for several purposes at the same time and want to keep the different interests separate.
Microsoft Edge
Microsoft has finally axed Internet Explorer and built an all-new replacement from the ground up. You'll find the new Edge browser is now the default way to experience the Internet. Early performance benchmarks show that it's also one of the fastest ways.
Microsoft Edge in Windows 10
Microsoft Edge in Windows 10
Cortana is integrated directly into Edge's address bar, enhancing search results for things she knows about. Type in "what is the weather" or "latest news" and Cortana will display the details inline in the address bar.
Edge also features some unique webpage annotation abilities. You can draw, write and scribble all over the Internet using your keyboard, mouse, finger or pen and then share your notes with the people around you.
An integrated reading list lets you easily keep track of articles you want to save for later. The list synchronises automatically across all of your Windows devices and takes your favourites and history with it. When you come to actually reading its contents, you can make use of a special reading mode that clears the normal styling from webpages to leave them looking like a book - just plain text on a page with images displayed inline.
Edge is definitely a step in the right direction for Microsoft. It has successfully reinvented Internet Explorer into an all-new brand designed specifically for the modern Internet with a range of features that you can't find in any other web browser.
Core apps
Windows 8 introduced its own set of core apps that were built right into the operating system. They were designed primarily for touchscreens and often alienated users though, partly because they could only be run full screen. They ended up wasting space on large computer monitors.
Mail in Windows 10
Mail in Windows 10
Microsoft has made some welcome changes in Windows 10. On the desktop, apps can now be run in windows, just like conventional desktop programs. You can drag them around and resize them as you can with anything else on the desktop, making them much more useful with a keyboard and mouse.
On tablets, the apps take up the entire screen as before, making it easy to use touch input and snap apps side-by-side. The new Universal Windows platform means that the same code runs whether you're using a Windows 10 phone, tablet or computer. The app just intelligently resizes itself to fit your display.
The Calendar app in Windows 10
The Calendar app in Windows 10
The apps themselves have also all got upgrades in both functionality and design. Out of the box you'll find all-new versions of the existing Windows 8 apps such as Mail, People and Calendar, as well as a redesigned suite of MSN apps for news, money, sport and weather.
More can be found in the Windows Store which will be growing in the next few weeks. Developers can begin submitting apps built specially for Windows 10 from today.
Once you've finished setting up your new Windows 10 install, you might want to consider sitting down for a spot of gaming. Microsoft has worked hard to reinvent PC gaming on Windows with the new Xbox app.
The Xbox app on Windows 10
The Xbox app on Windows 10
You can now connect with your friends, track your gameplay and achievements history and view the latest developments from the games that you play, all from one centralized hub. A new "game bar", accessible by pressing Win+G, lets you take screenshots or record video as you play. Xbox One owners can stream games from their console to their Windows 10 devices, allowing them to keep playing if somebody else wants to use the TV.
Windows 10 is an exciting evolution for Microsoft and for Windows itself. The Start menu is back but now works well on desktops and on tablets. Search is better than ever with Cortana and multitasking remains the best of any operating system, thanks to the addition of virtual desktops and the refinement of the much-loved Snap.
Windows Hello in Windows 10
Windows Hello in Windows 10
For the first time ever, Windows has a proper notifications centre. Its core apps are responsive, fluid and filled with features while Edge marks the resurgence of Microsoft's browser division after years of letting Internet Explorer drag behind its rivals.
Whether you're installing Windows 10 right now or waiting to buy a new device that includes it out of the box, you're likely to be impressed by at least some of what Microsoft and its millions of Windows Insiders have created. If you don't like something or feel that it could be done better, let it be known with the Windows Feedback app. More features, improvements and fixes will be delivered in the future, directly to your machine and for free, based on what users say of this first release of Microsoft's Windows 10, built for people who do.
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