July 29, 2015, was an important date in history for Microsoft Windows. It marked the beginning of Windows as a Service. You no longer install Windows once and only upgrade if you feel like dredging through a painful upgrade process. It’s a new modern operating system that stays up to date in much the same way as the operating system on your phone or tablet does. The audience for this article isn’t the developer or IT professional; it’s the non-technical consumer. It’s the millions of users that have a desktop or laptop at home. It’s for those of you in charge of the PCs that your children do their schoolwork on. It’s for my extended family. If you have a computer running Windows at home, you need to upgrade to Windows 10. Why should you upgrade? Read on to find out why.
If you are running a PC running Windows 7, Windows 8 or Windows 8.1, you might have noticed a Windows icon in your task bar asking you to reserve your Windows 10 upgrade. Click on it right now, complete the simple form, and get the process started. You hear all the time now about companies being hacked, people being scammed, identity theft and more. Your ancient computer that rarely gets security updates isn’t helping you here. You need to be on the latest version of Windows with the latest security patches whether you are at home or at work.
Always up to date
When I say always up to date, I don’t just mean security patches. I mean new features in the operating system. With Windows 10, you no longer wait three years for new features every three years; the big painful upgrade is gone. Going forward, new features will just show up every month or two. This may sound jarring but I don’t think it will be. You shouldn’t expect your start menu to have a new look every month, but don’t be surprised if a new option shows up there every once in a while. It’s much better to roll out small changes rather than big ones all at once. This is how Microsoft is operating services like Office 365 and Azure and it makes sense for Windows too.
Fast forward five years from now. When you compare a brand new laptop to one that you bought today, you are going to find that the Windows 10 experience really isn’t any different between the two. Now just because your computer is older, doesn’t mean it doesn’t have the latest Windows features. Take a sampling of PCs that are 5 years old today and you are guaranteed to see several different Windows experiences.
The best experience for tablets, laptops and in-between
Windows 10 is different but familiar all at the same time. People hated the start screen on Windows 8. I never really understood why, but to each their own. Now, you have a choice. You’ll get a new evolved Start menu in Windows 10 on your laptop. If you are using a hybrid device like a Surface Pro 3, then you will have the option to invoke Tablet mode whenever you disconnect your keyboard. This gives you a nice full screen experience for the Start menu and whatever app you might use. If you always want to use the Windows 8-style Start screen, you can turn that on as an option too.
The new Windows 10 Start menu combines the best features of the Windows 7 and Windows 8 Start experiences.
The beginning of the end of passwords
If you haven’t seen the Windows 10 commercial with the babies and children in it, take a look at it now.
This commercial is talking about how Windows 10 is changing the login experience forever through a new feature called Windows Hello. Windows Hello uses new 3D camera technology to take a 3D map of your face. Using facial recognition, Windows 10 will be able to log you in to your computer without you ever typing a password. Since it uses 3D mapping, someone can’t simply hold a picture of you to log in to your PC. While only the newest PCs have cameras that support this right now, you can be assure that this technology is going to take off. Soon, websites will even be able to support you authenticating this way using the new default Windows 10 Web browser, Microsoft Edge. The commercial talks about our children not having to remember passwords when they grow up and that looks to be the truth.
Want to see Windows Hello in action? Take a look at this video.
Sign in with a Microsoft account
Before the days of Windows 8, people used local user accounts to sign into Windows at home. At work, you might already be accustomed to signing in to an Active Directory account that manages your security and settings across devices. Windows 8 added the ability to sign in with a Microsoft account, which gave you many of the same benefits. When you sign in with a Microsoft account, your settings, apps, and even Start menu layout follow you to whatever device you use. Why wouldn’t you want that? When you upgrade, convert your local accounts into Microsoft accounts to get the best Windows experience.
Add your Microsoft account to Windows 10 so that your settings will sync across all of your Windows devices.
Meet Cortana, your digital assistant
I’m sure many of you already use Siri on your iPhone. Cortana, Microsoft’s answer to Siri and Google Now, arguably takes the idea of a digital assistant to the next level. Cortana is fully integrated into Windows 10 and does an excellent job of responding to your commands as well as pushing information to you. When you connect your email accounts to the Mail app, Cortana will do smart things like telling you when to leave for a meeting across town or let you know what the status of your next flight is. If you happen to have a Windows Phone, you are already familiar with Cortana. The experience is similar on Windows 10. For the rest, you have been missing out.
You can easily activate Cortana next to the Start menu by clicking the Circle and doing some quick configuration steps. Take a minute to activate Cortana and see how she can help you in your day-to-day life. Want to see what is going on in the news? Cortana has it. Need a dinner suggestion when you are on the road? Cortana knows where you are and will make suggestions for you.
Cortana shows me the info I need to get my day started. She shows the weather of my current location, my calendar, and suggests a few places to eat.
You can also issue voice commands to Cortana by activating the “Hey Cortana” feature and then speak the command. Simply click the microphone button and state a command. You can tell Cortana to do things such as set reminders and even compose emails. If you’re in a loud office, you can also simply type the command into the search box.
Apple made the App Store famous, but they were far from the first to offer a store for applications on smart phones. If you are running Windows 8.1 today, did you even know that Microsoft has a Windows Store for apps that run on Windows 8.1? While not as robust as what you will find on iOS and Android, the Windows 10 app store offers a lot of promise. Microsoft has made it easy for developers to write an application once and have it available on the PC, Windows Phone and even the Xbox One. This means that you might buy a game for Xbox One and then be able to play it on the go on a tablet like the Surface Pro 3. The Windows Store might not be awesome when you first try it after the upgrade, but give it a try. When you consider that millions of users will take advantage of a free upgrade to Windows 10, companies that develop apps will respond to where the customers are. The Windows Store already some great apps including touch-friendly versions of Microsoft Word, Microsoft Excel and Microsoft PowerPoint.
The Windows Store features apps, games, music, movies and TV.
Awesome for gaming
Microsoft is committed to making the PC platform a first-class gaming experience. The performance improvements we are seeing with DirectX 12 are already impressive. One of my favorite features is the Xbox app, which can allow you to remotely control your Xbox One and even stream games or live TV to your Windows laptop or tablet. That’s right, you can hook up an Xbox One controller to your tablet and then go sit on your back porch and play Titanfall. How cool is that? I’ve tried this out and the performance is better than I expected. Want to watch TV remotely? No problem. You can access OneGuide from the Xbox app and tune to your favorite show wherever you are in the house.
The Xbox App for Windows 10 allows you to see your latest achievements, watch live TV, and even stream Xbox One games to your Windows 10 device.
Try Microsoft Edge
Haters have been trolling on Internet Explorer for years and for good reason. However, Microsoft’s new browser, Microsoft Edge, is worth paying attention to for good reason. Microsoft built the new browser from the ground up for the modern Web. You don’t have to worry about any malicious third-party toolbars showing up in it because Microsoft Edge doesn’t support them. It has a heap of cool new features, too. For example, Reading view gives you the ability to remove all banner ads, navigation, and inline garbage from news articles.
Reading view removes the noise from articles. Now you can read an article without worrying about ads and embedded videos starting automatically.
Microsoft Edge also lets you annotate on Web pages using the Surface Pen or mouse and keyboard and save your notes for later.
The Web Notes feature lets you annotate Web pages using a Surface Pen or keyboard. You can save the notes and share them with others.
Installation is easy
The upgrade is free for users with genuine copies of Windows 7, Windows 8 and Windows 8.1. Microsoft says the upgrade is free for the first year after the Windows 10 launch. For most people, the upgrade installs in place. That means you don’t have to wipe your hard drive and reinstall all your programs. You should make sure you have a backup of important files, but you really shouldn’t have to worry about them. Once it’s your turn to upgrade, it will download Windows 10 automatically in the background. It will prompt you when it’s ready to install. The upgrade completes in less than an hour and you’ll be up and running quickly.
What if you use a PC running Windows XP? Unplug that PC and recycle it now. Seriously, Microsoft no longer supports Windows XP. That means it doesn’t get security updates and that means your files are vulnerable to hackers, viruses and so on. If you examine a typical PC running Windows XP that has been around for a few years, you will find it full of bloatware, malware, spyware, and usually a virus or two. I bet it’s a lot slower than you remember it being when you first bought it, too. You can try and upgrade it, but I recommend wiping the hard drive and starting clean. There is no direct upgrade path from Windows XP so you really don’t have a choice.
Now is the time
Now is the time for you to upgrade. Microsoft has had over 5 million people test pre-release versions of Windows 10 through its Windows Insider Program. More people have participated in testing this version of Windows before the release than any previous version of Windows. You don’t need to wait for the “first service pack” because there isn’t going to be one. Patches and features now roll out at a faster cadence than ever before and Windows 10 installs them automatically.
Microsoft has many PCs to upgrade, so if you are just now requesting your upgrade to Windows 10, your request might be queued for a week or two. Sit tight. You’ll get your upgrade. It will be worth the wait.