Should you upgrade to Windows 10? Generally I avoid the first version of any major upgrade, figuring bugs will be shaken out in its first few month, making for a more stable product. But Microsoft has done a good job rolling out Windows 10 to legions of beta testers, and it’s an attractive move for many users, even though there is no rush to make the decision.
Remember that Windows 10 is free to Windows 7 and Windows 8.1 users up until July 29, 2016 (wait any longer than that and you’ll be paying full retail). But Windows XP users, although their upgrade isn’t free, shouldn’t wait, assuming they are using their computer on the Internet. Online, XP is a high-risk environment that that puts information in jeopardy. For these people, I advise biting the bullet and buying a new PC with Windows 10 already installed.
For those happy with Windows 7, the upgrade case is still compelling, particularly the return to a familiar interface without the major familiarization problems created by the ill-starred Windows 8. The start button is right where it should be, the user experience an easy transition from either Windows 7 or 8. You can choose menu defaults and which apps you may want to display.
Those Windows 8 Metro apps no longer seize the entire screen, but sensibly enough (given that this is Windows), now actually fit into desktop Windows and show usable mouse-driven menus. I won’t use the Mail and Calendar features that Windows 10 makes available (I’m a heavy Google Docs and Gmail user), but the updated Mail in particular will win you over if only through its interface. Microsoft seems to have conquered the clumsy impulse to turn desktop PCs into tablets, but has retained useful features like gesture controls for touch screen navigation.
Interface decisions like these take time to get right, but Windows 10 shows real progress. Its “Continuum” feature will switch between desktop PC mode and a tablet-like interface more like Windows 8, defaulting to one or the other depending on the equipment being used. My own favorite is the virtual desktop feature, something I use constantly in Linux, now adapted for Windows so you can move seamlessly between screens. Virtual desktops make a small screen seem far roomier and let you focus on the job at hand by removing extraneous clutter.
Throw in Cortana, which had previously been available only on Windows Phone 8.1, and Windows 10 gains what may be the best voice assistant out there. Integrating your own information with the software’s search functions, Cortana is uncanny about producing what you need to see when you need it, while your own searches can be driven by voice or text. We’ll see how Cortana adapts to the desktop environment, but this is an assistant that learns as it goes and holds its own against Apple’s Siri and Google Now in a rapidly developing niche.
Cortana can also help with Web searches when you’re using the new Microsoft Edge browser that takes the place of Internet Explorer and seriously upgrades it. Some of the useful features included in Edge are things we’ve had to get through browser add-ons until now, including the essential ability to mark up text on a Web page and strip advertising and simplify formatting through a Reading View. Edge is fast and I’m looking forward to exploring its capabilities.
So is Windows 10 really ready to go? The answer to that is interesting. Operating systems are now in evolutionary mode, with needed tweaks being infused through regular updating. In a sense, a modern operating system is never really finished because it has to keep responding to new challenges, of which security is only one. I like what I see in Windows 10 and am happy enough to let any early glitches be smoothed out along the way. With a year to make the decision, I’d say Windows 7 and 8 users can grab the free Windows 10 any time they choose.
Paul A. Gilster is the author of several books on technology. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.