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Windows 10 review: It's familiar, it's powerful, but the Edge browser falls short

Microsoft has listened, and Windows 10 debuts with compelling new features—Cortana, Task View, a familiar Start menu—well worth the upgrade.

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Hello: The new way to log in to Windows 10

Note: Updated on July 30 with new information.

Microsoft began insisting on a login password with Windows 8, as an additional safeguard against losing your data. With Windows 10, Microsoft is raising the bar.

During the installation process, you’ll be asked for your Microsoft username and password, the key that unlocks your data within Microsoft’s ecosystem. But instead of using that password to log in every session, Microsoft will encourage you to use a 4-digit PIN—treating your PC, essentially, as a credit card. You’ll still have the option to use a password, but a PIN is a much simpler option.

windows 10 handson login edited Mark Hachman

You can either use a PIN, a traditional password, or Windows Hello to log in to Windows 10.

A second option, Microsoft Hello, is both simpler and more secure. Using biometric security—either a fingerprint or your face—Hello will log you in, automatically. Fingerprint readers are fairly rare outside corporate machines, but the depth cameras needed for face recognition are rarer still, found only in new PCs.

Still, Microsoft’s making Hello one of the features of their first Windows 10 ads, and it’s not hard to see why. Windows Hello asks you to put your face in its camera range for a few seconds to train it, with your glasses on and off if necessary. After that, logging in is as simple as approaching the PC with the camera active. If the camera can see your face (with a Surface docking station, you may need to lean down a bit) you’ll be launched into Windows 10, literally without pushing a button. 

We’ve tested Hello fairly extensively, and are convinced that this is going to be one of Windows 10’s highlights, if you can find a PC with Hello hardware installed. Setting up Hello and training it can be done in literally a minute, and the login process is nearly instantaneous. I did find that after taking a shower, dressing, and sitting down at my PC, Hello failed to recognize me.  It did one other time, as well. If this happens, however, you can default to either a PIN or password and proceed normally.

I tried snapping a selfie and holding it near the camera to try and fool it, but that didn’t work. I’m not going to say that Hello is foolproof and utterly secure, but I suspect you’re going to need some sort of a mask to beat it.

Keep in mind that Hello is always looking out for you. To keep your PC from watching constantly, turn Hello off in the Settings menu.

Meet the new-old Start menu

Windows 10 newcomers, Microsoft has a treat for you. Click the Windows icon in the lower left corner, or tap the Windows key on the keyboard. The new Start experience appears, combining elements of both Windows 7 and Windows 8. You’ll find a list of your most frequently used apps to the left, along with the tile-based Windows 8 approach to the right. The live tiles periodically rotate, refreshing themselves with new updates. It’s a motif that was a little overwhelming in Windows 8, but seems more appropriate in this context.

Windows 10 Start menu Mark Hachman

The new Windows 10 Start screen. For some Windows 8 users it will justify an upgrade all by itself.

Right-clicking and pinning apps to the Start menu will be intuitive for Windows 8 users, but it’s going to feel a little strange for longtime Windows 7 devotees. You can’t manually add apps to the left-hand list; Windows 10 picks those for you, based on your most frequently-used apps. Fortunately, you can also launch apps by typing their names into the Cortana search box at the bottom left, or scrolling all the way down the lefthand list to the tiny “All apps” link.

Oddly, some apps don’t show up in the “All apps” list—like Paint, the venerable, quick-and-dirty image editing app. I know it’s there, but Windows 10 doesn’t show it to me. (As some readers have noted, you can find it in the Windows Accessories folder.)

new Windows start menu

Still, Microsoft’s early vision for the Windows 10 Start screen honestly looked as good, or better, than the current version. Note the flexibility in adjusting the apps in the left-hand bar.

Microsoft will be judged on first impressions. However, not everyone will find the new Start menu intuitive. The Get Started intro app should probably be front and center to lead new users by the hand.  Tips pop up occasionally, offering guidance, and the familiar toolbar sits at the bottom of the screen. There, you should see a row of icons you’ll recognize: the Cortana search bar, followed by the new Task View, an Internet Explorer-like Edge icon, and more. But the Edge icon is the only visual hint that answers the critical question most new users will ask: “So how do I get to the Internet?”

Next: Deep into Windows 10’s settings

At a Glance
  • Windows 10 drives the PC platform forward with its mix of powerful, productive features. Only a few bugs and design issues mar its shine.

    Pros

    • Free upgrade for Windows 7, Windows 8.1 PC owners
    • Cortana digital assistant is potentially powerful
    • Start menu takes best of Windows 7, Windows 8

    Cons

    • Still some obvious bugs at time of review
    • Thematically, some apps are just plain dull
    • Microsoft Edge browser underperforms competition
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