Update

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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Continuum: Windows 10 on the go

Microsoft designed Windows 8 with a mind toward tablets and desktops alike. Because Windows 10 is designed to function primarily in a desktop mode, it needs its own answer for tablets: Continuum.

When a tablet like a Surface (I used a Surface Pro 2 for testing) is undocked, Windows 10 by default will ask whether you want to put the system into tablet mode. The Start menu suddenly looks more like its Windows 8 ancestor: The live tiles increase in size, and Windows buries the text-based left-hand menu behind a “hamburger” menu icon on the upper right.

windows 10 continuum start menu Mark Hachman

If you shift to tablet mode within Windows 10, the Start menu will be replaced with a Windows 8-ish Start page. 

If you happen to be within the Desktop, your app shortcuts will disappear, leaving only the Cortana icon, the Task View icon, and what looks like a back-arrow (and is). It’s a bit disconcerting, but your apps are still there—just hidden from view until resurfaced by the Task View icon.

I do like how the software keyboard auto-suggests words, however, and wish there were a way to enable that feature when using the hardware keyboard. (Bugs, like a refusal to accept typed input or an inability to launch apps via Cortana, have been fixed.)

windows 10 continuum money app Mark Hachman

Windows 10 apps like MSN Money scale nicely to fill the screen in Continuum’s tablet mode.

I’d also prefer to see something, well, more like the Windows 8 Metro apps when Continuum is enabled in an undocked mode. Apps like Paint still require me to fat-finger through menus to force them to work.

OneDrive, the app that isn’t

Beginning with Windows 8, Microsoft launched the concept of OneDrive, or storing your documents in the cloud (using a decidedly ugly Metro app, no less). With Windows 10, OneDrive now is tightly woven into the operating system, showing up as just another folder inside File Explorer. You can even treat it as a shareable drive. One feature has disappeared, though: the confusing “placeholder” files that resided on your PC as a timesaving device. And that’s good.

windows 10 onedrive Mark Hachman

OneDrive may be listed as an app in Windows 10, bt it’s really just another folder for you to store your stuff.

But while OneDrive has been assimilated into the rest of Windows 10, many other apps remain as standalone applications.

If there’s one mistake Microsoft made early on with Windows 10, it’s that the apps themselves looked decidedly blah. Apps “flowed” to fill the available space. On a modern widescreen monitor, they can end up as vast, vacant courtyards with a few weeds of content pushing up. Microsoft’s answer is to minimize or snap the apps into a smaller space. What I’d rather see is some faint, self-aware backdrop tuned to the app—an album cover or band photo in the Music app, for example. 

What’s impressive is that Microsoft is taking action. On July 15, I mentioned to a Windows 10 product manager that Music needed at least to sync with the user-selected Windows 10 color scheme. By the weekend, Microsoft had updated the app and fixed the problem.

Next: The Windows 10 Store and its apps

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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