Is Microsoft’s new offering the perfect 10?
July 29th 2015 will go down in history as a memorable date in the IT and technology sphere. This was the date when Microsoft launched Windows 10 across 190 countries simultaneously, described by its creators as the last version of Windows that will ever be launched.
In fairness, this isn’t actually as newsworthy as it first sounds. Rather than making step changes between different versions of Windows (3.1 to 95, for instance, or 7 to 8), Windows 10 is a platform that can be modified and updated gradually over time. This is more in keeping with the experience of Apple and Android users, where updates periodically evolve the platform without a single revolutionary change. The first major update for Windows 10 is due next summer, with another scheduled for next autumn, though these dates may be brought forward depending on user feedback in the coming months.
Cynics may have raised an eyebrow at the announcement that Windows 10 has been designed for use across all platforms. That claim was also made when Windows 8 launched, but its glitchy and unintuitive interface effectively torpedoed any benefits provided by cross-platform compatibility.
Following a one-year programme of worldwide beta testing, Microsoft now believe Windows 10 is finally able to bridge the ever-shrinking gap between desktop and mobile use. Computers and tablet devices have been the first to receive this new OS, with mobiles and Xbox One consoles due to get their own version of Windows 10 by November. In terms of the latter, Windows 10 will enable Xbox games to be streamed to a PC; the gradual merging of these formerly distinct platforms is as welcome as it is overdue.
Existing non-corporate users of Windows 7 or 8.1 can get Windows 10 free for the first year of launch, after which time it will cost roughly £100 to upgrade to the Home version or £130 for a single-licence copy of the Pro edition. Differences between the two include greater cloud access and superior data protection in Pro, while other versions of Windows include Education (for school IT networks) and Enterprise – effectively a descendant of NT. While Windows Server 2016 will follow in a few months’ time, personal users of Windows 10 have the option to roll back to a previous operating system within a month of installation if they’re dissatisfied. That’s a facility that would have been very useful back in 2012…
While retaining the tiled interface of Windows 8, 10 is also different in several ways. Firstly, there’s the introduction of Edge, the eagerly anticipated replacement for the increasingly troublesome Internet Explorer web browser that has been with us for fully twenty years. The voice-recognition platform Cortana is now present on desktop machines as well as mobiles, with new capabilities including detailed file searches and email dictation. There’s even a welcome return for the Start menu so beloved by users of older Windows versions, with a main screen that’s effectively a merger of the 7 and 8 interfaces.
From a more technical perspective, updates are automatically installed unless users with Pro and Enterprise versions choose to defer them. Administrators can take advantage of a Windows Update for Business system to update networked computers one at a time rather than simultaneously, while update support will remain in place until 2025. Hardware requirements include a minimum 1GB of RAM (with four times this amount recommended) and a 16GB hard drive, which should enable Windows 10 to work on any modern device.
Indeed, one of the few complaints levelled against Windows 10 thus far is that Solitaire now contains pop-up ads unless users pay a small annual fee to banish them. Official reviews describe Windows 10 as an amalgamation of bright new ideas and successful elements from previous versions of Windows, rather than being a badly-assembled rush job (like Vista) or a complete mess (like Windows 8). It seems Microsoft may have returned to the peak of its periodic oscillation between producing brilliant and rubbish software – and just in time.
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