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Windows 10 - The Essential Guide

Everything you need to know about the latest Windows 10

By , 5th March 2016 in Windows

Windows 10 is now available as a free upgrade and it introduces loads of new features, platform-unifying designs, and Microsoft's new Windows-as-a-service strategy. This guide will help you get up to speed on the most significant details.

Windows 10
Image Credit: Microsoft
Windows 10

Start

Firstly, the Start menu makes a welcome return since it's retirement in Windows 8, and this time it's better than ever. Not only does it contain your applications and most recently used programs as before, it now additionally shows tiles which are user define icons you can configure to access programs, websites and apps more easily. This means that your most used shortcuts are never more than a click away.

It's easier to search and find applications as well, just hit the Windows key to bring up the Start menu and start typing to trigger Microsoft's "search anywhere" tool. It can not only search your applications, files and browser history, but also the internet as well.

New Windows 10 Start Menu
New Windows 10 Start Menu

The Action Centre

The action centre is a new panel to Windows 10 where you can get an overview of your common settings as well as notification message from applications. Those yellow balloon tooltips are now notifications in the action centre. You can also change some common settings, such as enabling/disabling wireless, Bluetooth, connect to projectors and so on. It functions much in the same was as the notifications on a smartphone.

You can access the notification are by clicking on the little comment speech bubble icon next to the clock. This will slide out the action centre. Clicking anywhere outside the action centre will close the window.

Windows 10 Action Centre
Windows 10 Action Centre

Windows Store

As with a lot of platforms, Microsoft has introduced the "store" concept for delivering applications via the Windows 10 unified platform design. The store contains all the apps you could wish for. To access the store, click Start then Store.

You will need to create or sign into a Microsoft account to use the store, even to download "free" apps.

Windows Store
Windows Store

Video Recording

Windows 10 has an excellent built-in digital video recorder (DVR) which records what's on the screen, to a video file which you can share online on sites such as YouTube. While this feature is mainly aimed at gamers, the video recording feature can be used anywhere.

To access this feature you need to open the Xbox application. You don't need to sign in, simply run it then close or minimise it. Once the Xbox application is running, simply press Win+G to bring up the recording bar. From here you can click the record button or press the Win+Alt+R to start and stop your recording.

Your computer must support certain hardware requirements, which unfortunately my PC does not. Your PC must support either Intel Quick Sync H.264, NVIDIA NVENC or AMD VCE.

Once you start recording, all your video recordings will be saved in a folder called 'Capture' that can be found within your Videos folder.

Virtual Desktops

While not a new idea as they have been around in Linux and Mac OSX for years, Windows 10 finally introduces native virtual desktops to Windows. Virtual desktops allow you to organise lots of open applications into groups, which you can easily switch between them.

Virtual desktops are called "Task View" in Windows and can be accessed easily from the taskbar.

Windows 10 Virtual Desktop
Windows 10 Virtual Desktop

When you click the icon, the Task View interface will open where you can see the virtual desktops you’ve added. When you open the Task View interface for the first time, or you only have one desktop, the "Add a desktop" button is available. Click it to add another virtual desktop.

You can easily switch between virtual desktops using the Win+Tab combo in the same way as you use Alt+Tab to switch Windows

The Bad Bits

While there are plenty of great features and new improvements in Windows 10, there are more than a handful of bad features or annoyances. Here is my top 5.

Bing!

The new search anywhere features could be a really useful tool, aside from the fact that for searching the internet it can only use Microsoft Bing, which is next to useless compared to the likes of Google. There is no way to change this.

On a similar note, Cortana Microsofts Siri-like assistant also uses Bing to find answers, and like Siri and Google will record audio and invade privacy even when it's not in use.

My PC is not a tablet!

Windows 10 seems to think that my desktop PC is, in fact, a laptop or tablet or some kind of mobile device. It keeps on telling me to activate location features (I don't have any GPS device), it keeps telling me to swipe here or swipe there for things, it gives me battery notifications (I have no battery?). Then it keeps asking me to try the "tablet mode" in the notification area.

Windows as a service

Microsoft is really pushing for the Windows as a service model where instead of the one time purchase, you pay monthly subscriptions to receive updates and the latest versions of Windows as they get released. At this time it isn't really clear if the options will be a pay-per-device model, a yearly contract, or some hybrid.

There are also rumours that this will lead to Windows being loaded from the Internet rather than a hard drive, making the desktop computer more of a dumb terminal. Not sure if I'm keen on either of these.

Windows Updates

Windows Updates are a good thing, but as a power user, I like to be able to decide what gets installed and when. I generally wait a while for a service pack before installing it in case there are breaking issues that need to be addressed. I've been burnt several times when a Windows update gets released, automatically installed and results in a non-functioning computer. In Windows 10, the updates are required and mandatory. You don't even really get to say when the next reboot will be, they just guess at 3 am and it reboots regardless.

Quick Tips

Here are a few quick tips and tweaks to help you get the most from Windows 10.

Bash Shell

This fantastic feature lets you install the Bash UNIX shell, a feature developed by Canonical for Windows 10. You can enable it by heading to Settings > Update & Security > For Developers and switching on Developer mode. This will install the developer packages. Next, head to Control Panel > Programs > Turn Windows features on or off. Scroll down to the bottom and locate the option "Windows Subsystem for Linux (beta)" and enable it. You should now reboot.

After a reboot, click on start, then search for bash. You should have the option to run this command. You will then get a prompt to install Ubuntu for Windows. Hit "y" to continue and it will download and install.

When that is done (it takes a while) you will have a fully functioning "Bash on Ubuntu on Windows" which will let you effectively use the Linux command line within Windows. It will create a Linux environment for you with mounts to Windows drives and share, as well as let you run Linux commands. Genius!

Privacy Options

I covered some of the privacy options in the guide to installing Windows 10, but here is a complete list of all the privacy options provided by Microsoft. Unfortunately, Microsoft has not put all the options in one place, nor have they made disabling these options easy. In fact, some options you cannot disable. Hey, you did read the EULA right?

Disable Quick Access

To remove frequent folders and recent files list from Quick Access, open File Explorer, click on View tab in Ribbon and then click on Options. Change "Open File Explorer To" to This PC, and untick the options "Show recently used files in Quick Access" and "Show frequently used folders in Quick Access".

Disable annoying notifications

If you get too many notifications, or one particular application is giving annoying notifications you can disable them from showing. Firstly, you need to open the settings menu from the action centre. From here you can find and select 'System' followed by 'Notifications & Actions'. You can now disable or enable notifications for any installed application which uses the notification API.

From here you’ll see a breakdown of all the notifications by category and you can turn them all off or leave some on if you find them useful.

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