This Saturday will mark the second anniversary of the release of Microsoft’s flagship OS Windows 10.
The past couple of years have been somewhat bumpy, with uptake not happening as quickly as Microsoft hoped, and complaints over how aggressively the OS was pushed onto users.
Nevertheless, Windows 10 is being used on some 500 million devices and Microsoft is committed to releasing significant improvements to Windows 10 twice a year.
Here’s what Windows 10 users have got to look forward to and why it’s worth sticking with or switching to Windows. For a counter argument, read the ‘Windows 10: Five reasons to avoid Microsoft’s flagship OS’ companion article.
Smarter, easier to use Windows
No-one can say Microsoft hasn’t honored its promise to update Windows 10 with new features, and this October will see some particularly useful and long-awaited editions, with the arrival of the Fall Creators Update.
Those who regularly swap between between a PC and mobile device should benefit from the ability to pick up where they left off. Microsoft’s Cortana on a Windows 10 PC or Android, iOS or Windows smartphone will be able to recognize which files, websites or apps a person was using most recently and make them available across devices, so users can continue what they were doing after they swap from PC to smartphone and vice-versa.
Another change will see the return of a very popular feature to Microsoft’s OneDrive cloud storage, with Files on Demand letting users see all their files on OneDrive, whether those files were stored on the device or not.
One update that won’t make the Fall Creators Update, but still sounds worthwhile, is Timeline. While Windows 10’s Task View allows users to switch between apps and virtual desktops running at that moment, Timeline will extend this feature, allowing users to jump back to files, apps and sites they previously had open. The Timeline feature will also recognise activity from across different devices.
Batteries on newer laptops and tablets should also last longer when running Windows 10, due to the the new Power Throttling feature. The new feature will squeeze the performance of less important software to reduce battery drain, with Microsoft claiming it has lowered CPU power consumption by “up to 11%”.
Finally, Windows 10 is also getting a new look, courtesy of Microsoft’s new Fluent Design System, which will add light, depth, motion, and the quality of physical materials to Windows UI, as well as to its apps. As well as being more visually appealing, the revamp is designed to make interfaces more intuitive. Examples of this new design include dynamically blurring an app’s backgrounds or sidebars depending on how the software is being used and new transparency, lighting and 3D effects.
Security gets shored up for enterprise
Microsoft hasn’t forgotten about business users with the Fall Creators Update, and will improve how it handles threat detection and response for Windows 10 Enterprise and Windows Server users.
Most enhancements will be to Windows Defender Advanced Threat Protection (ATP) — Microsoft’s threat detection and protection service that is part of Windows 10 Enterprise, and which will bundles together Defender Application Guard, Windows Defender Device Guard, and Windows Defender Antivirus.
SEE: Windows 10 spotlight: Prepare, repair, and recover
WDAG is designed to help protect firms against online threats by adding container-based isolation Windows 10’s Edge browser, allowing it to safely contain malware so it can’t spread within a company’s network.
An extended version of Microsoft’s Enhanced Mitigation Experience Toolkit will be built into the Windows 10 core and called Windows Defender Exploit Guard. Exploit Guard will spot and neutralize potential threats and intrusions, including zero days, using intelligence from the Microsoft Intelligent Security Graph. Windows Defender Antivirus will also begin pulling information from analysis of the billions of data points available via Microsoft’s Intelligent Security Graph, to better identify threats and improve protection.
Admins will be able to more easily manage these features using Intune and System Center Configuration Manager, according to Microsoft, with these orchestration tools will also be updated to make it easier for companies to audit the security configuration and patch status of devices across their IT estate.
Windows 10 PCs with batteries that last longer than one day
If you haven’t made the leap to Windows 10 yet, then perhaps the promise of PCs with “beyond all-day” battery life and ‘always available’ 300Mbps+ downloads will do the trick.
These thin, light and fanless Windows 10 PCs, which will run on the ARM-based Snapdragon 835 chipset used in high-end smartphones, are due out by Christmas.
Longer lasting batteries are the big selling point for the ASUS, HP and Lenovo Snapdragon-based PCs, with Qualcomm claiming the machines will offer “beyond all-day battery life”, stemming from the the chipset’s efficient big.LITTLE architecture and ability to power down CPU cores when they’re not being used.
Capable of running any Windows desktop, Win32, apps, Snapdragon-based PCs have been demoed with the full version of Office 2016 on Windows 10 Enterprise Edition, copying text and graphs between Word, Excel and PowerPoint, which were running side-by-side with no noticeable lag.
The machines promise fast internet without the need for Wi-Fi, with the Snapdragon’s 835’s integrated X16 LTE modem, being demoed downloading a movie at between 330 and 380Mbps.
Windows 10: One OS to rule them all?
Microsoft is continuing in its mission to make Windows 10 the only OS you’ll ever need, by allowing even more Linux distros to run inside of Windows.
While Ubuntu and SUSE Linux are already available as apps from the Windows Store, they will be joined by Fedora Linux later this year and Microsoft says it is “keen to open up more broadly to community distros once we’ve polished the process with our current partners”.
There are definite advantages to running systems on Windows Subsystem for Linux, such as being able to call Windows apps from inside the Linux Bash command line, and access to useful Bash command line tools and software.
That said, the approach also has its drawbacks relatives to alternatives like running a Linux distro in a Windows-based VM. For example, there are still limitations on what commands and software work in Bash on Ubuntu compared to running Bash on a typical Ubuntu install. Most notably, Microsoft doesn’t support the use of desktop environments or graphical applications with the Linux apps.
A voyage into Mixed Reality
Windows 10 will be taking a trip to another dimension at the end of year, when HP and Acer will be releasing ‘Mixed Reality’ headsets that run on a special version of Windows.
According to those who’ve tried the headsets, they are primarily virtual reality (VR) headsets with the ability to act as pseudo-augmented reality (AR) displays by laying virtual objects on top of a “low-resolution” video feed of the real world.
Regardless, pre-release developer versions of the ‘Mixed Reality’ headsets cost $299 and $329, making them both cheaper than the Oculus Rift or HTC Vive VR headsets, and use higher resolution, 1440×1440, screens than the Rift or the Vive.
There are still many unknowns about how these headsets will work in practice, the precision of the movement tracking on the headsets and whether the controllers that map the movement of the user’s hands will be a match for those on the Rift or the Vive.
But if you want a cheap way to try out VR, then these new Mixed Reality headsets might be your best bet, both cheaper than high-end headsets and higher-specced than the similarly priced PlayStation VR.