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From Cortana to the fancy new Start menu, you won't want to miss these Windows 10 features.
Burying the past
Let’s not beat around the bush: Windows 10 isn’t anywhere near finished, yet it’s already head-and-shoulders better than Windows 8.1, at least for traditional PC users. The fact that it banishes full-screen apps and the Metro Start screen to the aether, focusing instead on the tried-and-true desktop, should be reason enough to make PC purists smile.
These are the 10 coolest new features already available in the Windows 10 Preview. Want to try them for yourself? Here’s everything you need to know to give the Windows 10 Preview a whirl.
The Start menu
Windows 10 atones for one of Windows 8’s greatest sins by returning the Start menu to its rightful spot in the lower left-hand corner of the desktop. But rather than focusing on desktop apps alone, the Windows 10 Start Menu mixes in a dash of the Metro Start screen’s functionality, sprinkling Live Tiles of Windows 8-style apps next to shortcuts to more traditional PC software.
You can turn off that Live Tile functionality if you’d like, and even unpin all the Metro apps from the Start menu, returning it to purely desktop-focused glory. Or you can choose to have the Start menu expand to the full screen, and resize Metro apps to recreate a more Windows 8-like experience. The choice is yours.
Windowed Metro apps
As you might have caught on by now, those reviled Metro apps from Windows 8 haven’t been eradicated—but they have been molded to fit desktop sensibilities. In Windows 10, launching a Metro app on your PC opens it in a desktop window, rather than dumping you into a full-screen app. The windowed apps have a mouse-friendly toolbar of options across the top, and even alter their interface to best fit the size of the window. Nifty.
It’s not all roses—you can’t cut-and-paste text from a Metro app to a normal app, for instance, and Metro apps still tend to sport a sea of wasted space. But it’s a vast improvement over Windows 8.
Action Center notifications
Notifications are one of the coolest features of modern operating systems, with popups reminding you of all sorts of useful information—and Windows 10 has them, too.
As Cortana becomes more tightly integrated into Windows 10, expect to see the Action Center become a repository of useful information (rather than the somewhat barren wasteland that it is right now). As notifications slide into view, they’re archived here.
Cortana, Microsoft’s clever digital assistant on Windows Phone 8.1, makes the jump to PCs with Windows 10, where she assumes control of the operating system’s search functions. Cortana will want to access your personal info, then use that info along with her Bing-powered cloud smarts to intelligently surface information you’re looking and perform other helpful tasks.
Cortana can help you find all sorts of online information via natural language queries you ask using text or voice commands. Cortana can also apply those natural language smarts to use search your hard drive, OneDrive, and business network for files that meet certain filters, like “Find me pictures from May.”
It’s deeply cool… though the initial Cortana build can be a bit flaky. She's a lot smarter (and funnier) in Windows Phone 8.1; the Windows 10 version just needs a bit more time in the oven.
Project Spartan browser
Forget Internet Explorer. Well, don’t forget it entirely—it’s still tucked away in a corner of Windows 10 for legacy compatibility purposes. But the star of the Internet show in Microsoft’s new operating system is clearly Project Spartan, a brand-new browser built from the ground up for speed, slickness, and trawling the modern web.
Spartan uses Microsoft’s new Edge rendering engine—which isn’t being included in IE in Windows 10—and packs some nifty extras. Cortana pops up with supplementary information while you search the web, such as Yelp reviews and Bing Maps directions when you’re viewing a restaurant website. Digital inking tools let you easily mark up a website and share it with others. Finally, Spartan also includes an awesome clutter-stripping Reading View, and allows you to stash articles in the complementary Reading List app for later perusal.
Revamped Mail and Calendar apps
Windows 10 Preview build 10061 introduced overhauled Mail and Calendar apps that are vastly better than their Windows 8 counterparts. While the Windows 8 apps were pokey, the Windows 10 variants are speedy and responsive, and they manage to fit much more info on the screen while still being friendly to mice cursors and fat fingers alike. The new apps also dynamically shift their interfaces to fit nicely into windows of all shapes and sizes.
The Mail app adds swipe gesture controls so you can quickly sort your inbox with just a few swipes—and what each swipe does is user-configurable, too. But more important for practicality, the revamped apps include key functionality that was missing in their Windows 8 predecessors: POP email support in the Windows 10 Mail app, and Google Calendar support in Calendar.
The poor man’s multimonitor setup allows you to go back and forth between either apps or “desktops” of apps, organized how you like them. (You can either ALT-TAB through the apps themselves or else hit Windows + CTRL+ either the left or arrow to move between virtual desktops, and right-click and app to move it between virtual desktops, too.)
Either way, virtual desktops mean that you instantly know where things are.
The new app should feel deeply familiar to Xbox One fans: The center point is your Activity Feed, which is populated by your Xbox Live Friends’ activities, such as unlocking an achievement or launching a Twitch stream. The right side of the app lists your friends; selecting one offers options to view their game clips, invite them to a party, send an IM, and more. You can also view your own achievements, manage your profile, and more all right within the app. Eventually, you’ll be able to stream your Xbox One games to a Windows 10 PC or tablet.
We can’t help but shake the feeling that this app is more beneficial to console gamers who happen to have a PC than to true PC gamers. But it’s a very handy tool indeed if you fall into the former camp.
Yes, Windows 10 is vastly improved on PCs, but Microsoft didn’t forget about touchscreen users. As of Build 9926, Windows 10 includes a handy “Continuum” feature that dynamically switches the interface between the PC-friendly desktop and a Windows 8-like mode that’s better suited for fingers (pictured above), depending on how you’re using the device.
Windows tablets will default to the latter; PCs to the former. And hybrids will intelligently switch between the two modes depending on whether you have a keyboard attached. In tablet mode, the Start menu expands to fit the full screen, as do Metro apps. If you’d like to force a switch, the new Action Center has a dedicated “Tablet Mode” button that you can enable or disable at will.
Settings are solidified, while Charms vanish
One of the odder design decisions within Windows 8 was the separation of Settings into two buckets, one each for the Desktop and Modern/Metro interfaces. With Windows 10, that goes away. Now, there is one Settings menu, available from the Start button. As a bonus, the somewhat annoying Charms menu has vanished. Hurray!