Windows 10, by all appearances, seems poised for mass adoption, after a lackluster reception for Windows 8. This alternation of popular and unpopular is sort of a pattern for Microsoft operating systems: Vista tanked while Windows 7 killed, for example. Considering Windows 10 embraces devices of every size from smartphones to workstations, covering every aspect of the operating system would be a tall order. So for this selection of tips, we’ll limit the scope to Windows 10 on the desktop, though some suggestions could affect installations on other device sizes.
Not only does Windows 10 bring back the warm and fuzzy Start menu, but the new interface does something Windows 8 failed to do—it makes a point of showing and explaining what’s new. And if you never upgraded to Windows 8 or 8.1, you’re missing out on one of my favorite aspects of the OS: It starts up remarkably faster than Windows 7.
Windows 10 is a free upgrade for users of Windows 7 and later. You may already have seen a notification icon in your taskbar with the new Windows logo, from which you can reserve your upgrade. The list below is far from exhaustive (check out all our coverage at our Windows 10 page), but its contents may help ease your transition to Microsoft’s new desktop operating system.
1. Customize the Start Menu
Windows 10’s reprise of the Start menu, which dates 20 years back to Windows 95, has been a much-applauded feature of Microsoft’s next operating system. But it’s not a simple return to the old Windows XP-style Start menu. Instead, Windows 10 combines the tiles of Windows 8’s modern, touch-friendly user interface with the earlier metaphor.
Maybe you want more tiles, maybe fewer or none. You can have the new Start menu your way: Simply click and hold the cursor on the edge of the Start box and drag it to the size you want. As with Windows 8, you can also pin any applications—including traditional desktop ones—to tiles. If you tap All Apps, you’ll see a small tile for every single program on the computer, and you can pin any with a right-click option.
There are even more settings for the Start menu, accessible from the Settings > Personalization > Start page of the modern control panel. From here, you can even re-enable the full-screen Start page. You can also turn on or off recent apps, recent groups, and content and app suggestions, and get very granular with the Customize List option, which lets you choose links that appear below the frequent items, such as Settings, Explorer, and so on.
2. Set Up Cortana
Unlike Siri or Google Now, Cortana, Windows 10’s voice-response digital assistant, lets you control what it knows about you, so that it can pop up relevant reminders and display info of interest. You do this by making selections in Cortana’s Notebook, in your Contacts, and in the Maps app. The last two let you tell Cortana which contact is your spouse, and which places on the map are your home and workplace. That way, Cortana can pop up a reminder to call a spouse, or let you know how long a commute will take based on traffic.
Like Google Now (and now Siri, to some extent) Cortana can listen for a key phrase, in this case “Hey Cortana!” and wake up to answer your requests. But before she can do any of this, you need to enable her the first time you click in the Windows 10 search box. This also involves granting permission to use your location, mic, contacts, email, messages, and browser history, though you can adjust these permissions to taste. Cortana can show you local news, sports, and weather info, and even tell you a joke or two.
3. Set up Continuum as You Please
This one is most applicable if you’re running Windows 10 on a tablet or convertible laptop, or a PC with a touch screen. For example, if you have a Microsoft Surface 3, when you pull off the Type Cover keyboard, you’ll see a notification asking whether you want to switch to tablet mode. This is the Start screen and any modern app that happens to be running to full screen view, just like Windows 8.1 (which is actually a pretty good interface when run on a tablet).
4. Use Virtual Desktops
I’ve always found switching among apps and applications snappier in Windows than in other desktop operating systems, but with Windows 10 comes yet another option—multiple virtual desktops. To work with these, simply hit the multi-screen icon next to the search box in the toolbar, and tap the Plus sign all the way at the right of the taskbar. After this, to switch between desktops, you can press the button again and choose the large thumbnail of the one you want.
5. Set Up the New Mail App
This one is pretty simple, but I haven’t noticed many people using the very capable modern email client included with recent versions of Windows. The email client included with Windows 10 gets better still. It offers collapsible conversation view with email preview panel, and integrates buttons for the modern calendar and contact apps. You can easily add multiple mail accounts from any provider.
6. Use Explorer Quick Access
Once again, this is more just something to notice than anything you have to specifically set up. The new File Explorer in Windows 10 now shows you recently used folders at the top, which I’ve found really helpful—even for preparing images for this article.
7. Use New Keyboard Shortcuts
Most of these involve the Windows key. New window-snapping options let you not only snap to fill half of the screen on a side, but also a screen quadrant. Of course, you can tap the Windows Key by itself to bring up the Start menu. If you hold the Windows Key down and then hitRight Arrow and then Up Arrow, your program window will move to the top-right quadrant of the screen.Windows Key-Tab now opens (and leaves open) a new task view showing all of your running programs and virtual desktops. To create a new virtual desktop, there’s Windows Key-Ctrl-D. Windows Key-C gets Cortana listening for your voice input, and Windows Key-S opens her Daily Glance showing your weather, sports, and news. Command line users get a bunch of new selection shortcuts using Shift with the arrow keys.
8. Hook Into OneDrive for Cloud Syncing
What’s not to like about a free cloud storage service that keeps all your devices in sync? One of the things I love about Windows 8.1 is that, no matter what new PC or tablet I install it on, I’ll see the same lock screen image (courtesy of the Facebook app, in my case) and desktop wallpaper. This is just as much a benefit in Windows 10. I’ll also have access to the same email accounts—without the need to authenticate. You can enable this at Windows setup, or later through the Settings > Accounts page.
Other benefits of OneDrive are that you can access files stored there from mobile apps for all major platforms, and set up your PC for file fetching, which lets you get at any file on the PC, even if you haven’t specifically saved it to OneDrive. You do this by right-clicking on the cloud icon in the taskbar notification area and choosing, “Let me use OneDrive to fetch any of my files on this PC.”
9. Add Your Xbox Account
Of course, not everyone is lucky enough to own an Xbox, but for those who do, the new Xbox modern app on Windows 10 adds a portal to gaming activities and connections. You’ll also be able to stream and play games from your Xbox One to your desktop or laptop PC running Windows 10 over Wi-Fi. How cool is that? For more, check out Windows 10 Xbox App: 6 Things to Try.
10. Try the New Edge Browser
Many users were tired of Internet Explorer’s lack of compatibility with some newer sites, and with the slow performance of earlier versions. While newer versions of IE have made significant gains in all these areas, Windows 10’s new Edge browser makes a clean break, and offers speed and modern compatibility that’s likely to surprise you. It also offers tools not found in IE, including site annotation, reading view, and (later) extensions.