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Windows 10

Revisiting Microsoft's make-or-break OS post-Anniversary Update

By Dan Grabham & Mary Branscombe | Oct 4, 2016, 07.56 PM IST

Verdict

The Anniversary Update is an impressive piece of work that ensures Windows 10 is on track to replace Windows 7. It's reliable, easy to use and keeps getting better – although there's still room for more significant improvements.

PROS:

  • Start menu improvements
  • Action Center, Cortana are useful
  • Huge Edge browser upgrades
  • Windows Hello is simple and secure

CONS:

  • OneDrive still patchy
  • Ink: a nice idea that needs work
  • The free upgrade is over
  • Changes improve but also cause issues

Introduction

After more than 365 days, this make-or-break version of Microsoft's veteran Windows operating system is off to a strong start. And, the way in which new features and improvements keep arriving means that the Anniversary Update is a notable improvement over what shipped in July 2015.

We're a long way from Windows 8 now, and Microsoft seems to have got the hang of mixing the traditional keyboard-and-mouse driven desktop environment with touch features for the growing number of tablets and 2-in-1 PCs.

This release is a milestone for the 'Windows as a Service' process that Microsoft is using to develop Windows 10. Last year's November Update polished the release version of Windows 10, while this release continues that process, concentrating on the daily features you likely use the most, including some useful refinements to the Start screen and Action Center interface. But it also introduces some brand new features like the Ink Workspace.

The Edge browser has matured quickly and gets support for extensions, and the key UWP apps like Mail, Groove and Skype have also improved significantly. Cortana is gaining more features and Windows Hello is more reliable, as well as ready for apps and websites that support the new FIDO 2 specification that is bidding to replace passwords with biometrics. Improved browser security is a major plus.

Performance is improved from the already impressive speed of the release version of Windows 10 - booting your PC is a second or so faster on SSD-based systems, and battery life has improved on laptops (especially if you're using the Edge browser, but the new Battery Saver option that appears when you click or tap the battery icon also maximizes battery life).

Battery Saver
Battery Saver

On the other hand, those uncertain about Windows 10 won't find solace in the fact that Anniversary Update only lets you roll back within 10 days to save on disk space, or the fact that, like any new release, there are problems (including some systems with SSDs freezing, and the well-documented problems with webcams that won't be fixed until another update arrives in September).

Latest news

It's been a long, winding road for Windows 10. With privacy concerns lurking around every corner, it's a wonder Microsoft ever made it to 400 million installs. But here it is - the Windows 10 Anniversary Update - and so far, it's been faring successfully despite some delays for those of us who didn't adopt early.

That said, if you're clinging to an older preview edition of Windows 10, you may start to experience some unwarranted rebooting later in the month. Luckily, text messaging functionality may arrive to Windows 10 by then as well as a monumentally improved app store.

Although many users are wary, you'll still want the latest and greatest updates from Microsoft if you're interested in taking advantage of the Xbox Play Anywhere program. Microsoft's gaming initiative, paired with the inevitable bug-squashing set to take place make it a no-brainer to keep your system up to date.

Windows is more than just an OS

Microsoft believes the future of Windows is as a platform for all. Like Android, the strength of Windows is in the thousands of companies that develop for it and use it in their products - on multiple devices.

That's why Windows 10 is no longer just an operating system for 32 and 64-bit PCs. It also runs on ARM chips as Windows 10 Mobile for smartphones (and, eventually, Microsoft promises, smaller tablets). That's thanks to the OneCore foundation of Windows.

Like Windows XP, Vista, 7 and 8 before it, Windows 10 is built on the Windows NT kernel, but much more of Windows is now shared between the different devices, and apps built for the Universal Windows Platform (UWP) will run not only on PCs, but on Windows 10 phones, Windows 10 for IoT devices, HoloLens headsets and Xbox One as well.

Note that we've published a distinct Windows 10 Mobile review here, for those of you who want the full lowdown on the OS from a smartphone standpoint.

First reviewed: July 2015

Joe Osborne and Gabe Carey have also contributed to this review

Windows 10 system requirements and versions

If you still haven't upgraded existing PCs to Windows 10, you've missed the free upgrade which was available for the first year, but you can still buy Windows 10 and upgrade. Windows 8 PCs meet the system requirements; if you have a PC that came with an earlier version of Windows, these are the system requirements in full:

  • CPU: 1GHz or faster
  • RAM: 1GB (32-bit) or 2GB (64-bit)
  • Free hard disk space: 16GB
  • Graphics card: Microsoft DirectX 9 graphics device with WDDM driver
  • A Microsoft account and internet access

PCs with Windows 7 and 8 can upgrade to Windows 10. If you have a device with Windows XP or Windows Vista on it, you'll need to do a clean install. You'll lose a few features when you upgrade; most notably, desktop gadgets from Vista, and Media Center.

Even though the free upgrade version of Windows 10 is no longer available, Microsoft stressed that those updating during the promotional period will be able to use Windows 10 at no cost for the "supported lifetime of the device" (as long as your PC maker carries on producing any necessary driver updates).

When you upgrade, you'll get the appropriate version - see the Windows 10 versions section directly below.

Windows 10 versions

Windows 10 is available in seven versions. These are: Home, Professional, Enterprise, Mobile, and IoT Core (Internet of Things, for devices like Raspberry Pi, Intel Galileo or Imagination's Creator Ci20). There's also a new Mobile Enterprise version (as Microsoft takes aim at BlackBerry's stomping ground), as well as the Education flavor.

Windows 10 Mobile and Mobile Enterprise are predictably for small screens less than 8-inches in size, so that means small tablets as well.

Windows 10 Mobile is a joy to use (also check out our full Lumia 950 review). It doesn't have IE, but it does have Microsoft Edge. Mobile Enterprise is designed to be similar for IT admins to deploy as Windows 10 Enterprise (see below), but we haven't seen it in action.

Windows 10 Mobile Enterprise and Windows 10 for Xbox (a new system update including Cortana) are among Windows 10 features and versions that didn't hit the streets at the same time as the other versions.

Windows 10 Home includes game streaming from Xbox One and other consumer features like Cortana, as well as Windows Hello for logging into your PC via a fingerprint scanner or your face.

The Pro and Enterprise versions come with security and management improvements. Windows 10 also has a completely new approach to licenses (including the ability to sign in with Azure Active Directory accounts). Both can join a domain.

Windows 10 Pro also includes Hyper-V for virtualization, BitLocker whole disk encryption, enterprise mode IE, Remote Desktop, a version of the Windows Store for your own business and assigned access (which locks a PC to running only one modern application, to use like a kiosk). Network admins can also schedule updates so they don't happen at important times.

Windows 10
Windows 10

Enterprise adds group policy Direct Access for connecting without a VPN, AppLocker for white-listing apps and BranchCache for sharing downloads. Enterprise also has an option that doesn't get changes (apart from security updates for five years). For more on this, check out: What Windows 10 means for the enterprise.

Windows 10 Education is designed for universities and similar organisations. It's similar to Windows 10 Enterprise, but it can also be installed as an upgrade to Windows 10 Home. That means organizations can integrate students' own PCs with their own.

Whatever version of Windows 10 you get, Microsoft will offer mainstream support for it until October 13, 2020 with Extended support until October 14, 2025 (so just security updates for the last five years).

Windows 10 price

Now that the first year of free upgrades is finished, the price is the same as if you weren't eligible for the upgrade program - i.e. those running a Windows operating system older than Windows 7 - meaning that Windows 10 Home costs $119 (£100 in the UK, which is AU$173) and Windows 10 Pro is $199 (£190, which is AU$330) per license.

There is an option for Windows 10 Home users who want to upgrade to Pro, but it isn't cheap - they will have to pay an additional $99 (£65, AU$130) for the Windows 10 Pro Pack.

So, with all that preliminary info out of the way, we can get on with the review proper! Read on...

Windows 10 UI, Cortana and more

In basic use, Windows 10 is not a million miles from Windows 7. You've still got the Start menu, even though it's fundamentally changed (more on that shortly). Key functions are all accessed from the task bar, which has a flat, functional feel. The design language feels refined - window borders are smaller, for example. Anniversary Update adds a new dark mode that switches the interface and all your Store apps to a darker interface, if you prefer that in a dimly lit (or indeed unlit) room.

The key controls that Windows 8 put on the short-lived charms bar and the familiar pop-up notifications are combined in a new Action Center pane that you open by swiping in from the right or clicking a notification icon. In Anniversary Update, this moves to the right of the clock and shows the number of unread alerts.

Key settings are at the bottom of the Action Pane: Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, Airplane Mode, Tablet mode, a new Note feature for opening the built-in version of OneNote, and a link to the full Settings app. If you have a tablet you'll see the option to lock rotation. There's also a version of the Windows Phone Quiet Hours for blocking notifications, although you have to turn it on by hand rather than setting the times.

In the Settings app you can select which of these Quick Actions appear in the Action Center, as well as which apps can send you notifications. When notifications appear, you can swipe them away with touch, flick them with the mouse or just click the X to close, one at a time or for the whole group. Tap or click the down arrow to see more detail. There's a Clear All option, too.

In Anniversary Update, the number of notifications from a single app is capped - that includes Edge, which can give you alerts from websites you have open; instead of being able to send unlimited updates, each app is limited to the three most recent ones. If you connect an Android or Windows 10 Mobile phone to your PC you'll also get notifications from your phone apps here.

Phone notifications
Phone notifications

Right click on a notification group and you can make it high priority or turn it off (this isn't available for all notification groups, but you can always open the notification area in Settings to tweak things there). Notifications get richer; apps can use images, add buttons or let you reply to a message directly - messages from the new Skype app have notifications in the Action Center that let you reply, as do text messages that are synced from your phone.

The task bar

Microsoft keeps tweaking the look of the task bar slightly. The Windows button is always there (and you can still right click on it for the power user menu of shortcuts from Windows 8), plus you can shrink or hide the Search box next to it. Pinned icons get a subtle coloured bar beneath them when the app is open that shows a second bar at the side if the app has multiple windows (with a shaded overlay for the current app that also shows multiple windows).

The notification area (which you might still know as the system tray) still expands into a pop-up window if there are more icons that will fit on the task bar, and you can still drag most - but not all - of the icons into the order you want. The icons for the touch keyboard and the new Ink Workspace are fixed next to the clock (although you can turn them off, you can't move them). You can still hover your mouse in the far right corner for a quick look at the empty desktop (Aero Peek), or click in the far right corner to minimize all your windows, but that's now to the right of the Action Center button.

Touch emoji
Touch emoji

The touch keyboard has new emoji. Six of those celebrate the Windows Insider ninja cat character, many of them are redesigned to match emoji on other platforms more closely and there's a new skin color button that lets you change the skin tone for many of the icons with faces - so you can pick from six shades including Simpsons yellow. You still have to hunt for the emoji you want though - we'd like to see the Windows Mobile keyboard show up here, which suggests emoji along with other auto-correct suggestions.

Clicking the clock opens the new clock and calendar pane with any alternate clocks you have set, and a monthly calendar. In anniversary update the latter shows your agenda for each day as you click through (taken from the Calendar app, so it's worth connecting that to your accounts even if you don't use the app itself).

Clock agenda
Clock agenda

Also new in Anniversary Update is a handy extra on the volume control - plug in headphones or speakers or connect a Bluetooth audio device and you get a pop-up menu for choosing which audio output you want. Annoyingly, Microsoft is still blocking Store apps from showing up in the Volume Mixer, so you can choose different volumes for IE and Windows Media Player, but not for Groove and Edge.

Swap audio
Swap audio

The Start menu

Windows 10 combines the live tiles of Windows 8 and the familiar Start menu into a new, re-sizable menu. You can pin tiles for your favorite apps to see at-a-glance information like upcoming meetings, weather forecasts, news stories, sports results and messages from Twitter, Facebook and email. Tiles animate to show new content and you can group and name them the way you could in Windows 8. How useful you find them depends on which apps you like enough to pin.

Start hamburger
Start hamburger

The rest of the Start menu is a scrolling list of apps and controls. Anniversary Update divides this into two: on the left is the increasingly ubiquitous hamburger menu that you can expand for a reminder that the tiny icons are (in turn) a fly-out menu letting you change your account settings, lock the PC or sign out, along with icons for File Explorer and Settings and another menu with the power options. Annoyingly, expanding this section hides the rest of the apps list, so you can't leave it expanded.

Right click on the Explorer icon for a jump-list with pinned and frequently used folders. If you dig into Settings, you can add extra folders, but only from a standard list.

Add to start
Add to start

The scrolling lists of apps have been slightly rearranged in Anniversary Update; at the top is a Recently Added section that appears when you have new apps. Below that is a list of Most Used apps, followed by a Suggested apps section that you can turn off (but that also hides the tips on the mobile-style Lock screen). All of that pushes down the alphabetical list of what you have installed so you may not see many of them without scrolling.

You can search from the Start menu by starting to type - that gives you the same result as tapping in Cortana's search box next to it.

Cortana

Microsoft's virtual assistant, Cortana, still powers the search box on the Windows 10 task bar - where you can type or speak - and in Anniversary Update you can no longer turn her off (though you can turn off personalization if you don't want her to remember things for you). But Cortana goes a long way beyond search, so you probably want to keep her around.

Searching with Cortana is fast and accurate. It finds your files, it finds your folders. It has become quite brilliant. Say, for example, that you type LinkedIn into the menu: you'll be given the option to open the site in your default browser (even if it's Chrome), or you can search for LinkedIn in Bing.

Cortana
Cortana

Depending on what you search for, different types of results are prioritized - so the first result might be a setting, an app, a document or a web search. You can also pick the category to search: apps, documents (including OneNote and files on OneDrive that you're not syncing), folders, music, videos, photos or settings.

Type in a sum or a currency conversion and Cortana does the maths for you. Type in the name of a city or a celebrity and you get a nib of relevant information - that all comes from the answers you get for those kind of searches on Bing, but if there's a match in your documents for the same term you'll see that first. The only annoyance is that you can't pin the search results open - if you need to open a couple of documents from the results, you have to run the search twice.

Type in commands like 'remind me' to set quick alarms and appointments. And in Anniversary Update, you can use that to remember useful information like your passport number, or anything else you want to jot down. Ask Cortana 'what is my passport number' later and you'll see it pop up. Type 'send a text' to write an SMS on your PC and send it from a phone you have the Cortana app installed on. You can also ask her to sing you a song or tell you a joke (they're usually terrible jokes).

Cortana uses the news interests you set up on Bing as well as your search history to show you news stories and refine search suggestions - these, your reminders, accounts Cortana can get information from (ranging from Xbox Live and Office 365 to Uber and LinkedIn) and other information about your interests are stored in the Cortana Notebook.

Cortana notebook
Cortana notebook

You can customize settings for different areas of interest, from Academic Topics to Getting Around, Music, Food and Drink or Weather, or turn off topics you don't want. Reminders and interests sync across every device you use Cortana with, so you can set a reminder on your phone and see it on your PC, or vice versa.

You can also change Cortana's settings to turn voice control on or off, choose what Cortana can index to learn more about you, and clear the history that makes searches more accurate.

If you just tap or click without typing anything, Cortana shows you upcoming appointments, Windows tips, news, weather, how many steps you've walked (courtesy of Microsoft Health), along with any activities from your email that look like trips and flights Cortana could track for you. You also get suggestions for other things Cortana can do like keeping a note of when you usually have lunch and warning you if a meeting would clash with that.

With Anniversary Update, Cortana also makes an appearance on the Lock screen, showing upcoming appointments. Initially, that might sound like more of a mobile or tablet feature, giving you a quick overview of your day when you first pick up your device. But if you often leave your PC on and let it lock, seeing a quick glimpse of your calendar from across the room is very handy, and you can use Cortana on the Lock screen to ask questions, set reminders and control the music you're playing.

Annoyingly though, if you turn off Suggested apps in the Start screen, where they take up a lot of space, you also lose Cortana suggestions on the Lock screen, and you can't use the frequently updated Windows Spotlight images - you have to pick one or more images on your PC to be your Lock screen background.

We'd like to see Cortana do a lot more - there are apps like a network speed test built into Bing that it would be great to see inside Cortana - but this is evolving to be a really useful tool that gives you a quick way to do things you'd normally open an app for. Get into the habit and you'll find you keep turning to Cortana - Microsoft's digital assistant could evolve into a whole new way to use your computer. And if you don't like any of that, it's still a great way to search your PC.

File Explorer
File Explorer

File Explorer enhancements

File Explorer has been given a little bit of a makeover, and in Anniversary Update it gets a new icon. You now have a Quick Access area to which you can pin and unpin any folders you want to regularly access. In the 'home' screen of File Explorer you can also see Frequent Folders and Recent Files. It's much more helpful now.

You can pin things permanently to Quick Access by right clicking them and selecting Add to Quick access.

There are a lot more file operations that you can access on the ribbon at the top of the window without the need to use the right click menu.

The old Windows 8 Share logo is now used for file sharing from all apps. You can choose to email a file straight from the File Explorer window or add it to a ZIP file.

OneDrive not integrated
OneDrive not integrated

Microsoft OneDrive gets a section in File Explorer, but that's only a shortcut to files and folders you've chosen to sync. You no longer see placeholders for files that are only in the cloud - a feature that confused some users but also made your whole cloud drive available at any time. To see your files in the cloud now, you have to go online and use the OneDrive Store app.

Settings

In Windows 8, this was annoyingly basic and many options were still in the Control Panel. Control Panel is still there in Windows 10, and if you're a technical user, you will come across it from time to time. But the majority of users will never see it.

Settings
Settings

Settings is now a far more comprehensive solution and is much more logically arranged. There are still a few things you'll need the Control Panel for - to reset a network adapter, for example - but they're few and far between.

You've been able to search the Control Panel from the Start menu since Windows Vista - with the Settings app in Windows 10, what you get from that search is a clean, clear interface where you can easily see what it is you need to change.

Apps, Gaming and Ink Workspace

Microsoft is still keen to get developers to build new mobile-style apps for Windows 10 that are more secure, don't get to do things that affect performance and battery life, can be uninstalled with a single click, and can potentially run on multiple devices. The hope is that developers will write their apps for the Universal Windows Platform and they'll work across PC, Windows 10 on smartphones, and Xbox, too - essentially on every screen size.

There are tools to help developers convert Android and iOS apps, and even desktop PC apps. Businesses can deploy apps from their own versions of the Windows Store. This is all handled from the Business Store Portal, which will manage software licences, centralized payment info and more.

Universal Apps and the new Windows Store

Universal apps are the latest version of what Microsoft was calling Metro, Modern and Store apps in Windows 8. Apps written for Windows 8 will still run, but with the Charms bar and the touch gestures for opening app controls gone, Microsoft has crammed in a rather awkward menu bar of app commands for any apps that haven't been rewritten for Windows 10. Apps that have been rewritten tend to use the hamburger menu, which gets annoying on a desktop PC where there is plenty of space on-screen for navigation but the hamburger menu keeps hiding the options.

Windows 10 is slowly getting more apps: there's a new Amazon app, there's a good VLC app and if you buy a wireless security camera like the Ring you'll find an app here for it. But the Store is still smaller than the iOS and Android equivalents.

Windows Store
Windows Store

In Anniversary Update, the Store gets yet another redesign, full of top picks, featured apps, lists and collections. It feels like there are almost as many ways to look through the apps as there are interesting apps to look for.

Photos OneDrive
Photos OneDrive

Built-in Windows 10 apps

However, the operating system's built-in apps are still improving, and Anniversary Update adds some extras. The new Photos app shows you all the pictures on your PC and in your OneDrive account, with some handy editing tools. It's fast, responsive and easy to use.

Photos edit
Photos edit

The Mail and Calendar apps don't match Outlook - either the desktop or the smartphone versions - but they're perfectly functional and competent apps.

Calendar
Calendar

With social media integration gone (Twitter and Facebook wouldn't play along and other social networks don't seem interested), the People app is reduced to a basic address book. You can't even select multiple contacts to delete or link them together (you can only link contacts one by one).

Mail
Mail

Sport and News stay useful, even if they still feel a little superfluous. They start quickly but you may use them most as live tiles in the Start menu. While diehard sports fans may not get enough information from the Sport app, News is a decent aggregator of stories (the page covering local news sources is especially good). The Money app is handy if you track shares or want to follow the market. You can still get the Reader app from the Store, but it's no longer installed by default.

Maps continues to improve. In Anniversary Update you can see multiple maps and locations on different tabs, view traffic, accidents and traffic cameras - and even draw routes on a map with your finger or a pen, then measure the distance or get directions (which is far easier than right clicking and dragging pushpins to get the route you want).

Groove
Groove

The Groove Music app (named for the music subscription service you might once have known as Xbox Music) certainly pushes the Groove Music Pass subscription in the new Explore section - but it also works well with music on your PC or OneDrive (it can be slow to index music on a network drive).

Groove has come on leaps and bounds since earlier versions of the app. It finally has a thumbnail media player control that pops up when you hover over the Groove icon in the task bar when there's music playing. In Anniversary Update we particularly like the Your Groove playlists that automatically create various playlists of your tracks - long tracks, tracks that are getting played a lot on the Groove service, tracks you haven't listened to in a while, tracks to help you cope with Monday mornings... they change frequently but you can save them for later.

Groove 2
Groove 2

You can't create your own smart playlists though - something even the Zune Player had and Windows Media Player can do (let alone iTunes) - and if you want to use a favorite artist as the seed for a playlist that streams as a 'radio channel' you need a Groove Pass. Even so, Groove is definitely worth trying for playing your music, if not for managing it.

Another app that's dramatically improved is Skype Preview, which is automatically installed in Anniversary Update and replaces the separate Skype Video and Messaging apps (but you can keep the desktop Skype app too).

Skype Preview
Skype Preview

If you tried an earlier version of this, don't despair; it now has an excellent set of features and is fast and responsive. It also has the dialler that was missing in early versions, along with video calls and chat (both of which can be one to one or group conversations).

It's very well integrated into Windows 10 - you can reply to chat messages straight from the Action Center notification and you don't need to have the app running to receive calls. You can also try out Skype bots; the Foursquare and IFTTT bots look interesting but these are all still fairly basic.

Xbox
Xbox

Gaming

The Xbox app goes from being an advert for games from the Windows Store and a front-end for your Xbox Live account to something much more powerful. You get a Game DVR for recording clips, and this is how you stream games from your Xbox One so you can play them on your PC.

(To start streaming on your PC, you need to change a setting on your Xbox One - go to Settings > Preferences > Allow game streaming to other devices. Then select Connect > Add a device from the menu on the left side of the Xbox app on Windows 10.)

As the Windows Store is now common across PC and Xbox, this is also where you'll see the new Xbox Play Anywhere games that you can play on both PC and Xbox One.

Ink Workspace
Ink Workspace

Ink Workspace

Ink and pens are nothing new to Windows - we've had them since the Tablet PC and Windows 10 has always let you write words into the touch keyboard, a letter at a time, even with your finger. The universal OneNote app has been the main way to use ink, but Anniversary Update adds the new Ink Workspace to the task bar as a way of making ink more obvious. This brings together all the apps that work with pen and ink, with a list of recently used apps that support Ink (like Paint, Edge, Word and Maps), suggestions for the various Ink-enabled apps you can try out from the Store, plus three new tools.

Screen Sketch grabs a screenshot (no fuss, no keyboard shortcuts) and gives you the tools to draw and write all over it: pens (including a pen you can use to draw with your finger instead of a pen), highlighters, a ruler that you move around with your fingers while you draw along it with a pen, an eraser and a cropping tool, and buttons to copy or share your sketch. It's nothing you won't have seen before but it's handy to have it built-in and just a click away.

Ink sketch
Ink sketch

Sketchpad has the same set of tools, but without the screen grabbing, so you can draw, doodle, take notes - basically, sketch. If you don't want to be as organised as OneNote is, you can just get a piece of digital paper when you need it.

Sticky Notes are again, just what they sound like - little notes that stick onto your screen in a choice of colors. You can open them from the Start menu and then you get one note, in a normal window, that you can type or write into. Open Sticky Notes from the Ink Workspace, though, and you can only write with your pen, and you see all your notes laid out together. The best thing about Sticky Notes is that they're supposed to recognize your handwriting and turn words like tomorrow or flight numbers into information you can work with using Cortana.

That's a work in progress, but a nice idea for giving you a way to use one of Windows 10's best features with Ink. We just wish Microsoft would stop forgetting about Ink for so long that the company has to keep starting from scratch with these new tools; perhaps as more PCs with pens sell, Windows Ink will really grow up.

Microsoft Edge

The new Windows 10 browser (once codenamed Project Spartan) has come on leaps and bounds from the early versions. Don't be put off by the logo, which looks quite like the Internet Explorer 'e'. We were a bit surprised by this until someone in the office pointed out that there are millions of Windows users out there who equate that 'e' with 'how I access the internet'. (We know you're not in that category, dear Techradarian).

The default browser for Windows 10 (although naturally you can change this) is most impressive in terms of raw performance. Pages render jaw-droppingly quickly. We're seeing fewer issues rendering complex websites, although if a site uses old technology like Microsoft's own aging Silverlight tech Edge will tell you to open Internet Explorer instead.

The interface keeps adding more features. There's a dark theme and a panel with Favorites, Reading List, Downloads and History, plus you can rip tabs off and browse in private. Forward, back and refresh remain on the title bar, while there are also options to add the current page to your Reading List or Favorites. Dragging files in to upload to a site works. The number of settings is kept deliberately low for simplicity, but you can change various other settings, such as deploying a Favorites bar, configuring the home page and fine-tuning the reading view.

Edge notes
Edge notes

There's a built-in note-taking mode, so you can save and annotate web pages (just not PDFs), plus a reading mode that strips away the content you don't need when reading through an article. In Anniversary Update, you can pin tabs in the browser (though still not to the task bar), and settings like passwords and favorites sync to your other PCs (as long as you use a Microsoft account).

Edge ask Cortana
Edge ask Cortana

Cortana is part of Edge. Sometimes you'll see information from Cortana in the address bar, for restaurants and other locations. Or you can select anything and 'Ask Cortana' about what you've highlighted by right clicking. This brings up a sidebar where search results will appear, as well as extra information like coupons or the opening hours for restaurants.

The big new feature for Edge in Anniversary Update is extensions. Essentially these are the same as Firefox and Chrome extensions but Microsoft is taking it slow to make sure extensions don't affect security or performance, so there are only a few to start with: AdBlock, Adblock Plus, Amazon Assistant, Bing Translator, Evernote and OneNote clippers, LastPass, Mouse Gestures, Office Online, Page Analyzer, Pinterest Pin It, Reddit Enhancement Suite, and Save it to Pocket (plus some extensions that aren't in the Store but you can sideload, like uBlock). That goes a long way to making Edge a much more capable and competitive browser.

Edge extensions
Edge extensions

Under the hood, Edge has some technical changes that address issues we saw like pages using too much memory (often that's a problem with the way websites are built, but it tended to be worse in Edge than in, say, Chrome). Now sites that are open in background tabs are throttled so their JavaScript tasks run only once per second, and they run at the same time as things Windows is already waking the CPU up for.

That's the technique Windows 7 used to make battery life better applied to individual websites, and it's part of the reason battery life is impressive with Edge compared to Firefox and Chrome. Microsoft has even changed the animation for the Reading Mode button to use fewer resources.

What also helps is that Flash now runs in a separate process - that means Edge can throttle Flash back if it's using too many resources, or restart it without affecting the rest of the page if it crashes. It also means if there's a vulnerability in Flash, attackers don't have as much access to the browser or Windows itself.

Flash controls that aren't the main content on the page are paused by default too.

Edge favourites
Edge favourites

Edge is also one of the first apps to take advantage of improvements to the network stack in Anniversary Update. These mean the browser can send fewer messages to get a page downloaded and ask for lost packets more quickly - and both of these mean Windows can turn off Wi-Fi sooner to save battery.

In short, Edge has a lot to offer. It's not finished yet and the power user features are still a little behind, but it's a very standards-compliant browser with mostly excellent browsing speed. You might not pick it as your only browser yet, but you'll want to give it a try.

Other Windows 10 features

Windows 7 was such a great version of Windows. Aside from the fact that it trumped Vista with its resource efficiency, general robustness and modest system requirements, it also brought us something else: Aero Snap.

Snap and virtual desktops

The ability to snap windows to the sides of your screen might seem a minor thing, but it's something many Windows users do every day. Apple has obviously realised that Mac users employ third-party extensions to get the same effect; the company introduced window snapping in OS X El Capitan.

Aero Snap
Aero Snap

Windows 8 added the option to resize both snapped windows at once, but coupled it with modern apps that had to stay in a separate window entirely. Windows 10 put modern apps on the desktop along with everything else but originally dropped the linked resizing. That's now back in the finger-friendly Tablet Mode that only shows two windows, and on the desktop as well, so if you want to snap windows to be a third and two-thirds of the screen, it's easy.

Tablet Mode is Microsoft's nod to Windows 8, and to people who buy the many tablet PCs it believes will be sold over the coming years. As does Intel - it's putting a lot of weight behind 2-in-1 PCs with detachable keyboards.

Originally named Continuum (although that moniker now covers a range of features including the way Windows Mobile phones can use a big screen and keyboard), Windows 10's Tablet Mode is clever because it's automatic. Detach the keyboard and the desktop prepares itself for touch - the Start menu becomes the Start screen and apps appear full-screen. That was one thing Windows 8 got right; a screen of apps is a better launcher for touch-enabled devices when you don't have a keyboard.

The Taskbar has also changed to be more touch-friendly - the icons are more spaced out, while the pinned app icons don't appear at all, you just cycle through them in Task View. You can choose what icons to show in the system tray. The Start icon is now joined by a back button, so you can cycle back to previous apps - even if you were in the Start menu before.

If you want, you can toggle between Tablet Mode and non-Tablet yourself via the settings at the bottom of the Action Center. This could be useful if, say, you have a touchscreen laptop and want to put it into Tablet Mode for a presentation.

Aero Snap four-way
Aero Snap four-way

Windows 10 also added four-way Aero Snap, so you can have four applications in each corner of your desktop. Now, if you've got a laptop screen this is about the most inefficient way you could use your desktop, but if you've got a whopping 27+-inch display it might be just the ticket.

The alternative is the virtual desktops in Windows 10, where you can spread apps out over multiple, separate desktops and swap between them.

Task View

Alt-Tab has been the way to see what apps are running for decades, but few users are familiar with it. Over the years Microsoft has added other ways to switch between open apps, like the 3D Windows Flip view in Windows Vista and the left swipe in Windows 8.1.

Windows 10 uses both Alt-Tab and Windows-Tab for a thumbnail view of running apps, but there's also a new full-screen Task View, and a permanent icon on the taskbar for it, next to the Cortana search bar (although you can turn it off).

It takes you to an app overview where you can use the mouse to select the app you want. It's pretty clever, and in any mode of Windows 10 there is always an icon for it on the taskbar.

But there is something else Task View can do - multiple desktops. Go into Task View and there's an icon in the bottom-right that enables you to add another desktop, so you can have one screen for your email, perhaps, and another for your Photoshop work. This is a nice new feature for Windows, although it has been on the Mac for years - since OS X 10.5 Leopard introduced 'Spaces' in 2009.

Apps can be open in more than one desktop, but you can't switch into windows that are on another desktop; things are kept nicely separate. Alt-Tab only works within the desktop you're in. The only way to switch desktops is to go into Task View and select another open desktop. From here you can also close desktops using the X icon that appears when you hover over each desktop icon.

In Anniversary Update, you can have an app you need all the time show up on all your desktops - either the whole app, or just a window from it (like the chat you're in, for example).

Other enhancements

More and more PCs that come with Windows 10 include biometric security hardware that enables you to use a fingerprint, face scan or iris scan to log into Windows and apps, websites and networks. This is called Windows Hello (the secure storage of your credentials used to have a different name, Windows Passport, but in Anniversary Update, it all has the same name).

Windows also asks you to set up a PIN to use instead of your password. This makes it easier to log into Windows when you don't have a keyboard - it's all part of making Windows a more phone-like experience - but it also means your credentials are stored more securely in the TPM (PINs go into this secure hardware, passwords don't).

Windows PIN
Windows PIN

Surprisingly, it turns out Windows Hello wasn't already using the same hardware-protected secure area that the business security features like Credential Guard use in the release version of Windows 10 - but with Anniversary Update, your biometric data is stored in there too.

In Anniversary Update, Hello supports the latest standard, FIDO 2. This is what lets you use Hello biometrics instead of passwords in apps and in the Edge browser, but it only works for apps and sites that explicitly support it - and so far that's just the Store app, where you can buy apps with your face quite happily.

If you don't have biometrics on your PC, Anniversary Update will let you use a phone with a fingerprint or iris scanner, or a USB device, or even a wearable like a smartwatch to sign in securely, but there aren't many devices that support FIDO 2 yet to make that work.

Windows Defender will now automatically run quick scans even if you have other antivirus software, which is good, but it comes with an annoying new notification in the Action Center to tell you that it has run and not found any problems. You can't turn that off without turning off a lot of other notifications as well.

Windows Defender notify
Windows Defender notify

The useful but controversial Wi-Fi Sense feature for sharing wireless connections with your friends is gone - not because of the controversy (it doesn't leak your Wi-Fi passwords) but because it wasn't used enough to be worth continuing.

The long-promised enterprise data protection to let admins control what apps and documents you can use, and where you can save files, has finally showed up as Windows Information Protection - and the businesses who want it will already have the management tools like Intune that it needs. Similarly, Anniversary Update includes the agent for the new Windows Defender Advanced Threat Protection, but businesses will need to subscribe to the service to use it.

We still like the updated Snipping Tool which lets you set a delay so that you can screenshot those pesky menus you couldn't keep open before.

Power users appreciated the way Windows 10 updated the Command Prompt window - small beer, you might say, but you're now able to properly select text, and copy and paste in and out. Ctrl-V really will work. Text also re-flows as the window is resized.

And in Anniversary Update, the Windows Subsystem for Linux means you can run real Linux applications, in particular the Bash shell; handy for developers and web admins. If you use Hyper-V to run virtual machines, you can now run Hyper-V inside a virtual machine, so you can run another virtual machine inside that one (and so on, until you run out of resources).

High DPI PCs with multiple screens get some improvements in Anniversary Update, with the promise of a more comprehensive overhaul in future. Especially if you dock a high DPI device like a Surface Pro 4, you can find some applications displaying at the wrong resolution on different screens.

Windows can't fix all the problems for older apps, and we still found that some apps display icons that are too tiny to be easy to use, but there are definite improvements in Anniversary Update - applications that use WPF will scale properly and updates are coming for PowerPoint and Skype for Business (that only fix the problem on Anniversary Update).

Notepad getting high DPI support is nice for Notepad users, but more importantly it means the improvements are in this release ready for other app developers to use.

Verdict

Unlike Windows 8, it's been easy to follow along with the Windows 10 journey and see how the OS has developed, from an early work in progress, through the release version and the major updates. With the latest Anniversary Update, Windows 10 remains a very usable and flexible operating system that's proving a success, even though the process of constant change can produce hiccups and false starts. There are few situations in which we wouldn't unequivocally recommend Windows 10 - but remember that you will now have to pay to upgrade.

Another key idea behind Windows 10 is also sound: that it should be available on as many devices as possible. That's why there's Xbox One and HoloLens and the Internet of Things version that works on a Raspberry Pi; Microsoft is embracing the way PCs have moved away from the traditional idea of what a PC is.

We liked

Windows 10 performance continues to impress, as does its reliability, and Microsoft has carried on evolving the interface, which now satisfies both the Windows 7 faithful and the few Windows 8.1 fans.

Core features like search (through Cortana) are absolutely rock solid. Like Spotlight on OS X (soon to become macOS), you'll always find what you want, whether it's your PowerPoint presentation or the Power options. The Settings app (a disappointment even in Windows 8.1) is now a worthy replacement for the Control Panel. It's testament to the newfound strength of Settings that, while the Control Panel is still present, you'll hardly ever go to it.

Under the covers, security is improved, and with Windows Hello and biometric support, we're just on the verge of being able to get past passwords (if websites and apps join in).

The Ink Workspace brings some attention - and some nice new tools - to an underappreciated Windows feature and we're looking to see it evolve as Cortana has. In Anniversary Update, Cortana goes from being a simple search box to a much more powerful assistant that you can use to store information and see reminders from across the room from the Lock screen. The Action Center gets more useful as well, as does the calendar that pops up from the clock.

The Edge browser continues to improve. As a new browser it's still behind on features but adding extensions is a big improvement, and the better battery life it offers is very welcome. Power users will want to hang on to their alternatives but Edge continues to impress, especially on performance.

And with Anniversary Update, there's even a bonus for users who aren't upgrading to Windows 10 - with the free upgrade offer finished, the nagging upgrade prompts on other versions of Windows have gone away.

We disliked

There are still some features that should be clear winners for Windows 10 that Microsoft hasn't got quite right, and plenty of new developments that whet your appetite but are still works in progress. The OneDrive app is no replacement for integrating OneDrive properly into Explorer (and Office) and while placeholders confused some users, it's now been two years since Microsoft promised to replace them with something more polished.

The Ink Workspace is yet another way to use Ink in Windows, which is great - but as Ink has been in Windows for over ten years, it feels like this should be a stronger and more integrated way of using Ink. Hopefully this will arrive in time, but Microsoft needs to solidify what it has rather than starting over too many times.

The Windows Store continues to feel slow, although reliability is gradually improving - but it's plastered with lists, collections and ads for featured apps.

We love the way Microsoft keeps adding new features, but we're less keen on the catch-me-if-you-can upgrade notification which warns you about upcoming reboots, because you have to mark at least 12 hours of your day as non-working time when reboots can happen. And sometimes those new features come with glitches, like the recent problem with webcams.

Final verdict

There's something for everyone in Windows 10 Anniversary Update, from dark mode to running the Ubuntu version of Bash, through security improvements to the way Cortana is getting more useful syncing notifications from your phone.

That said, it has its share of irritations, and there are some people who are so comfortable on Windows 7 (or even 8.1) that they won't want to upgrade until those operating systems get long in the tooth (or they replace the older peripherals for which hardware makers haven't put out device drivers - HP, we're looking at you).

Microsoft remains committed to the idea of universal apps, which now run on Xbox One (and HoloLens, for the few people who have access to it) as well as on Windows Mobile, and Store apps in general (which, confusingly, might not).

The quality of these remains mixed: Mail and Calendar are competent but a long way behind the versions on Windows Mobile with Outlook, Groove is shaping up to be an excellent media player (although you need to pay for a Groove Pass or put your music on OneDrive to make the most of it) and the Skype Preview has gone from laughable (no dialler in a phone application) to usable. Edge has also moved from being experimental to usable. And not only have desktop apps not been pushed aside, Microsoft is working on making them look better on high DPI, multi-screen systems.

But mostly, Anniversary Update solidifies the success Windows 10 has shown itself to be over the last year. Installation is simple, performance is generally excellent, security is improved (with more options for businesses) - and the most compelling thing about Windows 10 is that it just works. There's not really a learning curve as there was with Windows 8 or 8.1. Even if people don't get to grips with features like the taskbar search or Task View, it won't actually take anything away from their core experience of the OS. Pretty much everything that most people will need is in the Start menu or Action Center.

The Anniversary Update doesn't mean Microsoft is slowing down Windows 10 development either - there are already new Insider builds for those who want to stay on the very latest version, and there are fixes in progress for issues like the webcam problems. That makes Windows 10 more like a mobile OS than any amount of apps.

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