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Windows 10 is the Goldilocks version of Microsoft's venerable PC operating system -- a "just right" compromise between the familiar dependability of Windows 7, and the forward-looking touchscreen vision of Windows 8.
This new Windows, available as a free upgrade for existing Windows 7 and Windows 8 noncorporate users, is built from the ground up to pursue Microsoft's vision of a unified OS that spans all devices without alienating any one platform. It's an attempt to safeguard Microsoft's crumbling software hegemony, assailed on all sides by Google and Apple. And it's a vision of the future as Microsoft sees it, where a single user experience spans every piece of technology we touch. Welcome to Windows as a service.
Yes, this new OS is chock-full of fresh features. To name just a few: a lean, fast Internet Explorer replacement called Edge; Microsoft's Siri-like voice-controlled virtual assistant, Cortana; and the ability to stream real-time games to your desktop from an Xbox One in another room. (And in case you're wondering: there is no "Windows 9" -- Microsoft skipped it, going straight from 8 to 10.)
But Windows 10 is also the end of a long, awkward road that began with the release of Windows 8 in 2012, when Microsoft tried to convince a world of keyboard and mouse wielders that touchscreens were the way to go -- or else. Ironically, in 2015, the PC hardware for that touchscreen future is now here -- everything from 2-in-1s such as the Lenovo Yoga line to convertible tablets with detachable keyboards, like Microsoft's own Surface. And Windows 10 smoothly lets users transition from "tablet" to "PC" mode on such devices like never before.
For the rest of the PC universe -- including those who still prefer good old-fashioned keyboard and mouse navigation -- Windows 10 is a welcome return to form. The Start menu, inexplicably yanked from 8, is back and working the way you expect it to. Those live tiles from the Windows 8 home screen still exist, but they've been attached to the Start menu, where they make a lot more sense. And the fiendishly hidden Charms bar has been morphed into the more straightforward (and easier to find) Action Center.
As always, there are some quibbles and gripes with the end product, but all-in-all -- after living with Windows 10 for months -- I can say it's a winner. It's flexible, adaptable and customizable. And it's been battle-tested by an army of beta testers for the better part of a year, making it one of the most robust operating system rollouts in recent memory.
A fresh Start
The Start menu is back; it's almost funny how relieving that is. That humble Start button has been a fixture on the lower left corner of the Windows desktop since the halcyon days of Windows 95, offering speedy access to apps and settings. Press it on Windows 10, and you'll see the latest step in a long conversation about the state of the PC industry.
The past sits on the left: a neat column with shortcuts to your most used apps. Press the "All Apps" button and you'll get an alphabetical list of all of the apps installed on your PC. There are folders in there too -- press them, and extra options will fly out, just like they always have.
The future -- or at least, the future as Microsoft envisions it -- sits on the right side of the Start menu. These are the colorful, animated live tiles that debuted in Windows 8, pulling double duty as app shortcuts and informative widgets. You can resize these live tiles, drag them about to arrange them into groups and pin as many apps as you'd like -- the entire Start menu can be shrunk or expanded to suit your liking. It's essentially a miniaturized version of the fullscreen Start menu we saw in Windows 8. Hate live tiles? Then unpin them to excise them from your computer, leaving you with the narrow column of frequently used apps we've known for so long.