Everybody loves free stuff. And now you can get something free from one of the largest companies on the planet.
If you own a PC and run Windows 7 or 8.1, you may be eligible for the greatest thing to happen to your computer since, well, possibly ever.
Microsoft recently released Windows 10, its newest — and arguably best — operating system yet. And best of all, you can probably upgrade for free. If you have a PC with an official license of Windows 7 or 8.1, you most likely qualify for a free upgrade. Learn more about how to get it here.
Besides being free, Windows 10 packs some amazing features that will transform your machine into a perfect combination of workhorse and leisure device.
Windows 10 is an upgrade to past operating systems. It takes all the great elements of Windows 7 and the best parts of Windows 8.1 and adds a bunch of new features to make a fantastic operating system.
How to Install
You may have noticed a little Windows icon appearing in the bottom-left corner of your computer (don’t see this icon? Follow these instructions). Click on that and follow the instructions to reserve a copy of Windows 10 and download it.
Once the download is complete, simply follow the prompts and Windows 10 will install. The installation process took about an hour on my machine, but I have a fairly new laptop with few files. If you have hundreds or thousands of pictures, songs and videos, the installation process may take longer.
The Best Features
When Windows moved to Windows 8.1 it shocked a lot of people. It was a big departure from everything they were familiar with. Windows 10 seems mostly like the Windows you’ve always known, but adds some nice new elements. This means you can instantly use the operating system without confusion, and explore the new features at your pace.
Revamped Start Menu
The Start Menu has always been where the most important things happened in Windows, but it’s now better than ever. The Start menu features the standard commonly used applications, but also includes the tiles that were introduced in Windows 8.1. Don’t be scared of this change. It’s super useful if you take the time to set it up properly.
Windows includes a number of tiles by default. Some may be useful to you, some may not. But you can customize it! If a tile is not needed, simply right click on it and select “Unpin from Start”.
You can also click and drag tiles to reorder them. Tiles can be resized to emphasize importance, or to meet personal preference. Personally, I like to group tiles of similar applications together so I can quickly access them: Office programs, Design programs, Web tools, etc. Now all my apps are logically organized and easily accessible any time I click the start menu.
You can add any app to the Start menu by clicking “All Apps” and searching the master directory. To add an app to the Start Menu, simply right click it and select “Pin to Start’.
This process takes some experimenting, but once its done it will make using your computer super easy because you never have to hunt for a program you frequently use. And it allows you to hide programs you don’t need. Or, you can even uninstall most programs right from the start menu. You know how most computers come pre-loaded with a bunch of programs you’ve never used? Get rid of them! Right click on the app icon and select “Uninstall”.
Another amazing feature to the Start menu is kind of hidden. It’s an incredible search tool, powered by Cortana, Microsoft’s version of Siri. You can access this by clicking the Start menu and then start typing (you don’t have to click anywhere to start typing). You can type pretty much anything and Cortana will instantly suggest options. For instance, rather than searching for a program or a file, you can start typing the name, and Cortana will find it. This is incredibly useful when you can’t remember where you saved a file.
It’s also nice when you want to do a quick web search. For instance, type in “how many cups in a quart” and Cortana will provide you an instant answer. If she doesn’t have an instant answer, she will provide you with web results. Clicking on one will open it in your web browser. By default Cortana uses Bing as its search engine of choice. There are ways around this, but I honestly haven’t minded. The speed and convenience offset any annoyances of not using the more familiar Google.
In addition to this powerful text-based search, you can also use a voice-controlled version of Cortana. Right next to the Start menu is a new circle icon. This is Cortana. Click on it and a box will appear. Click on the microphone icon or enable a setting to allow you to simply say, “Hey, Cortana.” and then speak your search. Cortana does a great job interpreting what you say and then quickly executing a search.
I was hesitant of this feature at first, especially since I’ve had bad luck with Siri in the past, but Cortana is super intelligent and fast. She puts Siri to shame.
One of the most exciting features of Windows 10 is a brand new, completely redesigned web browser called Microsoft Edge. This new web browser replaces the outdated and clumsy Internet Explorer. It’s fast, lean and modern. I actually find myself enjoying using it. If you’re already a big Chrome or Firefox user you may not want to make the switch, though I definitely recommend giving it a try. Web pages load quickly and function just like you would expect them to.
There’s a great reading mode that strips away all the junk from web pages and lets you focus on the content.
You can also do easy screen grabs of a web page and write on the page, which is perfect for research projects or for web developers.
One of my favorite features of the Mac OS has been the ability to quickly view all open programs and jump between them. This feature is now available on Windows 10. Right next to the Cortana icon is the Task View icon. Click on this and you will see all open windows. Simply click on the window/program you want to navigate to and you’re there. You can also quickly bring this up with a keyboard shortcut: Windows key + Tab.
Introduced with Windows 8, the Store is similar to the Apple Store or Google Play. You can find apps, music, TV shows and more. There are a number of great apps you can install, many for free. Some of my favorites include Netflix, Box, Flipboard, and Twitter.
Windows 10 loads a number of apps by default and some of these are amazing! The default weather app is incredibly beautiful, user friendly and detailed. The Mail app is a piece of cake to set up and use. So is the Calendar app. Previous versions of Windows have had similar options, but they were kind of clumsy and second rate. Not anymore. The mail and calendar apps were done right and you will want to use them.
I also enjoy the default News app. I have been a longtime user of the Flipboard app to find and read news, and while I swear by it on my phone and tablet, the computer version isn’t great. But the Windows News app is very user friendly and does a great job finding relevant news content. It makes catching up with the day’s news fast and convenient.
One of the changes that may catch you off guard is the File Explorer — the app that lets you explore folders and files on your computer. When you opened this in past versions it would take you to the root level of your computer. Now it shows you recently used folders and files. It takes some getting used to, but I actually kind of like it.
While Windows 10 has many more features, these are some of the best. In the almost week that I’ve had it installed I have found myself looking for excuses to use my computer more. It’s made my computer (dare I say it) fun! Everything functions smoothly and quickly. Microsoft may not get everything right, but Windows 10 is a home run.
I definitely recommend making the switch. Have questions about Windows 10? Ask away!