Windows 10 has been leading innovation in desktop operating systems for a while. Consider, for example, that the voice-activated digital assistant Cortana showed up year before Apple added Siri to macOS, that only Windows Hello lets you log in to your computer with your face, and that only Windows offers full touch-screen support. With last spring’s Creators Update, Microsoft builds on that lead. Creators Update isn’t a drastic overhaul; rather it improves the system’s media and gaming capabilities. Even with all its forward-looking features, however, the OS remains familiar to longtime users. The upcoming Fall Creators Update is poised to deliver additional improvements. Windows 10 joins macOS as an Editors’ Choice desktop operating system.
What’s New in Creators Update?
Before digging into all the details of the OS, here’s a cheat sheet of what’s new in Creators Update:
- Paint 3D: Lets nonprofessionals create and decorate 3D models and share them on Remix3D.com. It also supports 3D printing.
- Book Store and Edge Web Browser Updates: Offers new tab management and viewing capabilities, ebook support (books are available from the Windows app store), and more (and more powerful) extensions.
- Gaming: Game mode shifts system resources away from other tasks and to your game. You can also broadcast your game session with integrated Beam and the Game Bar.
- Night Light: Like Apple’s Night Shift, this reduces blue light emission so as not to interfere with your sleep cycles.
- Cortana: Offers suggested Reminders (based on Outlook email). Pick Up Where I Left Off notifies you of recent documents and webpages when you return. Helps with initial system setup. Sets up devices like the Harman Kardon Invoke smart speaker.
- Privacy Dashboard: After all the outcry about Microsoft collecting usage data, the update brings relevant settings to the forefront and lets you clear data it’s collected. There are also clearer privacy options at setup.
- Security: The Windows Defender Security has been updated, there’s now a Device Health Advisor, and you can log in and out with a mobile phone.
Creators Update continues with Microsoft’s strategy of offering the operating system as a service, meaning it’s continually updated via the cloud. The updates are free if you already have a Windows 10 license. Last summer’s Anniversary Update added digital ink support, lock-screen Cortana and music controls, better security, and improvements to the interface and Edge web browser. Many of the updates were prompted by vast amounts of user feedback.
Next in line is Fall Creators Update, announced this past May at Microsoft’s Build 2017 developer conference. As its name implies, Fall Creators Update will build on the original Creators Update, adding the My People unified communication feature, which didn’t make it into Creators Update.
The Fall Creators will also update the OS’s interface with a gorgeous new Fluent Design System, and introduce the Timeline, Pick Up Where You Left Off, and cloud Clipboard features, which will work between Windows and non-Windows mobile operating systems. For more on the upcoming features, read Windows 10 Fall Creators Update: 7 Things to Check Out.
Because of the software-as-a-service approach, new features occasionally show up in between the major updates. For example, some of the Fluent Design elements are already showing up in some Windows stock apps, including Photos, Calculator, and Groove Music, in which window borders now have translucence and buttons and menus respond to mouse hover with lighting changes.
Windows Is Back on Track
Even before the Creators Update, Microsoft’s flagship software has proven to be a much bigger success than its ill-fated predecessor, Windows 8: Windows 10 already claims more than 27 percent of the desktop operating system share, with more than 500 million copies installed. By comparison, all versions of Apple’s operating system account for less than 8 percent of worldwide computers, according to data from NetMarketShare. That said, Windows 7 holdouts still retain nearly 49 percent of the market.
The newest Windows still runs the vast majority of the millions of Windows programs in the wild. Yes, that means it still uses the much-derided Registry to maintain configuration settings, but on today’s fast hardware, it’s no longer such an issue. And modern Windows Store apps don’t come with any Registry baggage. That’s partly why Microsoft is coming out with Windows 10 S, which will only run Store apps. In fact, Microsoft recommends against using any third-party registry-optimizing software for Windows 10.
How to Get Windows 10
If you’re running Windows 10, getting Creators Update is a simple matter of running Windows Update, accessible from the Settings app. If you don’t see it, you can head to Microsoft’s Windows Download page to force the issue, or even download a disc image ISO to create startup media for a clean installation. Microsoft has changed the update interface so that it’s less likely to interrupt you while you need the PC. And the latest version can even get you up and running using just your voice and Cortana!
If you didn’t move up from Windows 7 or 8 during the year it was a free upgrade, you can still get Windows 10, but you have to pay. You can get the software via download or on USB sticks for the same prices as previous Windows versions; that is, $119.99 list for Home and $199.99 for Pro. Your data and programs come along for the ride when you update from previous versions, though it’s always a good idea to back up before an OS upgrade.
Windows 10’s minimum system requirements are surprisingly low: a 1GHz processor, 1GB of RAM, and 16GB of hard drive space. The 64-bit version of Windows 10 increases the RAM requirement to 2GB and the disk space to 20GB. You’ll also need a DirectX 9-capable graphics card and a display with at least 800-by-600 resolution. You can find out whether your system is up to snuff by reading Can My PC Run Windows 10?
Windows 10 is available to most users in just two editions: Home and Pro (with 32-bit and 64-bit options for each), but all of the major features appear in both versions. Pro adds business-y things like network domain joining, Hyper-V virtualization, group policy management, and BitLocker encryption. That last one may be of interest to security-conscious personal users, too. Unsurprisingly, if you upgrade from Home levels of Windows 7 or 8, you get Windows 10 Home, and if you update from the professional versions of 7 or 8, you get Pro.
There are, of course, other editions of Windows 10 for special use cases: The latest is Windows 10 S, which, as mentioned, will only run Windows Store apps, which will vastly improve security and performance. That version will be the default on the new Surface Laptop. Enterprise is still an option for large organizations that want bulk licensing deals. Two Education versions target K-12 institutions: Windows 10 Pro Education and Windows 10 Education. And let’s not forget the lightweight edition that powers Internet of Things devices and the Raspberry Pi: Windows 10 IoT Core.
When setting up a Windows 10 account, you can log in to a local account, without the need for a Microsoft account (macOS, by comparison, requires an Apple account), but you’ll lose many of the OS’s best features if you do so. Many critics have nevertheless called out Microsoft for harvesting usage data by default, so the company has clarified privacy choices at setup. For details, read Windows 10: How to Protect Your Privacy.
Windows 10 presents almost no learning curve for longtime Windows users, while managing to incorporate many of the advances of Windows 8—faster startup, tablet capability, better notifications, and an app store. Its windowing prowess remains unmatched, letting you easily show the desktop and snap windows to the sides and corner quadrants of the screen.
Creators Update doesn’t change Windows 10’s interface the way Anniversary subtly did, aside from the new Night Light setting. This works similarly to Apple products’ Night Shift, adjusting the colors displayed away from the blue part of the spectrum, which has been found to interfere with a good night’s sleep. When you turn on Night Light in Settings, by default it’s enabled from sunset to sunrise, but you can change it to hours you specify, or turn it on immediately. Apple Night Shift only offers the last two options. You can even adjust the warmth of the spectrum Night Light uses (see screenshot).
The Start menu still shows the All Apps list without a second button press, and it also shows most used and newly installed apps. I appreciate how you can set basic folder icons to appear, too, or not, as you choose. So, for example, you can have icons for File Explorer, Downloads, Documents, and so on appear right above the start button.
The Windows Store is designed to appeal to gamers, but now also to readers, with the addition of ebooks and Themes (for wallpaper, sounds, and accent colors). The Store is now aligned more closely with the Xbox Store, and it now offers game bundles and subscriptions. For everyone else, the new design does make it a bit easier to get to the top apps, music, and movies. The Action Center (see below) icon is all the way at the right of the Taskbar, making it easier reach. The Dark Interface option shows apps with black window backgrounds, which can be gentler on the eyes—as well as just looking cool.
Another interface feature I’ve really begun to cherish is File Explorer’s Quick Access section. This lets you easily find whatever file you were last working on regardless of the application you were using. So, if you edit an image and want to add it to another app, it’s right at the top of the Quick Access list. You never have to remember where you just saved a file to find it quickly.
Some overlap between the Settings App and Control Panel still remains, an interface legacy of Windows 8, but really, it’s much less of an issue than in Windows 8. For simple system settings, you use the Settings app, for deep, technical system options, you go to the Control Panel.
Cortana, Windows’ voice-responsive AI digital assistant, may be Windows 10’s highest-profile feature. The intelligent voice assistant predates Apple’s Siri on the Mac by over a year. I should note that you can no longer completely disable Cortana, but you can prevent her from accessing your location, email, contacts, and browsing history, and communications. You can also turn off her listening for “Hey Cortana.” Cortana is, however, the search function in the OS. You can hide the search bar if you never want to use it.
Since Anniversary Update, you can use Cortana from the lock screen, useful for things like playing a music playlist, asking about the weather, or asking for points of information. Speaking of music, the Cortana panel has a musical note button that serves a Shazam-like function to identify songs in range of your PC’s mic. Intel also has new wake-on-voice technology that means you could say “Hey Cortana!” and have the PC respond even if it’s in sleep mode. It’s sort of like an Amazon Echo, without the need for a separate device and without the push to purchase stuff. And soon, dedicated Cortana speakers like the Harman Kardon Invoke will let you use Microsoft’s assistant without a PC. A new icon in the Cortana sidebar, looking like the Invoke speaker, has started appearing already, before Fall Creators Update.
Cortana Notebook, which is where you specify your interests so that you’ll be notified about what matters to you, has added a few more categories, including On the Go, which pops up suggestions for when you arrive at work or home. Unlike Siri or Google Now, Cortana lets you specify exactly what the assistant knows about you—interests, important people, locations—and you choose whether to have her respond to your spoken “Hey Cortana,” or whether you want to use the feature at all.
Cortana Reminders can be based on Place, Person, or Time, but don’t have to be: Sometimes you just want to be reminded of something without having to specify any of those. That kind of reminder shows up in Cortana’s Whenever group.
Cortana Reminders is also a share target, accessible from the share button in a Universal Windows app. For example, if you’re in the Edge Web browser, you can hit the Share button, choose Cortana Reminders, and attach the site URL to the reminder. If you do this from the Photos app, the picture is included in the reminder. The share panel no longer hangs on the side of the screen, but with Creators Update now appears in the center of the screen like a regular dialog.
A recent update allows Cortana to scan your Outlook.com or Office 365 email for phrases like “I’ll get you the report by the end of the day,” and pop a reminder automatically at the end of your workday. It’s a completely opt-in feature, and you have to add Outlook.com or Office 365 as a connected service in Cortana’s Notebook. Another new capability is Pick Up Where I Left Off, in which Cortana offers to resume all the activities from your last session, such as websites open and documents you’re working on.
Cortana in Windows 10 interacts tightly with Cortana apps on other devices, such as Android phones and iPhones. You can enable notifications from the phone, including things like low-battery warnings, to show up on Cortana on Windows. You also see messages from WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, and SMS from the phone. With all of these improvements, Windows 10 is edging towards the tight integration between mobile and desktop that you find in macOS, though it still doesn’t let you reply, except to Skype messages.
The integration works more fully with Android devices than with iOS devices, since the latter restrict access to some system capabilities. Of course, it works best with phones running Windows 10 Mobile, but while they’re still available, and even with new models like the HP Elite x3 coming out, the platform has failed to make significant inroads into the smartphone market. Some still hold out hope for a mythical “Surface Phone” from Microsoft to reinvigorate the market.
Touch and pen input support is a major differentiator between Windows 10 and Apple’s macOS. Apple sticks with Steve Job’s edict that touch screens don’t make sense on laptops and desktops, but a touch screen is the most intuitive interface type possible. You see something you want to interact with, such as a button, you press it with your finger. In using a Surface Pro 4 and an Asus Zen AiO Pro Z240IC all-in-one PC (both of which have touch screens) for the past year or so, I’ve gotten to the point of trying to tap buttons on computers with non-touch screens out of habit.
Windows’ digital ink capabilities allow stylus input to work just like a pen or pencil, converting it to text. This is a technologically cool feature, but it will only be of interest to owners of tablets and convertibles like the Surface Pro 4, the Surface Book or the Lenovo IdeaPad Miix 700. The new Windows Ink Workspace offers sticky notes (with extra smarts), as well as Sketchpad and Screen Sketch options. It also shows recent apps you’ve penned in and suggests pen-friendly apps in the Store. You can turn off the feature’s icon if you don’t expect to use it.
This new Ink Workspace can be summoned by clicking a stylus button. You can also take advantage of some Cortana smarts in the new sticky notes. For example, if you write “Wednesday,” the text is turned to a blue link, and clicking this gives you the option to set a Cortana reminder. I actually had better luck getting Cortana to notice flight information when I typed it in the note, rather than penning it, however. Info on flight status for such notes appears at the bottom of the sticky.
Sketchpad offers ballpoint pen, pencil, highlighter, eraser, ruler, and touch writing tools. Sketchpad resembles the whiteboard app on the Surface Hub. It also lets you crop the image, copy it, and share it to any Universal Windows app in the share sidebar. A ruler tool lets you draw perfectly straight lines, and even includes a compass. Double-clicking the pen button or choosing Screen Sketch from the Ink Workspace snaps a screenshot of your desktop and opens it in Sketchpad so you can annotate and draw on top of it with any of the aforementioned tools.
One of the coolest inking capabilities is the pen keyboard. You switch to this mode from the standard on-screen keyboard. Start writing on the line there, and text predictions show up. Hit Enter, and your writing turns into text in whatever text area you’re writing in. It does surprisingly well with even poor penmanship, and striking through your writing deletes it easily.
Edge Web Browser Gets Sharper
The Edge Web browser that comes with Windows 10 is fast and standards-compatible, and it offers unique tools like Web Notes that let you mark up and share webpages, a clean (ad-free) Reading view, and built-in Cortana search via right-click. Extension support came with the Anniversary Update, but now they’re more capable and more abundant. New for Creators update are ebook support, new tab organization and preview tools, payment options, and 4K support for Netflix.
Edge’s Extensions menu option links to the Windows app store, from which you can get Edge extensions. I tested by installing one I consider essential—LastPass. There are also extensions for Amazon, Evernote, Microsoft Translator, OneNote, Pinterest, Pocket, and more. Though it’s not a long list yet, those are some heavy hitters that will make the browser appealing to more demanding users. Of course, it’s just a start, and there are only 35 extensions at time of writing, compared with thousands for Firefox and Chrome.
Unlike most browsers’ extensions, Edge’s appear by default in the overflow menu rather than next to the address bar, but you can add their icons to the toolbar with a Settings option. The LastPass extension worked just as in other browsers. LastPass’s on-page features, such as automatic password fill-in, also worked well via the extension.
Standards compatibility. Edge now gets 468 out of a possible 555 points in my testing on the HTML5Test.com site, making it highly compatible with modern Web standards compared with IE, which scores 312. Firefox, by comparison, gets 474, Chrome scores 510, Opera comes in at 516, and Vivaldi gets 518. On another compatibility test, Edge fares less well, but so do the other browsers: The CSS3 Test awards Edge only 43 percent for new standards support; Chrome gets 60 percent, while Firefox bests them with 65 percent. Support for CSS Grid Layout is new to the last two, and hopefully Microsoft will soon implement it in Edge, as it could become important for web designs that adapt to different screen sizes (aka responsive designs).
Battery usage. Edge’s low battery drain on portable PCs and tablets, is another feather it its cap (see my review linked below). I also did a quick speed test using the JetStream benchmark on a Surface Book with an Intel Core i5 and 8GB RAM. The benchmark runs three times through a bank of 38 tests. Bigger scores are better. Firefox got a score of 142, Chrome achieved 168, and Edge came in at 196. That’s not so surprising: Earlier Edge versions even beat Chrome on Google’s own Octane benchmark.
Tablet and touch-screen users will appreciate Edge’s swipe gestures, which let you go back and forth in history, and desktop users will appreciate that right-clicking the back button drops down tab history, as most browsers do. I also appreciate that Edge, like other browsers, now offers a Paste-and-go option and the ability to pin tabs. Unfortunately, there’s still no full-screen browser view (except for video playing) and you can’t set an image as your desktop background from the browser.
New Tab Tricks. Microsoft has done quite a bit with tabs in Edge, particularly helpful to those who keep lots of tabs open. The browser already showed thumbnail previews of your site tabs when you hover over them with the mouse, but now a down-caret button lets you show all the preview thumbs at once for easy skimmability. I do wish that you could turn off the hover-over thumbnails, though, since they sometimes get in the way of browser control buttons.
A new Set Aside icon at top left lets you send the currently open group of tabs to the background. Just tap the window icon to its left to reopen the set, favorite them, or share them. The tab groups you’ve set aside remain available even after you shut down and restart Edge. The browser does mark noisy tabs with a speaker icon, but unlike Firefox, it doesn’t let you silence them with a click on the speaker.
Ebooks in Edge
Edge serves as the reader for Microsoft’s new ebook initiative. The browser already can display PDFs, but now you can buy (or get for free) ebooks in the Windows Store. There’s already a decent selection, with a good library of free classics. I downloaded Dickens’ Great Expectations, and it looked great on the high-res Surface Book display. You access your bookshelf via the same icon that drops down Favorite, Reading List, History, and Downloads. Just like any other ebook reader, it lets you choose fonts (including publisher defaults), set bookmarks, view the table of contents, and search. You can also look up words with Cortana via right click or tap-and-hold options.
One very cool option is to have the book read to you by a selection of voice types, with adjustable speed. For standard reading, just as with any dedicated ereader, you can swipe back and forth through pages or tap the left or right side of the screen. But in a way, I still prefer a separate app for book-reading. For example, the Nook app that I use shows the exact page numbers, while in Edge (and Kindle) you only see a percent read. It’s also preferable to have the bookstore in the same app as the reader. One final dig on Books in Edge: You can’t view them full-screen, without the browser window border and the Task bar, though that problem should go away with Fall Creators Update, which allows Edge to go full screen.
For an in-depth look at Window’s 10 browser, read my full review of Microsoft Edge.
Dynamic Lock, Hello, and Security
And new for Creators Update is the ability to log off based on proximity of your Bluetooth-paired smartphone, using Dynamic Lock. I tried this with a Surface Book my iPhone 6s (yes—you don’t need a Windows Phone!). After I walked about 25 paces away, sure enough, the Surface switched to lock-screen mode. This is more in the way of a security feature, since it only logs you off when you’re away, not on when you come near.
Windows Hello biometric authentication is supported on Surface Pros and Surface Books, but you can also use third-party biometric login devices, such as the Eidon Mini fingerprint reader, Intel’s RealSense cameras, and a wristband from Nymi that identifies you by your unique heartbeat signature.
On the software side, Windows Universal Apps and websites you browse in Edge can also use Hello for authentication, similar to identifying yourself on an iPhone or Apple Watch with Apple’s TouchID. Apps that support Hello now include Dropbox and iHeartRadio.
Like Firefox, Edge now also blocks Flash from running unless you green-light it by tapping a puzzle-piece icon. You can choose to always allow Flash, too, but why not take advantage of that extra measure of protection?
Windows Defender can schedule regular system scans and new notifications about threats. And for enterprise users, there’s Windows Defender Advanced Threat Protection, which detects and resolves advanced network threats; and Windows Information Protection, which isolates corporate data from personal data on work PCs. Though our security expert, Neil Rubenking, found the pre-Anniversary version of Defender showed some improved scores on independent lab tests, it still trails most third-party antivirus apps.
A Windows 10 feature with roots in mobile operating systems is the Action Center. While previous versions of Windows included something also called Action Center, the new feature is more like a smartphone’s notifications plus quick action features. In fact, that’s exactly what it is. Windows 8 had notifications, but they were ephemeral—if you missed one, whether it was a Facebook message or a severe weather alert, it was gone after a brief appearance.
The Windows 10 Action Center, similar to Apple macOS Sierra‘s Notification Center, keeps those messages available in a right-side panel. You open Windows 10’s Action Center panel from a taskbar button, or on touch screens with a swipe in from the right edge of the screen. The panel also offers frequently needed functions like power, settings, networking, and screen brightness and rotation. One of these actions, Connect, is pretty neat, in that it lets you project your screen onto another one on your Wi-Fi network. I was able to display my Surface Pro’s screen on a big Samsung TV with no setup aside from choosing OK on the TV—pretty nifty.
Store and Universal Windows Apps
If you never upgraded to Windows 8 or 8.1, you don’t know what it is to have an app store on your PC desktop. Why do you need an app store on your PC? Mac users have had one for several years, and it offers the advantages of automatic updating and a single source for finding programs you need. It gives you access on all your PCs to apps you’ve bought. Acceptance to the Windows Store also means an app has been vetted by Microsoft for security. You can also install apps to external memory—something tablet users will appreciate.
For Windows 10, there are even more advantages for these modern apps: They can tie in with the notifications and share panels. For example, if you use the Facebook app rather than going to the Facebook website, you can see notifications for new messages and you can send shareable content via the app.
Windows 10 Store apps are called Universal Windows Platform apps, meaning they can run on desktops, tablets, phones, the Surface Hub, and eventually on the Xbox and Microsoft HoloLens 3D augmented-reality headset. Underneath these apps is Windows 10’s OneCore platform, a common base that underlies all these device types and allows not only apps, but also device drivers to work with them. UWP apps have one final benefit: They run within containers so that they don’t mess with the rest of your system.
Continuum and Tablet Mode
Continuum refers to switching among desktop, smartphone, and tablet modes. The idea is that the single OS can automatically reformat itself to work best with the form factor at hand. It’s most impressive on smartphones, where Continuum lets you use the small handheld device to power a large screen along with a mouse and keyboard, for a desktop-like experience. That’s been the idea of the future for several years: A world in which your only computer fits in your pocket.
You can either use the Microsoft Display Dock for this or connect over Wi-Fi using a Miracast-supporting HDTV or set-top box. It’s brilliantly done, and pretty impressive when you first see it. The phone turns into a trackpad and keyboard when needed, yet you can still use it as a phone while it’s displaying Windows on the big screen. One drawback: Continuum only allows the phone to display one full-size modern Store app (including Office apps) at a time. Another issue is that it only works with the latest Windows Phone models, such as the Lumia 950.
Tablet mode is similar, but no longer dubbed a Continuum feature. It’s a trimmed down, more touch-friendly version of the OS, with a full-screen tile-based Start screen. After you pull off the keyboard from a tablet, such as the Surface Pro 4, or convert a convertible laptop to tablet mode (often by bending the screen backwards), Windows pops up a message asking if you want to switch to Tablet mode, in which the Start menu and modern apps become full-screen. Touch gestures like closing an app by swiping down from the top of the screen work in this mode, and the All Apps view stretches across the screen with large tiles so it’s easier to get to any app.
Included Apps—Office Mobile, Mail, Calendar, Photos
You get a surprisingly full kit of apps with Windows 10. Not only do you get utilities and information apps like Maps, Money, News, Sports, you also can get Microsoft Office from the Windows app store. You heard that right, but there’s a catch: Unless you have an Office 365 subscription, you can only read, not edit, documents with these productivity apps.
The version of Office you get with Windows 10 is equivalent to the iPad version of Office, called Office Mobile. It’s capable of most word processing, spreadsheet, and presentation needs, but pros who need to dig into Excel pivot tables and Word advanced formatting will want the Office 365 version.
The included Mail app is getting smarter, with Focused Inbox starting its rollout even before Creators Update. This is a great feature that’s already implemented in the Outlook for iPhone and Android apps. It filters out all the newsletters and promotions, and only shows you mail from those with whom you regularly correspond, or that is in some other way deemed important by the service. You can of course still see everything else at the tap of a tab, and turn off this focusing for mail you don’t want highlighted. You can now also use @ signs in an email body to add them to the conversation. Still, the app isn’t as powerful as the Office 365 desktop version, though I must admit that it’s now good enough to be my everyday work email client.
The Mail app is integrated with Calendar and Contact apps, available from buttons along the bottom of Mail. Calendar does a presentable job of handling multiple calendars, appointments, and views. Recent additions to the Calendar include color-coding for event categories, public calendar subscriptions for shows and sports, and cards for deliveries and travel reservations. The cards for travel reservations even include links to online check-in services.
The Groove Music app can simply play music sitting on your hard drive or in your OneDrive cloud storage. But its streaming subscription service ($9.99 per month) offers ad-free, on-demand music with a huge library of hits and oldies. It’s comparable with the Mac’s iTunes and Apple Music offerings, but you can also play Groove Music on an Xbox, for a home-theater experience.
Another included app is Movies & TV, which also offers a content store as well as the ability to play your own videos. New in Creators Update for Movies & TV, as well as for the Skype preview app is the Compact Overlay option, which lets you have a small, always-on-top window showing video while you do other things on your PC.
You still get lots of utility-type apps, too, including a scanner app, alarms, a calculator, a camera, a reader (for viewing PDFs and several other document formats), and a voice recorder. There’s even a Phone Companion app that works with iOS and Android mobiles as well as with Windows phones.
The impressive Maps app recently has been updated with support for Windows Ink, meaning you can mark up a map using a stylus or your finger on a touch-screen PC. But that’s not all: You can calculate the distance of a line you draw on a map and get directions for two points you tap. If you don’t have a touch screen, the same functionality is possible with a mouse. You can also use a virtual on-screen ruler to make your lines straight.
Of special note is the updated Photos app, which lets you organize your photos into albums, apply automatic fixes like red-eye correction, lighting, and color, and add effects like selective focus and Instagram-like filters. The app has recently been updated with a completely new interface that uses slider bars instead of wheels, adds more filters, and gives the ability to draw on photos.
Photos even creates automatic galleries for you based on photos taken at a similar time and place, picking the best of similar photos to include. But lacks the face-recognition of its macOS counterpart, Photos. One missing piece of the media software puzzle is that an entry-level video-editing app like the old Windows Movie Maker or Apple’s iMovie is completely AWOL from Windows 10. The Photos app does at least let you trim the end and beginning of your videos.
For image editing, that old standby, Paint, will be moving to the Windows Store soon. Its replacement, the new Paint 3D, is now available in the Creators Update. Not only does it let you create, customize, and decorate 3D objects, but you can also share them with the Remix3D.com online community.
The Mixed Reality Portal is an included app that will play a central role in Microsoft’s VR strategy along with HoloLens and lower-cost headsets. And along with that the 3D Builder applet can turn anyone into a 3D model maker, and even lets you order 3D prints of your work.
OneDrive and Skype
Two of Microsoft’s cloud services—OneDrive for online storage and syncing and for communication—will play an increasingly important role in Windows 10. There’s an important distinction between these and Apple’s analogous iCloud for macOS: They can be used on any platform. There are Skype and OneDrive apps for Macs, Androids, and iOS devices, as well as for PCs and Windows phones.
While OneDrive does a great job syncing Office documents and personalization settings, and Skype is a very rich communication tool, there’s still some work for Microsoft to do in integrating them with Windows 10. For example, when using the Photos app, you can tap the Share icon to send selected images to Mail, Facebook, Twitter, or any other app that accepts sharing of that file type—but not to OneDrive.
Skype in Windows 10 gets a little clearer in Creators Update, since now there’s just one PC app instead of three. And you can directly reply to Skype messages inside Action Center. Windows has the potential for parity with macOS’s Messaging and Facetime apps, but it’s not there yet. The Mac solution is still more seamless, but Windows 10 is getting closer, with an SMS relay option for Android in the offing. Also keep in mind that Skype is a full, standalone VoIP solution that can call standard phones, while the Mac is just hooking into the iPhone’s mobile connection and requires proximity of the phone. Like OneDrive, Skype works on all major platforms, not just one.
Gaming in Windows 10
Microsoft continues to make the Window 10 proposition sweeter for gamers. The Xbox app for Windows 10 not only lets them see an activity feed, but it also includes game DVR and can even stream games from an Xbox One to the PC. PCMag’s game maven Jeff Wilson has taken a good look at Windows 10’s Xbox gaming app. While he found that game streaming and the DVR feature worked well, he was less impressed with the game selection—it can’t compete with Steam’s. He was also disappointed that you can’t buy games right from the app, but instead have to switch to the Windows Store app.
On the plus side, the Xbox and Windows 10 Stores have been unified, and the Play Anywhere initiative means you can buy games for one platform and play them either on the console or the PC. Game progress stays in sync between platforms. Play Anywhere games have begun to appear, and the list has grown since I last checked, now at 15 titles with 11 more “coming soon.” Notable entries are Gears of War 4, Forza Horizon 3, Killer Instinct, and ReCore—but about a dozen more are available in preview form. You can keep up with the list on the Xbox Play Anywhere page.
Beyond the Xbox app, Windows 10’s 3D video engine is now DirectX 12, which, according to some game developers, could open up a whole new level of realism to games. And Windows 10 was recently enhanced with the ability to turn off VSync and instead enable AMD’s Freesync and Nvidia’s G-Sync in Universal Windows Platform (UWP) games and apps. The same update also unlocked frame rates for UWP games. You can read more about what Freesync, G-Sync and unlocked frame rates mean for Windows 10 on our sister site, Extreme Tech.
The Creators Update adds Game Mode, which moves system resources away from background tasks towards the game you’re playing. And it’s on by default. You can control this and other gaming feaures in a new dedicated Gaming section of Settings. The update also adds built-in game broadcasting capability using Beam, which offers sub-one-second latency for much tighter communication with your audience. It also lets users create their own Arena gamer tournaments on Xbox Live. A Windows key-G keyboard shortcut brings up a control bar for screenshot, DVR, and broadcast options.
Not sure which game to play? Choose some from the group of first-rate titles in our Best PC Games feature.
Windows of Opportunity
Windows 10 Creators Update takes a good thing and refines it. Whether you’re using your voice with Cortana, gesturing on a touch screen, writing with a digital pen, building a 3D model, or playing a PC game, Windows offers a wealth of choices. The platform offers the most choice in form factors, too, from the smallest tablets to massive gaming PCs to the large Surface Studio to the giant Surface Hub. Windows 10’s only device weakness is the nearly defunct Windows Phone ecosystem, though there are more and more integrations available for iOS and Android devices, such as Cortana, OneDrive, and Skype mobile apps.
Windows is a desktop and tablet operating system that’s familiar, innovative, and adaptable to the size and capabilities of the hardware on which it’s running. Because it manages to include so much new technology while remaining familiar and intuitive to use, Windows 10 earns our Editors’ Choice endorsement, an honor it shares with the polished and impressive macOS.