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).
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).
It’s been a long, winding road for Windows 10. Although the OS has encountered its fair share of hindrances, it’s officially topped Windows 7 as the most widely-adopted operating system in the US. Whereas it was previously ahead in the UK as of late 2016, it looks as though Windows 10 could become the majority OS by 2018.
What’s more, visually impaired Windows 10 users can fancy an all-new accessibility options in narrator, namely braille. That comes in build 15025, now available for Fast Ring Insiders, enabled by heading to Settings > Ease of Access and clicking Download Braille under Narrator settings. There’s also a mono audio additive in case you want to use Narrator sporting only one earbud.
Another feature in this build sees Microsoft take a cue from Apple, who just recently brought to Mac its own Night Shift blue light reducer. Redmond’s take on the tech, called ‘night light’ brings about an entire temperature-based gradient tool to aid your rest. It’s complemented by the ability to schedule the warm layer of transparent reds and oranges to bedeck your screen.
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
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.
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.