Windows 10Fronted by the tagline "it's the Windows you know, only better", the marketing campaign behind Microsoft's latest operating system has been more about familiarity than extravagance. A little unambitious, perhaps, but also some welcome recognition of the criticism that met with the less-than-successful launch of Windows 8 in 2012.
For the uninitiated, version 8 heralded a controversial deviation from the established Windows interface, having replaced the start menu with a separate screen entirely. Mostly, this seemed like a move designed to appease app publishers - large, interactive tiles facilitating a more expansive advertising canvas than the somewhat bland icons found on Microsoft's traditional home screen. And while it was a welcome addition for touch-screen users, the rest of us were left pretty underwhelmed. Aside from anything else, it just slowed down the whole process of launching programs and changing settings.
Simple though it is, the start menu was a convenience taken for granted by Microsoft, and its reinstatement on Windows 10 is a sign that they have listened to their customers (when they really didn't have to; Windows is still by some distance the most popular PC operating system). Some will be disappointed to learn that it has returned slightly different than we knew it, a smattering of the traditional prompts having been joined on the menu's interface by a smaller version of the Windows 8 start screen - ad-hosting app tiles included - but this time they are small and don't get in the way of more functional shortcuts.
The revamped start menu is symptomatic of an operating system designed to do more than merely strengthen its stranglehold on the PC/laptop market. Microsoft are clearly eager to offer a viable third alternative to Android and iOS among handheld users, and the improvements made to personal assistant Cortana - Windows' answer to Siri - are a sign that they are beginning to find their way. Cortana is being pitched as a proactive tool capable not only of responding to your queries but also keeping you on top of pertinent real-time updates re: news stories, weather patterns, traffic issues and flight changes. To make this truly personal, users are encouraged to allow the app access to emails - and for many this will be a privacy breach too far - but it is a useful feature if you're on the go.
In Microsoft Edge, Windows 10 also comes equipped with an exclusive new web browser, albeit one currently in a somewhat embryonic state (some features are still in the development stage; the "reading list", for example, doesn't yet support offline use, but is expected to be upgraded in the near future). Early reviews have compared Edge favourably to Internet Explorer, praising its quick navigation and no-frills, user-friendly interface. In terms of features, there is plenty of incentive to make it your default browser - particularly if you are prepared to put the legwork into personalising Cortana, which is heavily integrated in the search function. In short, it appears Microsoft finally have a worthy competitor to Google Chrome.
Microsoft have largely succeeded in winning back the trust of their users after the acrimony that followed the launch of Windows 8. The new version is far less overbearing in its elevation of next generation features, making software just as palatable for traditional customers as the new ones they are attempting to win in the mobile market. Windows 10 is slick and inclusive - and, happily, it's also easy to use for those making the jump from Windows 8.