Meet the new Windows, same as the old Windows.
Microsoft's (NASDAQ:MSFT) Windows 10 should make its user base forget the overreaching misstep that was Windows 8. For the PC version of Windows 10, Microsoft has ditched the tablet-like "Metro" interface and gone back to the familiar Windows look and feel.
Yes, there are improvements and changes in the new OS, but they are either not central to its operation, or they are so seamless that they feel like they have always been there.
(If you haven't upgraded yet, read my guide to doing that here.)
What's best about the new OS
Microsoft's core audience has always been business users and home users not hip (or rich) enough to buy a Mac. That made the bold change of Windows 8 -- which eliminated the comfort level most users had with the OS -- a mistake.
Windows 10 corrects that while still moving the product forward. Anyone who has used an earlier version of Windows, whether it be 7, XP, or even Vista, will immediately be able to use Windows 10 without any learning curve.
That should remove any fear over upgrading for corporate users because it removes a training expense and lost productivity concerns. For home users, the familiarity eliminates the possibility of upgrading and not knowing how to use your own computer -- something that was very possible on non-touchscreen Windows 8 machines.
What's new in Windows 10?
In some ways, the best new feature on the OS is not new at all -- it's actually the return of the Start Menu. But that's almost unfair to say, because the Windows 10 Start Menu goes well beyond its predecessors.
With the returning feature, Microsoft has delivered easy navigation at the touch of a button in a fashion its users are used to. Along with that, it bundled the best feature from Windows 8 -- Live Tiles. These app-launching icons deliver real-time data (like sports scores or stock prices) without users having to actually open the app. They can be rearranged, added to, or deleted fairly easily and intuitively.
Windows 10 also marks the PC debut for Cortana, Microsoft's surprisingly useful voice assistant. It also includes the new Edge browser, which the company claims is an improvement over its predecessor, Internet Explorer.
In addition, Windows 10 includes a feature called Task View, which allows you to see exactly what programs and apps you have open at the moment. That can be very useful, as it stops you from having to close screens or minimize things to find the program you are looking for.
None of these changes are particularly obtrusive, and users happy with the Windows 7 (or even older versions) experience can simply ignore them. Using Cortana or launching Task View is easy, but Microsoft has put them there for the taking without pushing them on people.
That might be for the best after the forced changes of Windows 8 elicited such a bad reaction from the company's audience.
Beyond the PC
While this review reflects the experience of using Windows 10 on a PC, the operating system also works on tablets and, ultimately, phones. The OS recognizes what device it's working on and delivers the appropriate experience. Apps scale for use on a larger screen, then smoothly transition to tablets and phones.
Windows 10 also offers a universal app store where the apps offered will work across all devices. That should expand the list of available programs, though that benefit will be felt more on Windows Phone than on PCs and tablets.
Is Windows 10 worth it?
If you're running Windows 8 on a non-touch-based device, you should upgrade as soon as possible. Even if you've grown used to Windows 8 and working around its shortcomings in a mouse and keyboard environment, the improvement is very noticeable.
Users of older versions of Windows need not upgrade as quickly, but there is no reason for them to not do it. Windows 10 improves on its predecessors, and it has no learning curve. It's the OS the company should have delivered when it launched Windows 8. Had it done that, then this version could actually have moved closer to what Windows 8 is without it being as seismic a shift.
Microsoft has both stepped forward and moved back, which should leave its customers pretty happy.