What’s new with windows 10 (p.2)

Cortana

Cortana is another centrepiece of the Windows 10 platform. If you’ve used a Windows Phone device, then you might already be familiar with what that is. If you’ve used an iOS or Android device, then you might have had the chance to use their built-in voice-activated digital assistants.

On Apple devices that’s Siri, and on Google devices it is Google Now. These applications let you ask your phone questions in a somewhat natural way, and get back a spoken response. For instance, you could say to your iPhone, ‘Hey Siri, what is the population of Indore’ and it would look up that fact, and speak it out in a natural voice. Similarly, you could ask your Android phone ‘OK Google, what time is it in Cincinnati right now’ and your phone will you the answer.

Cortana has already been available on Windows phones for a while, and now it has come to the desktop. That is of course if you live in one of the few countries where it works. India isn’t one of them, but Microsoft promises Cortana support in India is coming soon. Once it’s released in India, you’ll be able to use Cortana to play music and videos, look up facts, set alarms, take notes, set reminders and a lot more using your voice. Cortana can be activated by clicking on the new search bar / button in the Windows 10 taskbar, or by simply saying ‘Hey Cortana’ if you enable that option.

The new Store

Microsoft’s app store for Windows has also gone through some major changes for Windows 10. It might not seem special to look at, but there is a lot new that you can expect from it. First of all, the store is no longer restricted to only Modern UI / Windows 8 / Windows 10 / Universal Windows Applications, all kinds of applications will now be available on the store.

This doesn’t mean that any developer can just drop any old exe file on the store and sell it. Old apps will still need to be repackaged for the Windows Store and optionally developers can even use new Windows 10 technologies and payment models without needing to rewrite the application using a new framework.

If you still prefer traditionally sold applications, here is something that might attract you. Applications installed from the store run in their own sandbox, and as such can’t go around creating random files all over your computer, and in your settings folders. Apps installed from the store run in isolation, with their own private Windows registry to mess up, their own private settings and data folders, and restricted access to the rest of the system.

This enables you to cleanly install and uninstall apps from the store. Want to check out a free app but are worried that the app will leave files and settings behind after you uninstall it? Well, apps installed from the store wont have this problem, even if they are traditional applications. Additionally, the Windows store now also features music, movies and TV purchases, but as you probably expect by now, they are not available in India.

At least not right now Improved Gaming Exprience Microsoft has been trying to win back gamers for a while now, and in Windows 10 they are making an effort to do exactly that. There are two major new features of Windows 10 that Microsoft is touting to gamers, and they are a new improved Direct X, and a new XBox app for Windows.

DirectX 12

Windows 10 comes with Microsoft’s a major upgrade to DirectX. Just like DirectX 10 was exclusive to Vista, and was not available for XP, DirectX 12 is exclusive to Windows 10, and wont be available for previous versions of Windows. Also like DirectX 10, DirectX 12 brings a big change to the way DirectX works, and can be a huge boon to developers and gamers alike.

First of all DirectX 12 cuts out many of the layers between a running game, and the graphics card it is using. In earlier versions there were many layers of software that came in the way with their own bugs, and inefficiencies.

This often led to situations where a game could perform a lot better, but it was restricted due to the design of the drivers and of DirectX itself. Often there would be bugs in the driver that only popped up on certain hardware and with certain games, leaving developers helpless to fix them.

With DirectX 12 there is a lot more responsibility and power given to developers, as they have closer access to the hardware than ever on a PC. This is the kind of access that allowed developers to create decent looking games on consoles even when PCs had far overpowered them in hardware capability.

The Xbox App

The Xbox app in Windows 10 is the other new feature that is of interest to gamers. This app brings some of the capabilities of the Xbox to Windows. While it is the successor to Games for Windows Live, Microsoft claims to have learnt from the mistakes of the almost universally hated software.

The Xbox app as such is merely a social gaming hub that lets you track achievements for games installed through the store, allows you to chat with and message friends, and to share screenshots and video captures of your games.

It can detect the games installed on your computer, and list them in one place. You can launch games from the Xbox app like you would from Steam or Origin, although those will still need to be installed depending on where you got your game. You can also use the Xbox app shortcuts to take screenshots and make video recordings of your games.

Like on the Xbox One, you can configure Xbox on Windows 10 to record gameplay in the background so you can quickly save the last few minutes or even hour of gameplay footage. The Xbox app can also connect to an Xbox One and can then stream games from the Xbox One to your PC. For gamers who don’t already have apps for capturing game screenshots and videos, this will likely be a great feature. For others, there’s nothing special that the Xbox app does that your existing software doesn’t.

Edge

Microsoft has taken the opportunity with such a disruptive release as Window 10 to improve another Microsoft product that has received much criticism over the years: their browser. Internet Explorer has always been quite innovative despite what its reputation might suggest.

It was Internet Explorer that first included what is knows as Ajax today, and they had a multi-process design before Chrome was introduced. However, over time its legacy has become a burden, and a clean break was the best idea. Edge is that (somewhat) clean break. Internet Explorer is still available with Windows 10, but it is tucked away safely only for those who need it.

The default browser on Windows 10, is Microsoft Edge. The new browser uses the new EdgeHTML engine, which is essentially their old Internet Explorer engine (Trident) with all the code for legacy support removed. It no longer has support for ActiveX and other proprietary Microsoft technologies and focuses only on the current generation web technologies. It’s a great browser, but by no means perfect, and it’s made worse by the fact that upgrading to Windows 10 sets it to your default browser even if you already had another default browser.

A lot more

There is still a lot more that Windows 10 has to offer. It continues in the direction set by Windows 8.1 by making more and more of the Windows experience accessible to touch. The new control panel for instance adds a lot more configuration options that were earlier only accessible via the traditional control panel.

It isn’t perfect though, and there is still a lot that is absent, but it is unlikely that an average user will ever need to visit or know about the old control panel. A great example is how the new modern settings app now lists all installed applications, whether they came from the store, or were installed the traditional way. A new ‘Save locations’ setting panel now allows you to easily select a secondary drive to store you documents, music, pictures and videos.

In the future you will be able to change the drive on which apps are installed as well. For the security conscious there is Windows Hello, a new technology that adds support for biometric authentication, such as fingerprint, iris, or face-based authentication for Windows. Of course as usual Windows 10 also updates the set of applications that it comes with including the mail and calendar apps, and of course a new version of Solitaire.

Brace yourselves though, because this will be a little hard to believe, but Solitaire, or ‘Microsoft Solitaire Collection’ as it’s called in Windows 10 now displays video ads that you can only get rid of by paying a monthly subscription. Just head over to the store and you’ll find dozens of free versions of solitaire, or those that charge a one-time fee. Finally, Windows 10 also introduces ‘Phone Companion’ an app that simplifies interfacing your computer with your phone. It supports Windows phones obviously, but also Android and iOS phones.

It’s nothing special as it mostly links to Microsoft apps you can install on your phone, but hope- fully it will become more capable over time.