The Top-10 Windows 10 Essentials—Continued
6. Simpler Searching with Cortana
Windows 8.1's tile/desktop split personality often made searching your PC or the Web more cumbersome than it needed to be. Windows 10 addresses this by adding Cortana, the Siri-like "digital assistant" from Windows Phone.
Cortana is within easy reach whether you're using Windows 10 in Tablet or Desktop mode, and it's equally adept at finding for files, apps, and settings as it is at searching the Web. Moreover, since Cortana understands spoken commands (surprisingly well) you can ask her to retrieve information or perform tasks such as setting an appointment or opening an app without lifting a finger. (If you type your commands instead of speaking them, Cortana will remain silent and simply display the results.)
7. Quick Access to Notifications and Settings
Windows 10 takes another cue from smartphones with a revamped Action Center. Swipe in from the right edge of the screen (or click-tap the Action Center icon in the Windows tray, or press Windows + A), and you can quickly check app and system notifications (e.g. a new message or a maintenance alert) without having to open or switch to an app.
The Action Center puts important notifications and settings within easy reach.
The Action Center keeps frequently-used system settings—Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and Airplane mode, to name just a few—a swipe or keystroke away, which is a big improvement over Windows 8.1, which buried many important settings layers deep in menus.
8. Internet Explorer is History (Sort of)
The default Web Browser in Windows 10 isn't Internet Explorer—it's called Microsoft Edge. And this isn't just a name change, either; it's a completely different piece of software. Edge seems much quicker and more responsive than its predecessor, but it's also still something of a work in progress. Edge doesn't yet support browser extensions, for example, but Microsoft says that capability is coming later this year, and that many extensions written for the Chrome and Firefox browsers will work with Edge with few-to-no modifications.
For now though, Windows 10 still includes IE (11) for use in the event of any site compatibility or rendering problems. (IE 11 is hidden from the Start menu, however, so do a search to find it.)
9. Mandatory Windows Updates
With previous versions of Windows you could choose whether or not to automatically download and/or install operating system updates. A fair number of people tend to choose "not," which results in lots of unpatched (and potentially exploitable) PCs.
In the interest of keeping the millions of systems uniformly up-to-date, Windows 10 significantly limits your control over the update process. Windows 10 Home Edition downloads and installs all updates—be they security patches or new/modified features—period, though you can still control when any necessary restart takes place. Also, to avoid sticking you with an unexpectedly high data usage bill, Windows 10 won't download updates over a connection you define as "metered."
Windows 10 Pro users (and the IT admins that support such systems) get a bit more leeway with a "Defer Upgrades" option that postpones the download and installation of non-security updates for a few months.
Notwithstanding the potential benefits of updating systems without user intervention, the other side of that coin was recently on display when a defective Windows 10 update issued barely a week after launch caught a number of users in a reboot loop.
10. Share Your Wi-Fi Login Info
Another new feature that Windows 10 takes from Windows Phone is Wi-Fi Sense, which lets you share login information about a Wi-Fi network with your Windows 10-using contacts. This in turn lets them connect to that network without having to know (or indeed, being able to see) the password. Conversely, Wi-Fi Sense also lets you connect to a network that one of your contacts has shared.
If you allow it to, Wi-Fi Sense will share your Wi-Fi login info with contacts (and share theirs with you).
While certainly convenient, Wi-Fi sense (which is enabled by default) also has security implications if only for the indiscriminate way it shares Wi-Fi info—you can broadly choose whether or not to share with Facebook, Skype, and Outlook.com contacts, but not include or exclude individual contacts.
If you don't want to share Wi-Fi login info, be sure to leave the "Share network with my contacts" box unchecked when connecting to a Wi-Fi network. If you want to change other Wi-Fi Sense defaults, go to Settings Network & Internet > Wi-Fi > Manage Wi-Fi settings.
Joseph Moran is a technology writer and IT consultant who specializes in services for consumers and small businesses. He's written extensively for numerous print and online publications, and is the co-author of two previous books on Windows.
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