Another day, another article about the changes that you’ll hopefully be looking forward to in Windows 10. This is part two of a five-part series running this week, and today we’re looking at some of the geekier aspects of the OS and the changes made to the taskbar. I’ve been using Windows 10 on various devices for ages and I’m really liking it so far. In fact, I have the same appreciation for it that I did with Windows 7, although I didn’t try to use it on old, outdated hardware this time. Follow me after the jump!
Returning to the taskbar again, we have two new icons there by default – Search and Virtual Desktops. Search launches just the search menu (although this is technically not the same, and is actually Cortana), and can be invoked by pressing Win+Q. In previous builds of Windows 10, the search icon was actually Cortana’s icon that also appears on Windows Phone, which was a nice touch. Virtual desktops can be invoked by pressing Win+TAB.
Virtual desktops is something that a lot of people won’t see the value in initially, but it does grow on you. As in the Linux world, Windows 10 allows you to use multiple virtual desktops, each with their own copy of their Explorer windows or applications running at the same time. To the OS, this is pretty much just like opening new windows to the same applications or Explorer, but now they’re in their own virtual desktop.
The impact on resources to actually use a virtual desktop seems minimal, but more testing will need to be done. Either way, more machines shipping with Windows 10 need to have 4GB of RAM at a minimum, or else heavy use of this feature may bring peformance down quite a bit. There is no limit to the amount of virtual desktops you can have, and closing them all will just send the windows and apps that were open in the previous one back to the next used desktop.
Also, yes, you can drag a window to a different virtual desktop. You can do this by clicking on the virtual desktop icon or Win+Tab, and then drag the window over the plus sign on the bottom right to put it into a new desktop.
The other improvements to the taskbar improve user friendliness over and above what was available in previous Windows OSes. The power icon now launches a new window that shows you battery life stats and an option to enable “Battery Saver”, which puts Windows into a really aggressive power-saving state in order to lower power consumption, though its only available on notebooks and x86-based tablets. The brightness control steps up the brightness in four levels, moving from 25% to 100%.
Nothing much changes for the network settings, but at least it works. Previous builds would have this bug out quite often. There are changes to how Windows works with WiFi networks, but we’ll look at that a bit later.
There are no changes to the sound controls or the volume mixer, which I’m happy with already. If you’re a Linux user, you’re probably intimately familiar with how much people screw around with audio and sound mixers and whatnot and Windows is the one platform that gets this right every time (well, as long as you have your drivers up to date). Surprisingly, there isn’t an option here for lowering the volume of the Edge browser, which is running in the background. Odd.
Action Center and Taskbar calendar
Another big change for Windows 10 is to notifications, which now appear in the Action Centre, available by clicking the little notification icon next to the sound icon. These are now set to appear in a sidebar that only launches when clicked. Notifications from your e-mail accounts are shown here, but there’s currently no integration with this and Outlook 2013, or Outlook 2016 for that matter. That may change in the future.
Notifications for system maintenance also appear here. Clicking on the mail notifications will launch the Mail app, which is expected, but it will only launch the Mail app in this case, not your personal default, like Thunderbird. In time, API hooks into Action Centre may allow for others like Twitter and LinkedIn to pop up as well, if you have the Modern versions of these apps installed on your system.
The icons below the notifications also govern a few settings. “Quiet Hours” starts up a time window where you’re not alerted to any incoming notifications (configurable in Settings). Some of the icons launch the various setup programs to configure them if they’re being run for the first time, like the VPN toggle which turns your default VPN connection on or off. “Note” launches OneNote, now included by default in the OS (Sticky Notes are still included in Windows 10, but you have to search for it). “Connect” launches a search for wireless devices in your area like WiDi displays, WiFi printers and other equipment. The brightness control here works as expected, just like it does in the power options menu.
Date and time, which hosts a calendar, gets a makeover but no additional functionality. My hopes for it plugging into my Hotmail and Google calendars are simultaneously dashed. I’m not sure why its so much bigger – perhaps its for touch devices? If so, then perhaps Microsoft has plans to use Outlook’s calendar to push notifications to this one, which would be very convenient.
That’s all for now! We’ll have more on Windows 10 later this week to keep you up to date. Windows 10 launches on 29 July 2015 for Windows Insiders and those of you who’ve reserved their upgrade copy, and a fully packaged product launch is expected around the end of August 2015.