Business CardIntroduction to Windows 10 - part 1

by Alan Zisman


Polish translation by Marek Murawski ~ Spanish translation by Laura Mancini ~ Czech translation by Catherine Desroches ~ Georgian translation by Ana Mirilashvili ~ Croatian translation by Milica Novak

last updated 2023-01-21
This is part one of a two-part introduction to working with Windows 10. You can find Part 2 here.

Part 1 introduces you to the Windows 10 user interface - to ways it is similar and different from earlier versions of Windows, in particular to Windows 7. Part 2 focuses on customizing Windows 10 and making it work for you.

This workshop assumes that you have some basic skills and comfort with your computer - if you are not comfortable working with the computer clipboard (cut/copy/paste) or working with files, folders, and drives, you may want to look at my notes on Getting more comfortable with your computer (and consider attending that workshop at Brock House).

A Bit of History

Windows 10 was released in July 2015 and made available as a free upgrade to Windows 7 and 8 users until the end of July 2016. It was Microsoft's follow-up to the unpopular Windows 8 (2012), and is an attempt to combine features of both Windows 8 and Windows 7.

Windows 8 was Microsoft's response to the enormous popularity of Apple's iPad tablet in 2010 - Microsoft had been promoting tablets for years, without much success; these earlier tablets required use of a stylus to tap on tiny Windows interface features - Apple's iPad was designed to be 'finger-friendly'. Microsoft had also been left behind on smartphones; it had a finger-friendly Windows Phone operating system that was well-reviewed but not generating many sales.

With Windows 8, Microsoft designed an operating system to be usable on tablets and 2-in-1s - laptops with detachable screens that could be used as tablets. The company planned that apps designed for Windows 8 could be also used on Windows Phones and that a successful Windows 8 would boost sales for Windows Phones.

While Windows 8 could also run traditional Windows applications, that required switching to 'desktop mode', looking like Windows 7 minus a Start Menu or taskbar; some settings could be found in a new-style Windows 8 settings app, others in a traditional (desktop mode) Control Panel. Switching back and forth between new and old-style user interfaces was disconcerting and confusing for users, and using the new interface on traditional laptops and desktops was awkward at best. Users were not happy and avoided Windows 8 in droves.

With Windows 10, Microsoft both retreated and advanced. The new version gives users back a Start Button, Start Menu, Taskbar and traditional desktop while allowing them to run new-style 'universal apps' in windows alongside traditional Windows applications. The new Start Menu offers a legacy of Windows 8 - 'live tiles' to the right of a more traditional list of applications. At the same time, Microsoft added a number of features that will be familiar to users of Android and iOS smartphones and tablets - notifications, apps and an app store, integrated web and search features, speech recognition with a virtual assistant and more. See - Top 7 Features Windows 10 Borrowed From Android and iOS

It has proven much more popular than Windows 8; Microsoft has continued to update it on a regular basis.

Beginning April 2017, Microsoft has released two major updates a year - one in the Fall and the other each Spring. In 2021, they reduced that to a single 'features update' per year.

The free upgrade from Windows 7/8/8.1 officially ended July 29th 2017. That means that the nag screens promoting the upgrade have stopped, but if you decide to upgrade the cost will be US$99 (
CDN$149) for Windows 10 Home, US$199 (CDN$249) for Windows 10 Professional. (If you are a home user, there is no compelling reason to pay extra for the 'Professional' version, which adds features mostly of value to users on an enterprise-level network with IT staff supporting a large number of users). (A somewhat contrary viewpoint: Who needs Windows 10 Pro: 5 reasons to upgrade). However, despite Microsoft's announcement, Windows 7/8 users can still upgrade to Windows 10 for free using their old product key - that still remains the case in late 2021.

In January 2019. Microsoft noted that Windows 10 was used by more computer users than Windows 7 or any other personal computer operating system. They announced that free support for Windows 7 would end on January 14, 2020. See: Windows 10 after four years: A solid report card, but serious challenges ahead

More information... The Evolution of Windows from 1.0 to 10.0 and Windows 10 Is Fragmented: Which Version Do You Need? and Why is it called Windows 10 and not Windows 9?

On October 5, 2021, Microsoft released Windows 11 - with Windows 10 support due to end in late 2025. See: Windows 10 support ends in 2025, but this is what you should know now

While Windows 11 is a free upgrade,  it has
stiff hardware requirements and many users will be unable to run it on their current, still usable computers. (Though you still may be able to install Win11 on unsupported hardware). Moreover, 'relax, no one's forcing you to upgrade to Windows 11..."

Note - as of 2021-10-04 you could still download Windows 10 (free and legal - though this doesn't include a product code to activate it if needed). But Microsoft announced that it would stop selling Win 10 licenses as of 31 Jan 2013 - with official Win 10 support ending 2025 14 October.See: What should I do if I can't upgrade my PC to Windows 11?

In case you are running an earlier version of Windows:

Why you should upgrade to Windows 10:

-- If you're using Windows 7 right now:
More information... Windows 10 vs Windows 7 – Should you upgrade?

-- If you're using Windows 8 or Windows 8.1:
More information... 14 Things You Can Do in Windows 10 That You Couldn't Do in Windows 8

-- For any Windows user:
More information.... 18 Reasons to Upgrade to Windows 10

Why you might prefer to stay away from Windows 10

Why you should avoid Windows 10:
More information... 10 Reasons You Shouldn't Upgrade to Windows 10

Two stories that both appeared on Jan 20 2017:

Windows 10 security: 'So good, it can block zero-days without being patched': "Systems running the Windows 10 Anniversary Update were shielded from two exploits even before Microsoft had issued patches for them, its researchers have found."
Windows 7 is so outdated that patches can't keep it secure: "Windows 7 "does not meet the requirements of modern technology, nor the high security requirements of IT departments", according to Microsoft."

However: The biggest barrier to Windows 10 success is still Windows 7

Windows 10 in many ways resembles a cross between Windows 7 and Windows 10.

Become familiar with the Windows 10 Desktop and Start MenuWindows 10 desktopWindows 10 desktop:

Click the Start Button to open the Start Menu

Win10 Start MenuThe Windows 10 Start menu merges features of Windows 7 and Windows 8. On the left edge, you'll see several icons. If you let your mouse pointer hover over each icon, a description will pop up:
Next, there is a broader column with all your installed programs, listed in alphabetical order. You may see a 'Suggested' icon at the top - this is an ad for a program you haven't actually installed (and probably don't want). If you see an icon with a yellow file folder, you need to click (once) on it to display its contents - including the icon to start the program.

On the right, you see a large area with 'tiles' - square or rectangles for some, but not all, of your installed programs. These are arranged in possibly useful groups. This is a tip of the hat to Windows 8 - the Windows 8 desktop was covered with these sorts of tiles. In Windows 10, they've been exiled to the Start Menu, giving users a more traditional Windows desktop.

Some of these tiles are 'live'; Live Tiles update themselves - the tile for the News app might show news bulletins; the Weather app can show the local weather. The tile for the Photos app can cycle through the contents of your Pictures folders.

You can delete tiles, add tiles, change the size, and turn the Live Tiles feature on or off. (Not all tiles support Live Tiles). More on this customization in Part 2.

Note that if you are running Windows 10 on a tablet-PC, by default the desktop will be covered with tiles, like in Windows 8. You can turn that feature off, if you prefer the desktop and Start Menu style described here.

Note: If you really don't like the Windows 10 Start Menu you can install a Windows 7-style Start Menu with one of the add-on apps described in Windows 10 Start Menu Alternatives

The Taskbar runs along the bottom of the screen - though it can be moved to the top or one side or the other. It's filled with goodies:


Above is the Taskbar on my Windows 10 laptop. At the far left is the Start Button. Click it to open the Start Menu (described above). Right-clicking opens up a menu as well - with technical options.

Beside the Start Button is a search bar. It optionally lets you option Windows 10's new voice option - Cortana. You can type a program name in the search bar to get a way to start that program. If what you type doesn't match anything in your Start Menu or Settings, Windows will search the Internet - displaying the results found by Microsoft's Bing search engine using the Windows Edge web browser. If you click the microphone image, you can ask Cortana a question (like Siri on an iPhone or Mac).

Next come a series of icons - some of them are pre-installed by Windows, others may be added by program installers. Hover your mouse pointer over an icon to see what it is. At the left of the icon set, the 'rectangle with two ears'. This is 'Task View' - if you click it, you'll be able to choose between whatever various programs are running right now. The yellow file folder is Windows File Explorer - a tool for viewing files/folders/drives. (See my Getting more comfortable with your computer (part 2) for notes on working with File Explorer). The blue letter 'e' icon is for Microsoft Edge - a new web browser introduced with Windows 10, replacing Internet Explorer.

The white shopping bag is for the Windows Store - the way Microsoft would like us all to obtain programs/apps for Windows 10. The white envelope is the icon for Windows 10's Mail app - the number 3 indicates I have 3 new messages.

Other icons are for programs that I installed on my laptop - and added their icons to the Taskbar. (Learn how in Part 2!). The last two icons are not permanently on the Taskbar; no matter how a program or app is started up, while it's running, its icon will show on the Taskbar - programs that are running have lines under their Taskbar icon, whether they're permanant Taskbar icons or 'just visiting'.

Action CenterFurther to the right you'll find a set of small white icons for important hardware features: a battery icon shows (sort of) how much battery life remains. Hover your mouse over it to get a more accurate report - in this case, 50% charge remaining, an estimated 4 hr 31 minutes. Beside that is the 'fan' icon commonly used for WiFi (wireless networking). The stronger the WiFi strength, the more of the fan is coloured white. Hovering the mouse shows the name of the connected WiFi network. Beside that is a speaker icon - indicating volume level. The letters ENG/US indicates my keyboard is set for English Language/US. Beside that is the date and time.

With each of these icons, you can (Left) Click or Right-click for more information and options.

Note that there are 'hidden' icons in this section. Click the ^ symbol (to the left of the battery icon) to view these. If you plug in a USB memory stick, external drive, or camera or phone, you may want to check here before removing the device - check for an icon that lets you safely remove the device!

Finally, there's an icon in the far right-corner - on the Taskbar image above, it's a white square with lines on it, and the number 3. This is a new Windows 10 feature - the Notification and Action Centre.

The number '3' indicates that I have 3 notifications.

Notice in the image to the left, that after I've clicked to open it, the icon is now an empty voice bubble-like square. No lines, no number '3'. Instead, it's opened up to show two sections:

On the top I've got a couple of notifications - two unread Mail messages. Other times, there might be notifications from Windows, saying there are updates to install, for instance. Or from my security software suggesting I haven't scanned for malware in a while. (Yet again, you can customize what sends notifications. I turn off Facebook notifications, for instance). See:  How to use the notifications from the Action Center

Down below is a set of rectangles - Quick Actions. Quick ways to get to things you might want to adjust in a hurry - Airplane Mode, shifted colours for night reading. What happens when you click on one depends on the item - Night Light turns on or off. Clicking the screen brightness item raises the brightness by 10% with each click. Click the Network item, though and a list of nearby WiFi hotspots opens up.

Clicking Tablet Mode changes your Desktop and Start Menu from the standard mode for laptops and desktops to the standard mode for tablets - Windows 8 style. Don't worry if you choose something you don't like - another click puts it back.

Yet again, the rectangles that show here are customizable.  You can rearrange the order and choose which ones you want to see - or hide. (See:  How to access, use and customize quick actions and How to use the notifications from the Action Center).

Note that the Taskbar can be set to 'automatically hide'. If you don't see the Taskbar, move your mouse pointer down to the bottom of the screen. It should pop back up. Doing that gives you more screen space for your program windows - but it can be annoying. You decide!

The Desktop

The Windows 8 Desktop was covered with tiles - replacing the long-time Windows Start Menu. Unless you're using Tablet Mode, Windows 10 returns to the older arrangement - the Desktop is a large area that you can decorate with a colour or picture of your choice - 'Desktop Wallpaper'. Besides the Start Button and Taskbar along the bottom, there's a single icon - the Recycle Bin.

Potentially, the Desktop is valuable - and important space. Anything on it is 'in your face' - something you will pay attention to. As long as there's not too much there and it doesn't stay there so long that you learn to ignore it.

But many of us end up with a Desktop that's cluttered with icons - icons for program installers that were downloaded, icons to start programs that may have been installed - whether we wanted them or not. Pictures and documents; some may have been attached to email messages, others were saved by us in programs when we didn't know where to put them.

I'm a Desktop neatness-freak. I find a cluttered Desktop a usability nightmare - a bunch of random icons, with a user who's probably not sure what's there and has trouble finding something that IS there.

My suggestion - clean off your Desktop. Get rid of everything other than the Recycle Bin. Find a home for the rest of the stuff - or drag it to the Recycle Bin if you don't actually need to be saving it any longer. Short-term - learn how to make a folder and make one folder on the Desktop - call it Stuff for Filing - and drag everything that's currently on your Desktop into it. Then go through it, putting it into a more appropriate permanent location (or the Recycle Bin).

Then use the Desktop as a short term home for files that you're working on right now. While I'm building the web page and notes for this workshop, it's a good location for the images that I'm working with. Maybe put bills that need to be paid. Whatever. But just for immediate tasks.

When I finish this web page/notes or pay those bills, those files get put away in the appropriate permanent location.

Don't let the mess build up!

The many, many ways to start programs

We've seen quite a few ways to start up a program (application/app) in Windows 10. If we had installed, say, Microsoft Office 2016 and wanted to start its word processor, Word we could:
Note that several of these are optional...

Take a look at your Settings options

There are also a lot of ways to get to Settings - the Windows 10 replacement for what was called the Control Panel in older Windows versions. Remember, you're looking for an icon with a gear wheel. You'll find it:
Is that enough different ways to get to the same place? Open Settings and poke around. In Part 2 of this workshop, we'll be looking at Settings that you might want to change - to personalize your computer or to improve security and privacy.