Windows 10 has been very popular since it was originally released almost two years ago. It’s fast, safe and offers browser extensions that diehard Windows users wanted for years.
If you remember, Microsoft made a huge push to get people to upgrade from older operating systems during summer 2016.
Still, if you’re a Windows 10 newbie, it’s not too late to start learning the ins and outs of Microsoft’s latest operating system.
On the whole, you’ll be happy to know Windows 10 isn’t that different from Windows 7. You have a desktop with a taskbar, there’s a Start button that opens a Start menu, you can pin program icons to the taskbar for easy opening, etc.
However, there are some key differences, like the new customizable Start menu, a new Settings area, Task View with virtual desktops and more. Using these can improve your Windows experience, or make it worse if you accidentally trigger something you didn’t mean to.
Let’s take a look at some of the features you’ll encounter right away and how best to use them. If you’re a new Windows 10 user and are curious about how to do something, let us know. Otherwise, keep reading.
1. Customize the Start menu
One of the biggest problems with Windows 10’s predecessor, Windows 8, was the lack of a Start menu. Instead, Microsoft replaced it with a touch-friendly Start screen that left desktop and laptop users working with a mouse and keyboard out in the cold.
Microsoft wisely elected to bring back the Start menu for Windows 10, but it updated it with some of the good parts of the Start screen.
When you first install Windows 10, your Start menu will look something like this (this is an older version, but the basic idea is the same):
It has programs on the left with app icons on the right. Some of the app icons are “live tiles” that update with new information, such as the current weather, new messages and more, automatically.
Of course, some of these you might not want to use, or you want your own app or program icons there. Fortunately, customizing is simple.
Simply right-click on any App icon to resize it or unpin it from the Start Menu. Selecting “Unpin from Start” takes it away. You can also uninstall programs with a right-click as well.
If you want to add an app to the list, you can click and drag its icon from the left column or right-click on an app icon and choose “Pin to Start.”
Once the icon is in the right-hand area, you can drag it around to exactly where you want. Putting icons close together lets you group them. You can name groups whatever you want, and you can move groups around by clicking the icon with the horizontal lines next to the name.
Don’t forget you can click and drag the edges of the Start menu to make it larger or smaller. You can have it take up most of the screen or very little space at all. It’s your choice.
2. Manage updates
Windows 10 is taking a controversial approach to updates. In previous versions of Windows, you can control which updates to install. That’s good for choice, but it means a lot of people don’t install updates when they should and their computers are open to viruses and hackers.
With Windows 10, at least the Home version, updates are installed automatically, whether you like it or not. If you have the Pro or Enterprise versions, you have a bit more control.
Even then, the only thing you can do with Windows 10 Pro is defer updates that aren’t essential for security, or choose to install the updates and restart your computer manually instead of having Windows restart for you.
To adjust these options, you need to head to the Settings screen. Windows 10 has adopted and cleaned up the Windows 8 Settings screen, which replaced Windows 7’s Control Panel.
Simply click the Start button and choose “Settings.” You’ll get this nice-looking screen with the most common options you’ll need.
Click the “Update & security icon” and go to the “Windows Update” tab. You’ll see what updates are available.
If you want to adjust the settings, click the “Advanced options” link.
You can choose how updates are installed (Automatic or Manual). If you want to get updates for Office and other Microsoft products, you can check the “Give me updates for other Microsoft products” option.
Then there’s the “Defer upgrades” option, which probably won’t be available if you have Windows 10 Home (this screenshot was taken on Windows 10 Pro). This won’t stop security updates from installing, but it will stop Windows from installing new drivers and other non-critical updates. Considering when Microsoft pushed out a bad driver for Nvidia graphics cards and caused some users a lot of problems, this might be a good thing to check.
Bonus: Visit the old Control panel
The new Settings screen is nice, but it doesn’t quite have all the options you might want. Fortunately, you can bring up the old Windows Control Panel with no problem.
Simply right-click on the Start button and select “Control Panel.”
This is also a fast way to access other hidden areas you might want to use.
3. Search Windows and more
Older versions of Windows included a search system, but Windows 10 is a step above. It comes with a search bar on the taskbar. Just start typing in the bar to search for programs and files on the computer, or information online.
If you don’t search that much, you can save space by turning the search box into a magnifying glass icon. To do that, right-click on a blank spot on the taskbar and select Search>>Show search icon.
Now to search, just click the magnifying glass and start typing.
If you want, it can display news from Microsoft Bing. At first, it’s just the top stories of the day, but over time it learns what you want to see.
Of course, if you saw any of Microsoft’s pre-release demos, you know that it’s very excited for Cortana. This is its answer to Siri, Google Now and other digital personal assistants.
Cortana will pop up the first time you use search and offer to help you out. You can ask a question using your voice, or type it in. Over time, Cortana learns what you like and can suggest things to do, warn you about traffic or weather that might upset your plans and more.
You can tell Cortana to go ahead or you can click the “Not interested” button. If you let her do her thing she’ll send you helpful notifications automatically, or you can trigger her with the circle icon on the lower-left side of the search area.
You can always change Cortana’s settings later from the Search Settings. Just click the gear icon on the left side of the Search area.
You can also adjust what search data is sent to Microsoft and tweak SafeSearch and privacy settings.
Bonus: Action Center
On the far left of your Windows 10 taskbar, you’ll see a new icon that looks like a square cartoon dialogue bubble. That’s the action center and it gives you notifications on messages, updates and things Cortana wants to tell you.
It also provides a quick place to switch to Tablet mode, create notes, view your settings, connect to a network and more.
4. Explorer window
Windows 10 gave Windows Explorer an upgrade as well. This is the formal name for Windows’ file manager. As you can see, there’s now a ribbon across the top with lots of file options, similar to Microsoft Office’s ribbon.
One thing to note is that Explorer includes Microsoft OneDrive in everything. OneDrive is Microsoft’s cloud-based storage service. When you log into Windows 10, you use your Microsoft Live account, which gives you access to OneDrive and 5GB of free storage space.
The good news is that you can drag files back and forth just like they were on your computer. The downside is that if you aren’t paying attention, you can put something in OneDrive you didn’t mean to.
For example, when you first open an Explorer window it will start with the Quick Access area. Pay attention because this mixes folders from OneDrive and your computer. You have to look close to see which is which.
Also, the first item below Quick Access is the OneDrive folder.
You have to go down another one to see the local folders on your hard drive.
5. Task View and virtual desktops
Windows has always had a way to view open programs. ALT+TAB is the classic one, but in later versions of Windows, the Windows Key+TAB gave you a fancier Rolodex-type view.
Windows 10 has a Task View button on the taskbar next to the Search icon. It looks like three boxes in a row. Click it, or press ALT+TAB, to see every open Window and select the one you want to open.
When you’re in Task View, look at the lower-right corner and you’ll see a “New Desktop” button. Click it to start a new desktop. You can have as many as you want.
Each desktop acts like a separate computer. You can customize one with work programs and another one with media or other fun things. This minimizes distractions and helps improve organization.
You can switch between desktops by opening the Task View and looking at the bottom of the screen. Then select the desktop you want.
If you want to move programs between desktops, you can click and drag them from the Task View to the desktop you want.
When you’re done with a desktop, you can close it by clicking the X just above it.
And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Windows 10 still keeps improving. Click here to find out what’s new with the Creator’s Update.