Windows 10 vs Windows 8.1: 5 reasons you're missing out on Microsoft's best OS yet
Here's what you're missing out on by sticking with Windows 8.1 over Windows 10
Since Microsoft released Windows 10 in July 2015, uptake of the new operating system has been rapid. Millions of desktops and laptops around the world made the leap to Windows 10 – forcibly or not – and, as you're reading this, I'm guessing you haven't decided to join the 200 million Windows 10 users.
By not upgrading, you're seriously missing out on some of the best features Windows has to offer and, simultaneously, delaying the inevitable. In fact, the only reasonable explanation for not making the shift is because you're a business user. As far as this article goes, we'll only be looking at why Home and Pro users should make the shift.
For those who will wade in with various problems and issues that are holding you back, most of those are easily solvable thanks to the customisable nature of Windows 10. Read our guide to Windows 10 to understand more about why upgrading makes sense.
Here are five reasons why you should throw away Windows 8.1 and join the world of Windows 10.
Windows 10 vs Windows 8.1: The return of the Start menu
Sleeker, adaptive and more like Windows 7
While it feels odd to call a return to the norm a progression, Windows 10's Start menu really is the Start menu you know and love from Windows 7 – albeit with some slight modifications that only improve its usefulness.
Aesthetically, the menu is more transparent and sleeker than before. It's now easier to navigate through when you want to do something quickly, and the hidden Shutdown controls of Windows 8.1 have been brought back out to where you'd expect them to be. Windows 8.1's Live Tiles are still there, but they've been relegated to the side and are generally best used for news snippets, email updates and weather alerts.
There’s one other major addition: Windows 10 now provides an Uninstall link directly on the Start menu, for both desktop and Modern apps. This is a small but welcome step towards easier housekeeping.
Those of you who actually liked the Start menu from Windows 8.1 won't be disappointed either, as you can set it to launch full-screen by default. It also switches rather seamlessly between the two when taking a convertible device from desktop to tablet mode.
Windows 10 vs Windows 8.1: Turbo-powered multitasking
Alt+Tab like never before, four-way window snap – and no more full-screen apps
Multitasking in Windows has always been excellent. In fact, the only thing it lacked was the option for multiple desktops à la OS X. With Windows 10, that niggle is no more as Microsoft has made it possible to create many desktops and full-screen programs and switch between them with ease by just pressing Windows+Ctrl and the left and right keys.
As part of this massive leap forward in multitasking prowess, Microsoft has also introduced two extra snappable windows into its window snapping feature. Yes, this means you can now snap up to four apps or windows together in one desktop, letting you really make the most of your monitor's real estate without having to overlap windows fussily. Snap Assist even cleverly suggests the apps that will work well together, so if you're unsure what should go where, Windows is doing some of the thinking for you. Handily, it also remembers which apps you tend to combine.
In Windows 10, apps don't start full-screen like they do in Windows 8.1. You can also load apps directly from the desktop, and they simply behave like any other piece of software – exactly as it should have been in Windows 8.1.
Finally, Windows 10 also features automatic OneDrive synchronisation, allowing you to back up sensitive or important files away from your computer without needing to worry about it. Dropbox also comes as a native app.
Windows 10 vs Windows 8.1: Deep-level Cortana integration
Cross-device functionality makes Cortana truly helpful
Cortana made its debut in Windows Phone 8.1, but now the personal assistant is being integrated into all versions of Windows 10.
Cortana is now in full control of Windows’s search functions: hit the Windows key, start typing and your input is sent to Cortana. In practice, it works just as before – apps and desktop applications appear at the top of the list, and can be launched by simply hitting Return. As Cortana’s capabilities evolve, though, it could end up being more useful than the old Search function.
In Windows 10, it retains its natural language-processing abilities, so you can enter commands such as “What’s the weather going to be like tomorrow?” or “Set an alarm for 7pm” – although we’ve found results very hit and miss. An optional feature called “Hey Cortana” sets the OS into an always-listening mode, so you don’t even need to click.
Since it works via the cloud, Cortana will sync across all your devices and look at your OneDrive storage, meaning it will be able to set reminders or find files no matter where you are. It’s also designed to learn what you like over time, offer helpful suggestions or highlight relevant apps. It can also translate documents or speech into 25 languages – handy if you’re a frequent traveller.
Cortana’s final trick could prove very powerful indeed – if app developers take advantage of it. Apps can integrate with Cortana so that specific functions can be accessed by voice control. The built-in apps provide an early example of what’s possible: instruct Cortana to email a friend and the Mail app should pop up with the address field pre-populated.
Windows 10 vs Windows 8.1: Microsoft Edge browser
A fast, light, completely reborn web browser from Microsoft
Internet Explorer might have been so bad that the world jumped ship to Chrome as soon as it could, but with Microsoft Edge the Redmond-based company has built a browser for the future. It's lightweight, flexible and built almost completely from scratch.
Running on EdgeHTML, Edge is blazingly quick, beating SunSpider's gauntlet at over twice as fast as Google's beloved Chrome browser. Microsoft has also dropped in some other handy features.
Reading Mode works like offline reading app Pocket, whilst a new note-taking ability lets you scribble on and annotate web pages and share them with other Edge users. All of these annotations and notes end up saved in Microsoft's OneDrive too.
Cortana is, as you'd expect, integrated into Edge as well. It works in a similar fashion to "OK Google" voice commands, with one example pulling through flight details when someone used Edge voice search for "Delta" flights.
Finally, for the security conscious among you, Microsoft is confident that Edge is far less vulnerable to hackers thanks to its base in the Universal app framework. In fact, Microsoft is offering up a “bug bounty” of up to $15,000 for anyone who manages to expose a security vulnerability.
Windows 10 vs Windows 8.1: Xbox and DirectX 12
Streaming games, video recording and full Xbox Live integration
Those of us who used Windows 8.1 to play games will know just how painful an experience it was. I'd personally rather go back to using Windows XP than soldering on with getting any games to run natively in Windows 8.1. Thankfully, Microsoft has sorted out this problem with Windows 10, baking games right into the core of its operating system by working closely with the Xbox team.
Not only does Windows 10 have full integration with Xbox Live and the Xbox Games Store, it also lets you stream games directly from Xbox One to your PC (provided you're on the same network). Many Xbox One exclusives will also be Windows 10 compatible, allowing you to pick up where you left off if you decide to whip out your gaming laptop on the go. It's a great addition and makes an Xbox One a near-essential accompaniment to a Windows 10 PC.
Microsoft has also borrowed Sony's PlayStation share system to bring Game DVR to the core of Windows 10. Do something really cool while playing? Hit the share function and the last 15 minutes of footage will be buffered up to OneDrive so you don't miss a thing. Once you're finished playing, you can edit and share the footage over Xbox Live, Facebook or Twitter. You can also stream any game you like, without the need for additional software, to Twitch.
Windows 10 also comes with DirectX 12 baked into the crust, meaning developers have even more resources at their disposal to create absolutely sprawling worlds. Want to play the latest and greatest games on PC? Windows 10 is where you'll need to look.
Not excited by the prospect of Windows 10? Still not sure if it’s the right OS for you? Read Alphr’s full in-depth review to get the definitive verdict on Redmond’s latest attempt to shake up Windows.