If You Use Windows 10, This is for You
Bear assumes every one of his readers use a computer. Furthermore, he knows his readers tend toward the "experienced" end of the spectrum, rather than Millennials.
"Mashable" is probably not on your daily blog reading list.
There are some things you may need or want to know, and the Bear is here to help. One is, on October 17, Microsoft released a major update to Windows 10. It is version 1709, called "the Fall Creators" update.
Microsoft Marries its Own Hardware to Windows
|Microsoft Surface touchscreen Computer.Tablet hybrid today.|
You may remember Microsoft as a stodgy, lazy, uncaring software company that churned out bloated junk you had to use because everyone else did. Meanwhile, Apple was the sexy company with all the ideas and premium hardware, to boot.
That all changed in 2012 when Microsoft aired the first of several attention-getting (or annoying) dancemercials featuring the clicks of a keyboard attaching itself magnetically to a tablet that had a kickstand.
It was something called "the Surface," and it was hardware from Microsoft. Although many scoffed, it was a real computer-tablet hybrid showcasing the power of the touchscreen.
Microsoft Wickedly Turns Tables on Apple
It flopped. The Surface RT flopped. And the Surface 2 flopped, too. However, being as big as Microsoft means you can afford to take casualties in pursuit of the overall strategy. None of the Surfaces were bad, in Bear's opinion, but they did have a lot of room for improvement and needed a better OS than Windows 8.
Remember all those "Apple vs. PC" commercials where the cool dude made fun of the unappealing PC guy? If revenge is a dish best served cold, they were eating apple ice cream in Redmond when they went after their rival in hilarious head-to-head commercials that pitted, among other things, Siri versus Cortana. ("Do you think I'm pretty?" a defeated and robotic-sounding Siri finally asks in one.)
"Hybrid" does not mean compromise. Despite it's thinness and lightness, is every bit the fully-fledged computer, and handy enough to be a touchscreen tablet with the keyboard snapped off. Not iPad Mini handy, but handy enough.
First Microsoft Surface commercial set the kicky tone.
With typical Microsoft tenacity, it weathered the criticism and losses. In later Surface vs. iPad commercials, Apple dude taunts Microsoft with, "Oh, so you've come out with the third version of something that flopped twice before?" Ow, talk about self-deprecating humor. But it demonstrated Microsoft's confidence.
Microsoft stuck with the Surface, and today the Bear's Apple MacBook gathers dust and his Surface 4 is his constant companion, now running Windows 10 (ver. 1709, or "Fall Creators" update - more about that in a minute).
He types, touches, pens and dials his way through excellent programs running on a stable OS. And Microsoft is finally cutting the dead wood. Gone are the failed Windows Phone and Groove music service. Microsoft is not going to try to compete where it can't anymore.
Microsoft now looks like the creative, cool, and innovative company, while Apple rests on its laurels, offering variations on a stale theme. Substantively, Apple remains as great as ever. But Microsoft is putting the "it" in IT. Heck, even its online chat tech support is fast, competent and friendly. ("Have a blessed day?" Wow. You, too, wherever you are.)
Snap the keyboard on (still, ridiculously, a separate purchase, though) and you can type away on real backlit keys. Snap it off, and you can read a book, watch a show, or unstick your magnetically-attached pen and draw pictures or annotate a manuscript. The available Intel Core i7 processor with 8 gigs of RAM (up to 16) handles demanding programs like Photoshop with ease and multitasking is a breeze.
What You Should Know
First, if you are one of the few still using Groove Music, the end is near. On December 31, it will disappear, and all of your purchases and playlists will follow it down the drain. The free/premium Spotify music service will replace it. If you don't download your purchases before December 31, they will be gone forever. You also have the option to transfer your playlists to Spotify.
If you are an Amazon Prime user, Amazon Music makes the best sense, coupled with Pandora for free (with ads) music based on your tastes. Naturally, it works best if Alexa keeps you company, because you can ask her to play your tunes and she will. (Although she chokes on "Alexa, play 'Cortot Plays Chopin: Ballades, Sonata Op. 35, and Fantasia, Op. 49.'" "Alexa, play 'Deacon Blues' works every time, though.)
Should you go with the "Fall Creators" 1709 update?
It took more than one attempt and intervention by technical support chat to get 1709 installed, but Bear thinks it was worth it.
Bear's Recommendation: 1709 a Worthwhile Update
The improvements are evolutionary, not revolutionary. Some of the biggest, like a commitment to Virtual Reality and 3D graphics (3D Paint? Really?) will be exciting to only a few. If you like Emojis, you'll be pleased to know you can get the whole set by hitting Windows + [period]. The Start Menu is a bit spiffier and more customizable. So, a lot of changes are ho-hum. A few, like the new contact manager "People" are just half-baked.
Edge Browser, Cortana and Pen Get Significant Buffs
But Microsoft's Edge browser is finally real competition to Chrome and new web clipping and pen markup is great for researchers.
Microsoft's contestant in the digital assistant title match, "Cortana," gets a huge buff in usability. Cortana no longer opens your browser to answer a query, but will slide out a screen showing the information. You can now focus her search to Apps, Documents or Web. And, she now has her own can to live in, just like Alexa. It is built around a Harmon Kardon cylindrical speaker and costs twice as much as Amazon Echo's current $99.
Microsoft knows it isn't going to topple Amazon overnight. It offers a well-known premium name and will eventually come down in price and come up with features that will make Alexa feel threatened and grow sullen. But, not today. Alexa is intuitive and quite useful within her limits. It will be interesting to see what Cortana eventually brings into the ring. But, even without a $200 speaker, you can still say, "Hey, Cortana," and chat away to her via your computer. (She already has a more pleasant and natural-sounding speaking voice in her favor.)
If you use a Surface, the pen is still not mightier than the keyboard, but more useful than ever. What you do get is direct markup on Word docs - actually all Office products - which is pretty cool. Handwriting recognition is not bad, but still not perfect, either, which limits its usefulness.
It is also supposed to be more secure against Russians choosing your president or whatever the personal equivalent of that is for you. (Bear just gets ephemeris comments like, "I notis yor blog beings superhappy and shares it with my friends. Nike shoes bestest.")
But Best of All
This is not a full review. There are plenty of those online. The thing the Bear noticed most was that Microsoft has bent over backwards to introduce users to the new features of this latest update, from a useful collection of short videos upon installation to a much beefier and more useful "Tips" resource.
This may sound like a small thing, but for the first time, it feels like Microsoft is not taking users for granted. They want you to know how to use the new features and introduce them in more than one way to make it easy. A lot of thought went into giving us something more than a perfunctory, "oh, by the way, here's something about the new features because it's expected."
The 1709 update was well worth the snags in installation for the Bear, and some improvements are significant, especially to the Edge browser and Cortana. Can you live without it? Sure. Bear can't think of any "must-haves." There are quite a few "nice-to-haves" though, especially for touchscreen and pen types.
Microsoft has finally perfected its own version of Apple's old OS-hardware symbiosis, and it is looking more like the future than Apple at this point.