Windows 10 review

Revisiting Microsoft's make-or-break OS post-Anniversary Update

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Our Verdict

The Anniversary Update is an impressive piece of work that ensures Windows 10 is on track to replace Windows 7. It's reliable, easy to use and keeps getting better – although there's still room for more significant improvements.

For

  • Start menu improvements
  • Action Center, Cortana are useful
  • Huge Edge browser upgrades
  • Windows Hello is simple and secure

Against

  • OneDrive still patchy
  • Ink: a nice idea that needs work
  • The free upgrade is over
  • Changes improve but also cause issues

After more than 365 days, this make-or-break version of Microsoft's veteran Windows operating system is off to a strong start. And, the way in which new features and improvements keep arriving means that the Anniversary Update is a notable improvement over what shipped in July 2015.

We're a long way from Windows 8 now, and Microsoft seems to have got the hang of mixing the traditional keyboard-and-mouse driven desktop environment with touch features for the growing number of tablets and 2-in-1 PCs.

This release is a milestone for the 'Windows as a Service' process that Microsoft is using to develop Windows 10. Last year's November Update polished the release version of Windows 10, while this release continues that process, concentrating on the daily features you likely use the most, including some useful refinements to the Start screen and Action Center interface. But it also introduces some brand new features like the Ink Workspace.

The Edge browser has matured quickly and gets support for extensions, and the key UWP apps like Mail, Groove and Skype have also improved significantly. Cortana is gaining more features and Windows Hello is more reliable, as well as ready for apps and websites that support the new FIDO 2 specification that is bidding to replace passwords with biometrics. Improved browser security is a major plus.

Performance is improved from the already impressive speed of the release version of Windows 10 – booting your PC is a second or so faster on SSD-based systems, and battery life has improved on laptops (especially if you're using the Edge browser, but the new Battery Saver option that appears when you click or tap the battery icon also maximizes battery life).

Battery Saver

On the other hand, those uncertain about Windows 10 won't find solace in the fact that Anniversary Update only lets you roll back within 10 days to save on disk space, or the fact that, like any new release, there are problems (including some systems with SSDs freezing, and the well-documented problems with webcams that won't be fixed until another update arrives in September).

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It's been a long, winding road for Windows 10. With privacy concerns lurking around every corner and a number of technical issues inhabiting the Surface Book and Surface Pro 4, it's a wonder we ever made it to the long-awaited Windows 10 Anniversary Update. But here it is, and so far, it's been faring successfully despite some delays for those of us who didn't adopt early.

That said, if you're clinging to an older preview edition of Windows 10, you may start to experience some unwarranted rebooting come October. On the upside, when you do finally decide to update, your Windows 10 Anniversary Update may be accompanied by text messaging functionality from your computer as well as a monumentally improved app store.

Even if it's not, though, you'll want the latest and greatest updates from Microsoft anyway if you're interested in taking advantage of the Xbox Play Anywhere program. That initiative, paired with the inevitable bug-squashing set to take place make it a no-brainer to keep your system up to date. Then again, you may be tempted to trade in your PC entirely when the Surface PC gets announced.

Windows is more than just an OS

Microsoft believes the future of Windows is as a platform for all. Like Android, the strength of Windows is in the thousands of companies that develop for it and use it in their products – on multiple devices.

That's why Windows 10 is no longer just an operating system for 32 and 64-bit PCs. It also runs on ARM chips as Windows 10 Mobile for smartphones (and, eventually, Microsoft promises, smaller tablets). That's thanks to the OneCore foundation of Windows.

Like Windows XP, Vista, 7 and 8 before it, Windows 10 is built on the Windows NT kernel, but much more of Windows is now shared between the different devices, and apps built for the Universal Windows Platform (UWP) will run not only on PCs, but on Windows 10 phones, Windows 10 for IoT devices, HoloLens headsets and Xbox One as well.

Note that we've published a distinct Windows 10 Mobile review here, for those of you who want the full lowdown on the OS from a smartphone standpoint.

Joe Osborne and Gabe Carey have also contributed to this review