A Quick Tour of the Windows 10 Interface

Making sense of the new look.

"It's always best to start at the beginning," said noted philosopher Glinda the Good Witch in "The Wizard of Oz." That's good advice, and I'm going to apply it to Windows 10, which was released last week, as you probably know by now. The place to start with Windows 10 is the user interface, or UI. That's your window, if you will, into Windows. And it's where you'll start every time you use it. (Note that this tour will only gloss over what each of the items does; future descriptions and tutorials will go into detail on things like the Start menu and Action Center. Look for them, coming soon to an About.com website near you.)

The Background

The first thing you'll notice is the background. The default is the cool "shining window" from the main image at top. You can change that easily, and there are several more options. Just like in previous versions of Windows, you can also put any picture you want in place of the default image. For now, just understand that you have some options here, and can customize it to your tastes.

Start Menu

The Start button.
The Start button.

Moving on, go to the bottom of the screen, with all the icons scattered across. That’s your Taskbar, which again is similar to previous Windows Taskbars. There are new tasks, of course, but it works similar to the other ones; double-click (or press, on a touchscreen) to activate the program or function.

When a program or function is active, it will have a little gray bar underneath; in the screenshot here, you can see it under an graphics program I've installed (the window with a paint brush over it).

All the way to the left is the much-touted Start button, which brings up Windows 10's most-anticipated feature, the Start menu. That's the button you'll probably use most often, and Microsoft has made it much better than the old Start menu from Windows 7. More on the Start menu coming soon.

Cortana and Task View

Next to the Start button is a little window with a circle in it. It says "Ask me anything", and has a microphone icon on the other side. This is Cortana, the digital assistant akin to Apple's Siri. Yes, you can speak to your laptop or desktop the same way you can speak to an iPhone or iPad (or Google devices with Google Now, that platform's digital assistant.) You can get ball scores, weather and just about anything else.

Moving to the right is a little box with what appear to be handles on it. This is the Task View. Clicking (or pressing it) lets you see all open windows. Just click on the one you want. (The keyboard combination Alt+Tab does the same thing.)

Edge, Folder and Pinned Items

 Next to that (at least on my Taskbar) is a little blue "e." That's for Microsoft Edge, the browser that (thankfully) replaces Internet Explorer. More about that here. The short version is that Edge is faster, more standards-compliant (in other words, it will work better on more sites) and more secure than I.E.

Next to the Edge icon is the Folder icon. This gives you access to your hard drive, and works the way it did in Windows XP, 7 and 8.

Next up is a little shopping bag with a Windows logo on it. Ten points for your team if you've guessed that it's for the Microsoft Store. The Store is where you buy apps for Windows 10, and is similar to the Apple Store or Google Play.

Other icons that you add to the Taskbar (again, look for a future how-to on this) will also appear in this middle section. In my case, I have Microsoft Word and several other programs I use often.

Action Center, System Settings

On the right is another group of icons that relate more to system functions. The first is an "up" arrow. This provides access to things like sound, graphics and update settings. The next default one (there may be others that appear here) is the battery icon (if you're on a battery-powered device). After that is the wifi icon (which looks like a tiny rainbow). Check your networks here. Following that is the speakers icon; if you can't hear something through your speakers, this is the place to go.

Finally, just before the time and date listings, is the Action Center icon, which is square with some lines in it. This is a notification area that has information like new email, Tweets and Airplane mode. It also has groupings of other settings from which you can modify Windows 10. The Action Center icon is white when there are new notifications; it's transparent at all other times.

One other thing to point out: to the extreme right is a vertical line. You may wonder why it's there -- I know I did. Well, move your pointer to the right of this line and click, and it brings up your desktop, minimizing all open programs. Windows 7 had similar abilities, and I found it one of the most useful features on the Taskbar. I still think it is.

Coming Soon

Remember that this is a very brief tour of the Windows 10 UI. Much fuller explanations and tutorials are coming.