Where Windows 10 stands right now

With Windows 10 out and betas careening off the edges, here’s what you can get and what you should expect

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Microsoft Edge

The RTM version of Microsoft Edge shipped with a paltry list of features. At least you can choose (some) search engines other than Bing, but the method’s daunting. First navigate to the search engine’s site (DuckDuckGo in the screenshot), then choose the ellipses icon, Settings, View advanced settings, and in the “Search in the address bar with” box, choose . In the Choose one list click on the search engine, then click Add as default.

Microsoft Edge: Windows 10 build 10547

Microsoft Edge: Windows 10 build 10547

Where Microsoft Edge stands

In build 10547, Edge ships with a new feature for programmers: If Object RTS works as specified, programmers will be able to play videos or music through Edge without installing a plug-in.

Edge is a Universal Windows app (formerly Universal/modern app, formerly Metro app) that runs inside its own window on the desktop, like every other WinRT API-based Windows app. Thus, the chances of Edge being ported to Windows 7 (which doesn't support WinRT) are zero.

You can drag and drop tabs onto the desktop, starting a new instance of Edge, but in my experiments I couldn't drag them back to the original window. Edge prompts to remember passwords. Adobe Flash Player can be turned on and off with a simple switch in Settings. There's a Pop-Up blocker and Reading View as well, which helps on smaller screens -- and blocks ads. You can import favorites from other browsers. And you can now print as PDF. Cortana’s supposedly integrated, but I found it basically impossible to use in real-world situations.

What we'd like to see

Many of the features we've grown to expect from any browser -- multitab “home” pages, the ability to drag and drop files, a substantial favorites or bookmarks manager, thumbnails when hovering on the taskbar for each open page, robust download handling with a for-real download manager -- aren’t there. Changing search engines is laughably difficult. The list of "wanted" features is long and deep.

Cortana

While Apple partisans will give you a zillion reasons why Siri reigns, Googlies swear the superiority of Google Now, and Amazonians now have an Echo, Cortana partisans think Microsoft rules the AI roost, of course. Unlike Siri, Now, and Echo, though, Cortana has taken over the Windows search function, so it has a larger potential footprint than its AI cousins, which comes with a double edge.

Cortana: Windows 10 Build 10547

Cortana: Windows 10 Build 10547

Where Cortana stands

Cortana occupies the Search box to the right of the Start button. She also appears when you click or tap on the Cortana tile, on the right side of the Start menu. Cortana will only work when connected to the Internet, and it's severely limited unless you use a Microsoft account -- although, in build 105470, it works a little with a local account.

Frequently overlooked in Cortana discussions: everything -- absolutely everything -- that you search for on your computer gets sent, through Cortana, to Microsoft's giant database in the sky. Cortana's Notebook, as your personal repository is called, can be switched off, and entries can be manually deleted, but Microsoft's banking on you leaving it on.

Microsoft has announced that Cortana will be ported to both iOS and Android, although the public beta of Cortana on Android has drawn almost universal scorn.

What we'd like to see

Will Windows 10 customers revolt when they realize that everything they search for on their PCs is sent to a Microsoft database? Microsoft could certainly soften the blow by making options for turning off the Cortana tracking much more visible.

Cortana could also pick up more computer-centric capability. Demos are now circulating showing Cortana opening a Windows app under voice command, so it should be possible to say, one day, "Hey, Cortana, start a new document based on my letterhead," Cortana would obey and wait for you to dictate your letter. It'll happen, but probably not any time soon.

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