My seven favorite Windows 10 features

A few weeks ago, I shared my list of Seven Windows 10 annoyances (and how to fix them). It was one of my most popular posts of the year, and so for a sequel I decided to offer the flip side, listing my seven favorite features of Windows 10.

As I was putting this list together, one thing that struck me is how many of these features were either missing or poorly implemented when Windows 10 debuted in 2015. But all of the features I have chosen to spotlight here are well tested, well implemented, and guaranteed to make you more productive.

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1. Windows Hello

When I’m shopping for a new PC, one feature is on the must-have list. It has to support biometric authentication, or I’m not interested.

My main laptop, a Dell Latitude 7400, has a built-in infrared camera that supports Windows Hello facial recognition, as does my Surface Book 2. Both devices can recognize me and sign me in to Windows in two seconds or less. My Lenovo Yoga C630, running Windows 10 on Arm, has a fingerprint sensor that also eliminates the need to type a password to sign in. It’s not quite as convenient as facial recognition, but I’ll take it.

I notice the difference every time I use my 2017 MacBook Pro, which doesn’t have a touch bar or Touch ID and seems determined to require two attempts before it will accept my password, no matter how carefully I type. By the time I am ready to replace it, I hope Apple has incorporated its facial recognition into the Mac.

2. The taskbar search box

Microsoft made a big mistake in the early days of Windows 10 by tying the functionality of its built-in search box to the gimmicky Cortana feature. Now that Cortana has been moved out of Windows and into Microsoft 365, the search box can do its job without having to display a sassy personality.

windows-search-box-conversions.jpg

The built-in calculator in the Windows 10 search box does all sorts of conversions, too.

I use this search box literally dozens of times a day, whenever I have a question that has a simple factual answer. There’s no need to open a browser tab and do a full search when you’re just looking for a quick answer. Instead, tap the Windows key and start typing. The answer appears almost instantly in the results pane above the search box.

It’s also really good at finding dictionary definitions, translating words and phrases, and doing calculations and conversions. The other day, for example, I was researching new cars and found an interesting article that included fuel economy rating expressed in km/L. How much is that in MPG? Easy.

It’s really changed the way I work.

3. Multi-monitor

I have always been a huge proponent of multi-monitor setups for productivity on the desktop. Years ago, that meant two 24-inch LCD displays, arranged side by side. Today, though, I have a different setup that works even better for me: A 38-inch Dell UltraSharp Curved Monitor, driven by a powerful laptop on the side, with the laptop display serving as the second monitor.

That ultrawide monitor is perfect for snapping two windows alongside one another for research and writing. Meanwhile, I keep secondary apps on the laptop display: Slack and Teams windows, for example, so I can keep track of conversations with colleagues out of the corner of my eye.

Five years ago, Windows was extremely awkward when it came to managing transitions between displays with different scaling factors. In the past few years, though, virtually all of those issues have vanished in Windows 10, and I almost never see weird scaling issues, when dragging windows between two displays with different resolutions.

4. Wireless projection

Miracast technology has been around since 2014, when it was a signature feature of Windows 8.1. Back then, getting a Windows PC to connect wirelessly to a big-screen TV was a bit of a crapshoot, typically requiring an external adapter and some incantations.

A lot has happened in the six years since then. Both of the big-screen TVs in our household support Miracast natively, as do our two Roku devices. And connecting from a Windows 10 PC to any of those devices is as simple as clicking the Connect button in Action Center and then choosing a device from the list.

That feature isn’t necessary for YouTube, which has its own built-in app on all of my connected devices. But it’s been ideal for watching livestream concerts and pay-per-view events that aren’t accessible through an app.

5. OneDrive Files On-Demand

There are lots of cloud-based storage services to choose from. I use OneDrive because it’s included with my Microsoft 365 (formerly Office 365) subscriptions, one for business, one for personal use. Each subscription includes a terabyte of storage (and with the $100-a-year Microsoft 365 Family account, five additional family members each get their own terabyte of storage).

But the real advantage is the integration with Windows 10, where you’ll find a top-level node for OneDrive in the navigation pane and, crucially, support for a feature called Files On-Demand, which allows you to browse through that terabyte of cloud-based storage without having to actually download all those files. Double-clicking a file downloads it and opens it for editing, as the feature name suggests.

My personal OneDrive contains nearly 900 GB of files, but I’ve chosen to keep less than 50 GB worth of those files offline, as you can see.

This feature works so well and integrates so smoothly that it’s almost possible to forget that it was missing in action for the first two years of Windows 10’s existence and didn’t return until 2017.

6. Hyper-V and Windows Sandbox

The single best reason to pay for an upgrade to Windows 10 Pro is to gain access to the built-in Hyper-V virtualization software, which lets you run Windows or Linux in a virtual machine, isolated from your physical PC.

I’ve written several how-to articles on how to enable Hyper-V and create virtual machines, as well as one longer piece on how to install a virtual copy of Ubuntu Linux using Hyper-V’s Quick Create gallery.

Those features are great for developers, but the latest addition to the Hyper-V feature set is useful for just about anybody. Windows Sandbox is a simple way to instantly create a clean virtual machine, where you can test a program or visit a suspicious website, risk-free. When you close the Sandbox, every trace vanishes instantly.

7. Progressive Web Apps

Progressive Web Apps (PWAs) are a great way to turn a rich website (like Twitter, Spotify, or Gmail) into an app that runs in its own window, with its own notifications and data storage, alongside your more traditional apps. PWAs appear in the Windows 10 Start menu, and you can pin them to Start or to the taskbar. You can even manage them from the Apps page in Settings.

Every modern browser supports PWAs. If you’re using the new Chromium-based Edge, you get an “App available” notification in the address bar if a website supports this feature. 

From Google Chrome, you can install a PWA from a similar icon in the address bar, but they’re not as tightly integrated with Windows 10.

Either way, it’s a great way to give important sites their own space instead of relegating them to yet another browser tab.

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