I'll begin with a confession: I never wanted to learn how to navigate Windows 8 (or 8.1) enough to do without a Start menu stand-in. When I began using Windows 10, the first thing I noticed was that I didn't need a Start menu replacement.
On a mouse-and-keyboard machine, Windows 10 automatically opens to the desktop. There are no more charms, and navigation is enough like Windows 7 for me to find my way around and get things done without undue fiddling or looking things up online. Even on a tablet using only touch to navigate, it's still a lot easier to get around on Windows 10 than previous editions.
Because Windows 10 is familiar enough to prevent users who know their way around older Windows versions from getting lost, there's no harm in learning how to navigate through. Once you get your chance to try things out, you'll probably be able to jump right in and start getting things done.
The return of the start menu
Although the Start menu in Windows 10 is somewhat different from that for Windows 7 (and my Windows 8 Start stand-in of choice, Start8), it's straightforward enough to find your way around inside Windows 10.
To begin with, the taskbar (Figure 1) presents a plain-vanilla Windows flag symbol -- the Start button -- that you click to launch that menu.
The Windows 10 Start menu is a modified version of the Windows 8 one (Figure 2). There's a column of applications on the left side and a set of tiles to the right. You can ignore those larger tiles if you choose to (and I mostly do) and stick to the Places and Most used items on the left, or expand your way into All apps at the bottom left.
The navigation approaches I use most often depend either on the Search box or on the All apps view.
For most of the things I do on a Windows machine, simply starting to type the name of the program or utility gets me an icon on the Start menu I can click and go with. I've enjoyed this search capability in Windows since it first made its appearance in Vista, and it has only continued to improve ever since. The Windows 10 version is nearly everything you could want it to be. For me, it takes care of at least two-thirds of my navigation needs all by its lonesome.
The All apps view (Figure 3) is like a more spread-out version of the old Windows 7 Start menu, except it puts Modern UI apps alongside desktop apps, and puts everything into alphabetical order. Notice that the names of items are separated by letters, and that Modern UI apps intermingle with old-fashioned desktop apps. For example, the area under the letter "I" contains tiles for Insider Hub and Internet Explorer, as well as folder symbols for Intel and the Intel Driver Update Utility. If you expand the Intel folder, you will see tiles for Intel Management and Security, Intel Update Manager and Intel Rapid Storage Technology.
This multi-level hierarchy takes a little getting used to, and is a bit too widely spaced for my personal taste. Thus, there's a little more scrolling and clicking involved in navigating the menu than I really like. But it's easy enough to understand and use, and repeated exposure does seem to make it less objectionable than I found it to be at first.
Still, there's no doubt that anybody can navigate inside this list with just a bit of mousing and clicking around -- or a few finger or stylus touches on a touch display. It's intuitive and familiar enough for most people to figure out instantly, and does the job when exploration is either required -- like when you're learning the new interface and looking to see what's available for users to work and play with -- or desirable, such as when you can't remember the name of a program and want to find it by browsing instead of typing into the search box.
All in all, the menus work reasonably well, and make enough sense to be usable. That's already a huge improvement over Windows 8, where users' impression of the menu runs the gamut from "missing" to "mystifying."
Don't forget the keyboard shortcuts
Not all keyboard shortcuts from Windows 7 and 8/8.1 still work in Windows 10, and some of them work differently than they did in those earlier versions. But enough keyboard shortcuts remain available that you shouldn't forget to use them, and there are even some new functions for old favorites. Here's a list of my current favorites:
Windows Key + X: Opens an administrative menu, with immediate access to (among other things) Programs and Features, Event Viewer, System, Event Manager, Disk Manager, Computer Manager and the Command Prompt, including an administrative prompt window that is very handy.
Windows Key + Arrow: Snaps current window left with left arrow key, right with right arrow key, top with up arrow key, and bottom with down arrow key. Combine right/left with up/down to get the corners instead.
Ctrl + Shift + Esc: Still launches the Task Manager, in the new improved form introduced in Windows 8.
Alt + Tab: Switches between open windows.
Windows Key + D: Opens a new virtual desktop; + F4 closes the current virtual desktop; + Left/Right switches to the virtual desktop on the left or the right.
Ctrl + C and Ctrl + V: Within the new and improved command prompt window, you can finally use Ctrl + C to copy and Ctrl + V to paste, just like you can in countless other Windows applications. In the command prompt, Ctrl + M lets you mark text to select it for pasting.
Windows Key + C: This produces the charms on Windows 8/8.1, but doesn't do anything on Windows 10 because the charms are gone (hooray!).
Windows 10 security features
Desktop virtualization in Windows 10
Is Windows 10 ready for the enterprise?
Windows 10 vs. old OSes