With the recent release of build 10074, Windows 10 Technical Preview should be nearing the feature-complete phase. But while there’s lots to see in the latest build, there’s also much that’s still unknown.
Here’s a look at what’s new, what’s been killed, what’s likely, and what’s still obscure.
Win10 Preview is starting to look like a product
If you’ve been staying up to date with the Windows Insider program, you should now be on build 10074. Microsoft brought everybody up to that level — either through Win10’s built-in Update & recovery tool or via ISO downloads — late last week. (Note: In most cases, the next build will appear only when all Win10 updates are applied.)
In broad strokes, this new build looks a lot like build 10041, which I talked about in the March 26 Top Story. But under the covers there’s a whole lotta shakin’ goin’ on.
The Start menu retains its now-familiar layout (Figure 1), with a Win7-like list of programs on the left and fancy live tiles on the right. Win8 users should recognize the tiles as Metro-style programs, but Vista and Win7 users will probably feel more comfortable thinking of them as glorified Windows gadgets.
Figure 1. Win10 build 10074's Start menu looks relatively complete.
Microsoft is testing two see-through “glass” versions of the Start menu. Figure 1 shows the “blurry” form, which I greatly prefer. Although we won’t get Aero Glass back (dang!), it looks like the final versions of the Start menu, taskbar, and maybe the window borders will get some transparency.
Looking through the offered icons, you’ll note that the new Web browser is still labeled “Project Spartan.” But at last week’s Build conference, Microsoft announced that the IE replacement will be called “Microsoft Edge” (note: notWindows Edge). It’ll be the default browser in Windows 10. You’ll still be able to use IE 11 if you like, but it’ll be buried in the All apps/Windows apps list.
I’ve spent a lot of time working with Microsoft Edge (see Figure 2), and I have to admit that I like it. At this point, it can’t match the features, settings, and add-ons of Chrome or Firefox, but it’s fast and light. More important, it has correctly rendered all the webpages I’ve thrown down its maw.
Figure 2. Win10's new browser, code-named Project Spartan, will henceforth be called Microsoft Edge.
Since Microsoft Edge is a Windows (formerly Universal, formerly Modern, formerly Metro) app (as opposed toWindows desktop app), it should look and run more or less the same on desktops, laptops, tablets, the Xbox, and even Windows 10 phones. My conjecture — completely unsupported by fact — is that Microsoft chose the name “Microsoft Edge” because they intend to transport the browser to Android, iOS, and possibly OS X.
Moving along: Cortana, Microsoft’s answer to Siri and Google Now for voice-activated assistance, has improved a bit in this latest build — though the changes are mostly cosmetic.
Tablet mode, shown in Figure 3, has stirred up some discussion. Apparently, some fans of the Metro side of Windows 8.1 aren’t pleased with the way Win10’s tablet interface is shaking out, according to posts in the Microsoft Community Windows Insider Program forum and various other online sites.
Figure 3. Win10 Preview's Tablet mode has become surprisingly controversial.
If you look carefully at Figures 1 and 3, you’ll see that Tablet mode shifts the tiles and enlarges them slightly, adding more space between the text entries on the left. Not so obviously, the taskbar continues to show up in Tablet mode — whether you want it or not — as do title bars for separate windows. Both these features represent significant changes from Windows 8.1. The Metro happy-tappers want more room for their pinkies.
The new Mail and Calendar apps are surprisingly good. They still don’t have all the features of online rivals such as Google Mail and Outlook.com, but they’re light-years ahead of any free Windows mail or calendar clients we’ve ever seen before — going all the way back to Windows 3.1.
There are other, smaller changes in build 10074. For example, you can have an unlimited number of separate desktops. Also, the Notification Center (aka Action Center), which pulls out from the right like the now-deceased Charms bar, has improved a bit; some notifications are hot and clickable. Moreover, more Windows settings have migrated from the Control Panel to the Settings app.
Microsoft released new and improved Music and Video apps after build 10074 hit the streets. You can download them from the “Store (Beta)” gray tile. I’m not impressed with either media app, but maybe I’m asking too much.
Most important, build 10074 is remarkably stable — at least in my experience.
Build announcements hint at what’s to come
While Win10 seems to be coming together quickly, there are numerous other parts that are just vestiges or are still missing. For example, the contacts app, People, looks incomplete. Moreover, the Albums tool in the Photos app doesn’t seem to work, and OneDrive has been pared back, prompting complaints from various testers about the loss of “smart files” (more info).
Though repeatedly pressed at last week’s Build conference, Microsoft wouldn’t divulge any specifics on Win10’s delivery date. At this point, all we know is “this summer” from Redmond and “late July,” according to AMD CEO Lisa Su’s offhand comment.
On the other hand, the Build keynote speech showed off a raft — no, a fleet — of new products that are still in the development stage. The keynote was a three-hour ordeal for conference attendees, but you can see a nine-minute version that hits all the high points on The Verge website.
Windows honcho Terry Myerson predicted that within two to three years, a billion people will be running on Windows 10 (helped, no doubt, by Microsoft’s reported plan to upgrade Windows 7, 8, and 8.1 for free). Rumor has it — still unconfirmed — that anyone currently in the Windows Insider program will be able to continue in the program, getting all the latest updates, even if they didn’t own a “genuine” copy of Windows.
We’ve known for some time that Microsoft is building its Universal Windows Platform (UWP; more info), which lets developers create apps that run on the Win10 desktop, tablets, Windows 10 Phone, and even Xbox. But as revealed at Build, Microsoft also plans to make migrating Android and iOS apps to UWP — and from there to Windows 10 — easy for developers.
Reportedly, there’s even a project that will let app developers wrap up Web-based applications (HTML, JS, etc.) and stick them into the UWP. Microsoft is also building a bridge to migrate classic Windows programs — the ones you and I currently use every day — to the new universal platform. If successful, it means that Photoshop, Quicken, and any other program you might want to mention could, at least in theory, become Windows (Universal/Metro) apps, running in their own sandbox-protected environment inside Windows 10.
Of course, the devil’s in the details. We’ve heard all this before with Win8 releases, but this time the people building the bridges appear to know what they’re doing and have the backing to make it work — maybe.
At Build, Microsoft prestidigitator Joe Belfiore gave an amazing demo: he showed how a Windows 10 phone could act as the brain for an entire computer system, with keyboard and mouse attached by Bluetooth and a big monitor connected with some other technology. In five or 10 years, you might be able to take your phone to a different office, a different building, or a different planet — where you simply plug it in and start working just as if you were at home.
Brian Livingston, who founded the Windows Secrets newsletter, once gave a talk that predicted precisely that capability. That was 10 years ago; it astounds me that someone is now actually demonstrating the technology.
Microsoft also showed off a new Win10 feature called Spotlight; it’s supposed to help you find new Windows features that you might otherwise overlook. (No, this isn’t the return of the dreaded Clippy — info.) What Microsoft didn’t mention is that the technology might be used to attempt to sell you things. (Cough, cough.) It appears to be an option that’s enabled by default.
Finally, the much-discussed HoloLens (more info), which combines virtual and actual reality, apparently suffers from an unexpected limitation: the field of view for the goggles is very small. So instead of walking into a VR-augmented room, you’ll be looking at a VR-augmented section of your desk. Still, it’s early days.
Microsoft gives Windows Media Center the boot
With its roots going back to Windows XP, Microsoft’s digital-video recording/playing app, Windows Media Center (WMC), has had a long and particularly erratic history. It’s one of those programs many users either loved or hated, and few are using it now. Perhaps the writing was on the wall when Microsoft failed to release a version for Windows RT. Still, it was unexpected — and for some, unwelcome — news that WMC won’t survive the jump to Windows 10.
In a May 4 tweet, Microsoft’s Gabriel Aul confirmed that WMC will not be included with Win10 due to “decreased usage.” If you really want to keep this recorder/player, you’ll have to stick with Win7 or possibly add it to Win8.1 (more info). Microsoft’s preference might be that you buy an Xbox device. Or just rent a DVR from your cable/satellite company.
Peering into a (somewhat) dark crystal ball
Chief among the things we don’t know about Windows 10 is how it’ll be updated after its official release. We now know that businesses — those who pay for Windows 10 — will have an option to defer updates (as they can now), using a feature called Windows Update for Businesses. But there’s been no information on how Microsoft will release security patches for you, me, and the rest of the non-paying world.
Microsoft has made references to “Windows as a service” — a term I don’t like because it could be confused with “software as a service,” which typically means renting your software.
“Windows as a service” might mean that Microsoft rolls out updates almost continuously. New features for Windows would be released as soon as they’re ready — no more service packs, no more versioning (such as Win8.1). New versions of Windows (Universal) apps might install automatically, presumably on all platforms. And because much of Windows 10 is, in fact, made up of Windows apps, the OS itself could change rapidly.
Those rapid changes could blur the point at which beta Win10 becomes final code. We might never hear that Windows has hit its official “release to manufacturing.” (Hardware manufacturers will, of course, need some sort of “release” code to test and deploy on their new systems.)
Given that squishy definition of “RTM,” I suspect that AMD’s Lisa Su was on the money — I think Microsoft plans to formally release Windows 10 in late July. That means those in the Insiders program will get it shortly afterward, with a more general rollout in early August. We should see new machines with Win10 logos later in August.
Given the many pieces that still need to fall into place, you probably think July is way too soon — and I’d have a hard time arguing with you. On the other hand, the jump from Win8 to Win 10 isn’t as wide as, say, from Vista to Win7 or Win7 to Win8. And if the new OS ends up being a, uh, “service,” there’ll be no need for a final, fully finished product.
This is the new Windows. It’ll be interesting to see how it plays out.