Windows 10 Preview Walk Thru

What’s new — and expected — in Win10, build 9926

Microsoft’s Jan. 21 Windows 10 presentation revealed all sorts of new information about the next version of Windows, reportedly shipping this fall. Two days later, build 9926 arrived.
Here’s an overview of what you can see in the current Win10 Tech Preview — plus what’s likely to dribble out over the summer.
If you haven’t been following Windows 10’s progress or need a refresher, I recommend reading the Oct. 2, 2014, Top Story, “Microsoft unveils preview of a new Windows,” and the Oct. 23, 2014, Windows 10 article, “Windows 10 Tech Preview now at build 9860″ (paid content).

Winning back Windows users’ hearts and minds

If you missed Microsoft’s two-and-a-half-hour dog-and-pony show, there’s an excellent 12-minute YouTube recap, put together by blogger Bavo Luysterborg (better known as Bav0).
The Windows 8 debacle’s impact on Microsoft is abundantly clear in the presentation. CEO Satya Nadella stated that the grand goal of Windows 10 was to make PC users not just want to use Windows, but to love using the OS. Lofty statements are expected at press conferences, but the announcement that really caught everyone’s attention was the use of Windows 10 and “free” in the same sentence. Operating Systems VP Terry Myerson declared “we will be making available a free upgrade to Windows 10 to all devices running [Windows 8.1 and Windows Phone 8.1].”
Most surprising, however, was the statement that all Windows 7 users will get a free upgrade for a year after Win10’s release — and once they’ve upgraded, all future changes to Windows 10 will be free. There is, of course, some ambiguity I’ll discuss at the end of this article. (Has Microsoft taken another lesson from Apple, or it is a sort of unspoken apology to those who bought Windows 8?)

Taking in the new user interface

If you’ve followed Win10’s development at all, you already know that the next Windows incorporates a variant of the Windows 7 Start menu — so desperately missed in Windows 8. Figure 1 shows a new Start menu that combines Win7’s quick-access list with Win8’s tiles.

Windows 10 Start menu
Figure 1. Windows 10's Start menu melds elements of Windows 7 and Windows 8.

The Start menu in Windows 10 Preview build 9926 clearly needs work; it’s missing drag-and-drop reorganization, custom menus, and so forth. But you get a good feeling for the overall design.
Presumably, we’ll be able to move and manage entries in the left column. The tiles on the right can be moved, removed, and reorganized under custom headings. You can also add new tiles. As in the original Metro Start screen, the tiles are “live” — they can automatically update bits of information displayed within the tile.
Universal — aka Metro, aka Modern — apps become more useful in Windows 10. No longer confined to running full-screen, they now peacefully cohabit the desktop, running in their own resizable and manageable windows (see Figure 2).

Metro on desktop
Figure 2. In Windows 10, a native Universal app can run in its own resizable window on the desktop.

If you’re a fan of Windows 8’s Metro Start screen — I know there are at least two of you out there — Win10 won’t disappoint you. Clicking the four-headed arrow at the top of the Desktop Start menu expands the menu to full-screen. It’s a workable compromise to the Desktop/Metro interface dilemma.
If you’re skeptical, give the January Win10 Preview a try. Again, the Start menu isn’t complete, but I think you’ll be comfortable with the overall structure.
On the other hand, Microsoft killed off the much-maligned, clumsy-to-use Charms bar (all together now: Hurray!) and replaced it with Notification — a popup window (see Figure 3) with general system notifications at the top and various shortcut buttons at the bottom. (In this build, the window is, in places, still called Action Center.) Soon, Windows 10 machines will interact with their users just as with nearly every Android and iOS device.

Notification Center
Figure 3. In Win10, the dysfunctional 
 Charms bar is replaced by the far more useful Notifications.

There are lots of other changes in Win10’s interface (many of which appeared in build 9860), including multiple desktops, multi-monitor support, and window-snapping to the four corners of the screen.

Cortana takes up residence on your desktop

If your PC doesn’t have a microphone, I recommend going out and buying one. Launched on Windows Phone, Cortana is Microsoft’s digital-assistant answer to Apple’s Siri. Cortana, however, is a bit more refined: running in the Win10 Search box (shown in Figure 1), she responds to both speech (“Hey, Cortana!”) and keyboard entry. Voice input is enabled by clicking the search box, clicking the three-bar icon in the upper-left corner of the search window, and then selecting Settings. When you give Cortana a search task, she’ll look on the local system, in OneDrive, and out on the Web (see Figure 4).

Cortana search
Figure 4. You can chat with Microsoft's digital personal assistant, Cortana, in the Win10 Search window.

Cortana isn’t the all-knowing, all-seeing app Microsoft’s ads would have you believe, but I find her surprisingly clever and useful — if still very buggy in build 9926. (Tip: Don’t pause after saying “Hey, Cortana.”) But then, I also like Siri and even use Google Voice from time to time. There’s a battle between the next generation of digital assistants brewing, and that’s good for all of us.
(Cortana has an interesting backstory [YouTube video]; she evolved from the central AI entity in the Halo games.)

Significant changes coming to “Universal” apps

Among the Windows 8 users I know is a near-unanimous consensus: the built-in Metro/Modern/Universal apps are dreadful. Metro Mail, Calendar, People, Videos, Music, and so on are so horribly deficient, almost no one wanted to use them.
That should change — at least a little bit — with Windows 10. Mail is being rewritten and relabeled (groan) Outlook. That will make Microsoft’s tenth different mail app. Unlike the Metro-based Mail, however, demos of the new Universal Outlook look almost as good as, say, Gmail on the Android or iPad. Yes, there’s a chance that Microsoft’s going to make a native mail app that people will actually use — but don’t hold your breath.
Other Universal apps are going through major facelifts. For example, the new Photos app in build 9926 is buggy and not especially capable, but it looks workable. The new Maps app lets you download maps for offline use — Microsoft is catching up with Garmin, circa 2001. Videos, Music, Messaging, and People will reportedly all be enhanced. We’ll have to wait and see; it’s a low bar.
For gamers, the real Win10 surprise is Xbox. According to the presentation, the shipping version of Windows 10 will let you stream Xbox games from an Xbox One device to your PC. Many hardcore gamers were puzzled as to why you’d do this, and it isn’t clear to me whether the stream will come through Win10’s new included Xbox app. But Microsoft’s Xbox chief promoted this capability as a really big deal.
(In another Windows 10 announcement, Microsoft showed [YouTube video] Office for Windows 10 on tablets. It looks as good as Office on the iPad or Android.)

Continuum coming — but only on Surface for now

Continuum is Microsoft’s answer to the problem of attaching and detaching keyboards on portable, convertible PCs. As shown in the presentation, when you detach a keyboard, Windows 10 will ask for verification that you want to switch into Tablet Mode (i.e., apps open in full-screen, the Start menu expands to full screen, and so forth). When you reattach the keyboard, a second popup asks whether you want to leave Tablet Mode.
Exactly how Continuum will work on specific devices is still unknown. As best I can tell, only Microsoft’s Surface Pro 3 has built-in support for the technology. Apparently, it won’t be easy for other hardware manufacturers to work out the events that will trigger Continuum. It’s also unknown whether there will be Continuum drivers for current convertibles.

Loads of misconceptions about Project Spartan

Microsoft’s new browser, code-named “Project Spartan,” doesn’t appear in build 9926. Not surprisingly, there’s a lot of misinformation about the app.
Based on the public demos, Spartan looks good — it’s similar to Google Chrome. (Rumor has it that Spartan might even run Chrome extensions.)
Spartan’s key enhancement is your ability to manage interesting Web content. You can, for example, mark up displayed webpages with either a digital pen or a keyboard and send the annotated pages to other people or post them in OneDrive. Of course, Cortana is built into Spartan; there’s a view that makes reading text easier, and you can save pages offline.
Spartan is a Universal app — it’ll run on the desktop only inside a Universal-app window. It doesn’t speak ActiveX or support Browser Helper Object modules.
Most important, Spartan doesn’t replace IE. For better or worse, we’re going to have IE around for a long time. (In fact, if Spartan tries to open a page that requires IE, it uses the IE 11 rendering engine.)
As with much about Win10, the details about Spartan are still under wraps. But it seems that Microsoft will give us a more secure alternative to Internet Explorer.

Will HoloLens make Microsoft cool again?

One of the more mind-blowing parts of the Win10 presentation was Microsoft’s new HoloLens technology. Think of it as a third-generation Google Glass. (Google, ironically, has ended its Glass demonstration program; it’s unknown what Google will do with Glass next.)
Despite the name, HoloLens (more info) isn’t a Star Trek–like holographic machine. Unlike Oculus VR (site), it isn’t strictly virtual reality, either. The headset implements a sophisticated form of assisted reality — a blending of physical and virtual worlds. Essentially, digital images are superimposed on what’s around you, beyond the headset. HoloLens technology places images in the context of what you would normally see.
What’s Windows 10’s connection to HoloLens? The next Windows will have HoloLens APIs — the routines that apps will call to control the headset.
HoloLens has the potential to radically change the way we use computers. Wired’s Jessi Hempel gives a thorough, first-hand review of the technology, which is due out sometime later this year.

A looming question: Will we be tethered?

As discussed above, Windows 10 will be free to Win7 and Win8.1 users. And, unlike Windows 8, it nicely blends the use of tablet and desktop PCs. So what, you might ask, is the catch?
Microsoft hasn’t explicitly said one way other the other, but based on hints and comments, it seems likely that many Windows 10 users (anyone who doesn’t fall under a corporate volume license) will have to stay tethered to the Microsoft mother ship most of the time. Likely, Microsoft believes that keeping Win10 users continuously updated to the same version of Windows will reduce support issues and costs.
What does that mean? On the plus side, that means you’ll get all of the new updates as soon as they’re available.
On the minus side, you’ll also get all of the new updates as soon as they’re available.
In other words, all updates will be installed automatically, whether you like it or not. If you fear and loathe Microsoft’s Automatic Updates as much as I do, that’s a bitter pill to swallow. Time and again, Microsoft has shown that it’s incapable of reliably patching its own software.
Can it do any better with Windows 10? For the near future, that’s essentially an unanswerable question — though to Microsoft’s credit, Office 365 depends on a regular phone-home model and has had few updating problems. Still, Windows is a much more complicated system.
It appears that Windows 10 is the operating system Win8 should have been — and significantly much more. If Microsoft stays on track, we’ll have a successor to Windows 7 we can all live happily with. Let’s keep our fingers and toes crossed.


Windows 8.1 Goes Retro with XTree Clone

Awwww, man. This really takes me back. A new app is available in the Windows store that brings back some memories and really brings a retro spin on file management for Windows 8.1. Provided as a Metro app, File Manager Gold is an XTree clone. Remember XTree and XTree Gold? XTree was a file management software that ran as a DOS app, and of course, would run in a CMD Windows for Windows 3.0. The first release was in April of 1985 and brought a really simple way to navigate and work with files and folders in the file system. But, now you can get that same nostalgic feel in Windows 8.1 with File Manager Gold.

 File Manager Gold is normally $5.99, but is free for now, with no clue as to when this will change. Grab it in the Windows store by searching for "File Manager Gold" or just click the following link: File Manager Gold in the Windows Store Big tip: when selecting a folder to manage in either pane, just choose the C:\ drive and then navigate from there. I've found that if you choose a folder full of files, it takes a long, long time to enumerate each one before the display is updated.



Download GOM Player App For Windows 8.1 And Windows 10

As an avid user of GOM Player, I can tell you that it’s one of the most underrated media player. I have been using it since the release of version 1.0, and I always recommend it over other media players for its beautiful interface, rich set of features, and support for popular codecs out of the box.
In the first quarter of this year, the metro or modern version of VLC player was released for Windows 8/8.1. Although VLC player app lacks most of the features present in desktop version, it still is the best media player app available on the Windows Store.

GOM Player app for Windows 8.1 picture 2

GOM Player app

The good news is that GOM Player app has been released for Windows 8.1 and Windows 10. GOM Player lovers can now visit the official Windows Store on their Windows 8.1 or Windows 10 devices to download and install the app.

GOM Player app for Windows 8.1 picture 1

GOM Player app for Windows 8.1 and Windows 10 sports a clean but elegant user interface.
Just like the desktop version of the player, GOM Player app supports many popular formats including .avi, .mp4, .mkv, etc.
The ability use and adjust subtitles is one of the killer features of GOM Player app. The app offers settings to change the size, position and default font of subtitles. More importantly, it lets you adjust sync subtitles with the video. In addition to that, you can rotate or mirror your video.

GOM Player app for Windows 8.1 picture 3

With default settings, it starts playing the video where you had stopped.
While watching a video, simply right-click anywhere on the screen to see pause, lock, size and ratio, volume, subtitles, and settings. When the lock feature is turned on, media control buttons will not appear when you perform a right-click on the screen (only Unlock option appears when you perform a right-click), useful while watching movies on tablets.

GOM Player app for Windows 8.1 picture 4

Another worth mentioning feature is support for keyboard shortcuts. Just like the desktop version, you can use left and right arrow buttons to rewind (10 sec) and fast forward (10 sec) operations. Many of the keyboard shortcuts of the desktop version work great here as well.

GOM Player app for Windows 8.1 picture 5

Download GOM Player app

Overall, I am impressed with GOM Player app for Windows 8.1 and Windows 10. Although it’s not as powerful and feature-rich as the desktop version, it’s easily the best media player app available on the Store. Those of you who have been using the VLC app on your tablets, this is the best time to try out GOM Player app.
Visit the following page to install the latest version of GOM Player app on your Windows 8.1 or Windows 10 PCs.

GOM Player app (Windows Store link)



How to get Windows 10's best new features today

Windows 9? Fuhgeddaboutit. Microsoft skipped that digit and jumped straight to Windows 10 for the next-gen version of its operating system. Revealed at a preview event on September 30, Windows 10 aims to atone for the sins of Windows 8 by wooing PC power users with a mix of compromise and outright bribery. 
A reborn Start menu, windowed Metro apps, virtual desktop support, and enhanced Command Prompt tools are enticing lures indeed. Alas, Windows 10 itself isn't expected until the middle of 2015—a veritable eternity for folks slogging through Windows 8's Live Tiles. But fear not! You don't have to wait to get the best of Windows 10 today.
Microsoft will offer a Windows 10 Technical Preview in the months ahead of the operating system's launch, but if you don't like the idea of slapping pre-release OSes on your computer, some handy-dandy software can deliver some of Windows 10's highlight features to your Windows 8 PC today
Consider it a taste of things to come. Let's dig in!


The return of the Start Menu

A slew of Start menu replacements hit the web the second the Start Menu-less Windows 8 hit the streets, but when it comes time to put your cash on the line, the decision boils down to just two programs: Stardock’s Start8 and Classic Shell.

start8 taskbar Stardock
Stardock’s polished Start8 Start Menu matches the color of your taskbar. (Click to enlarge.)
Those reviews have all the nitty-gritty details, but you’ll probably want to start with Classic Shell since it’s donationware. Classic Shell includes options for both Windows XP- and Windows 7-style Start menus, along with numerous customization options. You can tinker with what’s listed in the Classic Shell Start Menu, or even change the look of its Start button to an icon of your choice. Cool stuff, indeed.
Start8, meanwhile, offers either a Windows 7 Start Menu or a Modern UI-tinged Windows 8 Start Menu that’s more in line with what Microsoft itself is cooking up. The $5 Start8 app is more polished and easier to use than the open-source Classic Shell, which is chock full of ugly buttons. Start8 still offers plenty of options and features, though, and you can’t go wrong with either program.
You might also consider Start Menu Reviver. We didn't like it quite as much as Start8 or Classic Shell, but its tile-infused interface mimics the look of Windows 10's Start menu much more closely than its more classicly themed counterparts.


Windowed desktop Metro apps

windows10 app commands Image: Microsoft
A Metro app running in a desktop window in Windows 10.
Sure, the Windows 8.1 spring update added plenty of mouse-friendly features, but it still doesn’t let you use Modern apps in desktop windows. If you want that capability today, you only have one place to turn: The utterly superb ModernMix software.
Again offered by Stardock—do you get the feeling that the folks at Stardock weren’t impressed by Windows 8?—ModernMix exists solely to let you run Windows Store apps in desktop Windows. It’s wonderful if you use Windows 8’s native apps, such as email, calendar, and Music, all of which stick to the Modern UI.

ModernMix in action. Seriously, buy it today.
ModernMix runs like a charm even with the updates recently introduced to Windows 8.1. It’s well worth the $5 admission price.


Virtual desktops

windows10 tech preview virtual desktop Image: Microsoft
Windows 10's virtual desktop feature in action.
Windows has long limited you to a single desktop interface. OS X and Linux operating systems, on the other hand, support virtual desktops—essentially multiple, configurable, virtual desktops you're able to switch between, so that you can have completely separate desktop interfaces for work and play or whatever.
But Windows 10 ditches that one desktop frame of mind, adding support for multiple desktops via a new "Task View" feature.

One PC, many virtual desktops, courtesy of Dexpot.
Why wait? If you want to start using virtual desktops on Windows today, just download Dexpot. It's not only free for personal use, it's chock full of UI hints that remind you that new desktop experiences are just a click away. Dexpot is insanely customizable and so finely polished that it makes virtual desktops feel like a native part of Windows—which they will soon indeed be.

Note: Microsoft also offers a free mutli-desktop utility here:

Bringing it all together

There you have it: For less than the cost of a large pizza, you can have Windows 10’s most-anticipated improvements right now. Give yourself time to get used to Dexpot and you'll wonder how you ever managed to work without virtual desktops. And once you’ve welcomed a Start Menu replacement and ModernMix into your workflow—especially paired with the Windows 8.1 spring Update’s tremendous tweaks—you might just be surprised how well those newfangled Modern apps translate to the familiar desktop experience.
Now if only there was a tool that added keyboard shortcuts to the Command Prompt...
Editor's note: This article was originally published on April 16, 2014 but was updated with virtual desktop information and tweaked language on September 12, 2014 when leaks of the Windows Technical Preview appeared. The article was updated again on September 30 2014 when Windows 10 was revealed.


Other links:
UxStyle memory patching:
Windows 10 Theme for Windows 7:
Windows10 Theme for Windows 8.1:
Taskbar UserTile/Mosaic/Aura:
Start Menu Reviver: