The New Windows 10

Given the complaints about Windows 8, the next version of Microsoft’s OS has to be more than good — it must be superb.

We’re still a long way from shipping Windows 10, but based on the recently released Technical Preview, it appears Microsoft is firmly back on track.

So what the heck ever happened to Windows 9?
I swear, there are yak herders in Tibet who are discussing Microsoft’s decision to jump to “Windows 10.” It seems everyone has a theory.

For example, a self-described Microsoft developer claims that the label “Windows 9” was ruled out because of possible conflicts with programs that rely specifically on the text string “Windows 9” to identify some older versions of Windows. Here are cranbourne remarks in a reddit post:

“Microsoft dev here, the internal rumours are that early testing revealed just how many third-party products had code of the form

if(version.StartsWith(“Windows 9”)) { /* 95 and 98 */} else {

“and that [using Windows 10] was the pragmatic solution to avoid that.”

I think that’s an unlikely theory; Microsoft could’ve solved the pattern-matching problem by just using “Windows9” as the internal version name. But who am I to stand in the way of a good rumor? Maybe a Joy of Tech cartoon panel got it right.

For whatever reason, the powers that be must have decided that “Windows 10” would be a better sell. And they’re probably right — the farther we get from Windows 8, the better.

How you can get in on the Technical Preview
Microsoft released the Windows 10 Technical Preview on Oct. 1. Of all the Microsoft beta-testing events in which I’ve participated (we’re talking Mesozoic timescales here), Windows 10’s is easily the most organized and best run. And Win10 Technical Preview isn’t even beta — it’s closer to an alpha release. We’re still many builds away from a final, production version of Windows 10. Keep that in mind while you’re playing with it.

Yes, I do recommend trying out Win10 Technical Preview — if you have a spare PC or the technical know-how to install the OS as part of a dual-boot system or in a virtual machine. You also have to be comfortable working with ISO files. The spare PC doesn’t have to be especially powerful; almost any machine made in the past five years will do — even some decade-old hardware will do just fine. (Note: In the upcoming Oct. 16 issue, Fred langa will give step-by-step instructions for setting up Win10 Technical Preview in a virtual machine.)

Most important: Don’t put Win10 on a production system. The code has many rough edges and potholes — it will probably break. It’s also likely that you’ll have to install future beta releases from scratch.

This is a rare, first-hand opportunity to watch Windows 10 evolve. The review process is open to everyone — not just a few select developers and IT pros. I bet you’ll be pleasantly surprised by what you see.

To get started, sign up for the Windows Insider Program Site and follow the instructions. (By signing up, you basically agree to let Microsoft see everything you do within Win10 Technical Preview.) You can either download and install an ISO file or, if you’re already running Win7/8.x, run an in-place update. There’s an installation key, but most people never need it.

Here’s the most interesting part of the Technical Preview process: Microsoft is soliciting comments from all Windows users. Your feedback might help shape the future of Windows. Microsoft hasn’t done this since the days of Windows 95. Betas of more recent Windows (and Office) versions were released long after the design decisions had been locked down. (It’s rumored that Microsoft even ignored its own internal usability testing of beta versions.) But now that Windows development is under new management, perhaps our comments on Win10 Technical Preview will matter.

Opening up public feedback on the new OS is, however, a two-edged sword. If the final release of Windows 10 is missing some key feature and Microsoft gets lots of complaints, it might (rightfully?) say, “Dude! Where were you when we needed to know about that feature? Only 12 people thought it was important.”

In other words, if you have a particular gripe about Windows, now’s the time to get it off your chest.

Highlights of the Windows 10 Technical Preview
We’ve known about most of Win10 Technical Preview’s new features for some time, thanks to several leaky individuals. I covered those enhancements in the Sept. 18 Top Story and the Oct. 2 Special Report.

Here’s the three-minute review.

Start menu is back: This will surprise absolutely nobody. Figure 1 shows the typical Windows 7 Start-menu list on the left, along with small Metro-/Modern-/Universal-app tiles on the right. (The apps formerly called “Metro,” then “Modern” are now called “Universal.”)
start menu

Win10 Start menu
Figure 1. The new Windows 10 Start menu combines elements of the classic Win7 Start menu and “Universal” tiling.
Items on the new Start menu can be sliced and diced as you like, although text-based menu items will always go on the left and Universal tiles will always be on the right. If you want to get rid of the tiles, right-click on each, one by one, and choose Unpin.

The new Start menu doesn’t work exactly the same way as Win7’s; in Win10, there are no quick links to Computer, Control Panel, Devices and Printers, for example. (They are, however, available by right-clicking the Start button.)

Native apps on the desktop: With Windows 10, Universal apps can run inside their own little windows on the desktop. If you happen to find a Universal app you like (I’ll confess that I like the Weather app), you no longer need to flip over to tile-world. Simply crank it up, resize it to fit nicely on the desktop, and it works just like you’d expect.

This hybrid Start menus might be good or bad, depending on your point of view. Give it a try.

File Explorer’s minor changes: There’s a new File Explorer that’s reasonably similar to the one in Windows 8 — except that in Win10’s Explorer, you go to an imaginary place called “Home,” as shown in Figure 2.
file explorer

Figure 2. Windows 10’s File Explorer: There’s no place like Home — literally.
Personally, I don’t like “Home.” I’d rather start with Libraries. You might not agree — as noted above, you can now express your preference via the Windows Insider Program!

Support for multiple desktops: Also widely anticipated, Win10 ships with built-in support for multiple desktops. (Windows has supported this handy feature since XP — if you installed an add-on program.) Desktops are an easy way to reduce desktop clutter, especially on notebook screens. For example, you can work on one desktop to write a report, flip to another desktop to check email, and then jump to a third for browsing the Internet and viewing photos. (This might sound a bit like the Metro environment. That’s not the case; you’re still getting all the advantages of the desktop UI.)

Win 10’s Web-wide Search: The icon, immediately to the right of the Start button, has inherited Windows 8.1’s privacy-busting “feature.” Of course, Search looks for things on your PC. But by default, it also sends your search terms to Bing and returns a list that might contain junk. For example, using the search string “able” returned all sorts of Bing-generated, Microsoft-tracked garbage (see Figure 3).
search box
Win10 Search results
Figure 3. As with Win8.1, Win10’s Search extends out to the Web.
In other words, by default, Microsoft might track of everything you search for on your own computer — all the better to serve you ads. Bah!

Task view: This option is launched by clicking the two-box icon to the right of Search. It makes it easy to change between programs on a desktop or to switch desktops. The classic Alt + Tab “coolswitch” now cycles through desktops, too.

Windows Snap Assist: Many Windows users have a love/hate relationship with window snapping. Win10’s version has a few new capabilities. My favorite is “Snap Assist” — for example, whenever you snap a window to the left, thumbnails of your other running programs appear on the right. That makes it much easier to snap a second program to the right — you don’t have to go diving to find the other program. You can also snap to all four corners (although Metro apps don’t snap to the corners in Technical Preview), so each snapped program takes up a quarter of the screen.

There are lots of under-the-hood changes that are only now coming to light. For example, the updating method will change, allowing you to choose from rapid updates (released as soon as available), leisurely updates, and glacial updates. There’s also a demo switching between keyboard-and-mouse-friendly Win10 and a touch-and-swipe version — think convertible laptop use.

Again, there’ll be more changes as Win10 develops. But for an old Windows user like me — and probably you — the next Windows looks like a winner.

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