Yesterday Microsoft made available a technical preview of Windows 10 for IT Pros and enthusiasts to try and take a look at the new UI for desktops and laptops. So last night I downloaded the build and installed it on a on a couple of machines so I could get a good feel of what it’s like on real hardware.
The image is around 4 GB and I performed a clean install of the OS, I could have chosen an upgrade but I wanted to start with a clean state. The install works like Windows 8, you put the disk in select the partition you want to install it on and away you go, a clean install was very fast. After copying the files over and rebooting the OS installs and asks to connect to your network, you can then sign in with your Microsoft account (or a local PC account) and it will restore your settings from another computer pretty much as Windows 8.1 does. Once signed in I installed the drivers via Windows Update (which also included an update for the tech preview). So far very much as Windows 8.1, fast and efficient.
After start up you arrive at the desktop and at first glance it looks very familiar, there is a Start button, Internet Explorer and Windows Store shortcuts but there are alsotwo new items next to the Start button. The search icon takes you to a new search box that has instant search results as you type or if you hit the search button it takes you to a new search app that has a Bing powered search that has tabs for web, files, settings, web images and web videos.
It’s a little like the Windows 8.1 combined search but much more web like that the old OS, maybe that is to make users combatable with the search being web-like.
The other button is called Task View which shows active apps side by side, you can’t see from the screen grabs but the Netflix app continues playing so they are real time thumbnail views of the open programs. This replaces the left side bar of active programs that you get when you use the Windows + Tab combination. You can click on a window to activate it.
They are nice changes for desktop users which is the theme of this release, it works much better for desktop and laptop users.
The biggest change by far is the new Start Menu, it is part Windows 7 start menu combined with Windows 8 live tiles.
The start menu has the Windows 7 style search box, program list, folders and documents. Windows 7 users will feel immediately at home with this, there is even a Power Button. What is new is the ability to pin apps, programs and shortcuts to the right of the start menu and they look like they would in Windows 8. You can pin Windows Store apps as live tiles and they work just as they do in Windows 8, you can resize them and move them around as you can in Windows 8. This is the first step into bringing the Windows Store apps into the desktop world, for a PC with keyboard and mouse it makes perfect sense and works very well. I would hate this design on a tablet but this design isn’t for touch devices it’s for desktop users and will should make anybody that hated the Windows 8 start screen much happier.
The 2nd part of the change is Windows Store apps no longer run full screen and this is a massive change for desktop users. Modern apps now behave like traditional programs, they run in a Window and can be ran maximised or you can minimize them. There is also the option to run the app full screen which takes it back to the Windows 8 style full screen, this is different from the maximised view as it doesn’t have the title bar in full screen mode.
The way that you access the full screen option is via a new drop down menu that only shows up on modern apps. This takes the options that were in the Charms menu, there are App Commands which access the apps menu options. There is Search, Share, Play, Print, Project and Settings just like the Charms and again for keyboard/mouse users makes a lot of sense.
The effect of adding the Windows Store apps to the Start Menu and having them run in a Window makes them way more useable for desktop users. With Windows 8.1 on my laptop I trended to avoid using store aps unless for a single task, for example to upload a photo to Flickr I would load my app upload the photo and then close it again. Whereas if I wanted to watch Netflix while doing other things on my laptop I would use the web version of Netflix as the store app would take up the whole screen, Windows 10 way removes this issue and now Windows Store apps suddenly useful for desktop users. This should improve the take up of Windows Store apps and maybe developers that currently target the desktop (eg Sonos) could make a modern app that desktop and tablet users could use. There are still some differences between modern and traditional apps, when you minimize a store app the app is frozen as it is in Windows 8.1, for example Netflix pauses when minimized.
Other changes I spotted so far include a way of checking for new builds of Windows 10. Microsoft are going to roll out updates to the Preview builds and you check for new releases from Update and recovery. This could be a way of Microsoft rolling out OS changes in the future making it eaiser to roll out smaller features changes rather than a big bang release.
You may also notice a cosmetic changes, windows no longer have a left and right boarder so the desktop looks somehow cleaner.
I also found you can bring back the Windows 8.1 style Start screen if you want it, there is an option in the Taskbar properties to use the Start screen if you want to and when you enable it (after logging off and back on again) you are returned to the Windows 8.1 style menu.
My guess is that for tablets you will get the start screen automatically and for laptops and desktops you will get the new start menu
One thing I did notice is that the immersive version of Internet Explorer seems to have gone, I guess desktop users are not going to want to use the full screen browser so Microsoft have removed it for the this design. Currently Windows 10 ships with Internet Explorer 11 and the release version will ship with IE12 we may not have seen the final designs for IE yet.
There is also a new share option in Windows Explorer, you can click on an item and then share it like you can in a store app. Even the Command Prompt has been upgraded, you can now CTRL V text in to the window (how long have we been waiting for that!).
I had a look for Windows Media Center and unsurprisingly it is not there however Media Center does work on Windows 10 by doing an in-place upgrade and using a Windows 8 key. Whether it will work in the final release we will have to wait and see. Microsoft have not commented on whether Windows Media Center will continue in Windows 10.
UPDATE: You can get Windows Media Center on Windows 10 by following this guide.
— Jonathan_Hill (@Jonathan_Hill) October 1, 2014
So Windows 10 seems to be exactly what desktop and laptop users want to see. The Start Menu is back, modern apps work alongside traditional programs and the whole OS works better with a keyboard and mouse. I would hate to use this design on a tablet but this isn’t for touch devices it’s for desktop users and for that it works very well. In some ways it’s a backwards step to Windows 7 but it’s a necessary one that bridges modern Windows with a look and feel optimised for the desktop.
This is an OS you could give to a Windows 7 user and they would be able to find their way around without getting lost, they would also be able to use Windows Store apps in their current workflow without the jarring experience of Windows 8. I haven’t touched on any of the management and enterprise features which are going to make the OS much better for business, there are lot of changes coming for enterprises that are going to make deploying and managing the OS much better.
The preview is an early look at the OS and a lot could change between now and next spring when it’s expected to be released. I really can’t wait to see that the tablet story is, Microsoft said they are going to talk about it in the early next year and the rumour is of a combined phone and tablet OS which I am very excited to see.
You can give the OS a try yourself at preview.microsoft.com