Why The Windows 10 Preview Should Get You Excited

After months of leaks, Microsoft finally unvealed Windows 10 on Wednesday. Sort of. In reality, Microsoft broke with tradition and unvealed the Windows 10 Technical Preview. We’ve received technical previews in the past, like with Windows 7, Windows 8, and Windows 8.1, but Microsoft broke tradition with this particular release by unvealing a product that was not finished. Unlike previous Technical Previews, we are seeing a mere peek of the feature set of the future of Windows. But that’s not a bad thing. What we can see with this preview is a fairly exciting future for Windows, both through the product, and through their treatment of the product. Read further to find out why you should be excited about this future.

What’s In a Name

But first of all, I want to get this out of the way. Yes, the name is ridiculous. Terry Myerson’s explanation for why they skipped Windows 9 was simply to say that they didn’t want this next version of Windows to seem iterative. They wanted to tell people that this next version of Windows is something completely different, the beginning of a new legacy or something like that. So they jumped the OS up a school grade.

I don’t quite buy that this is the real reason for Microsoft to choose Windows 10, though. I understand that Windows X is too close to Apple’s naming convention. I understand that Windows 1 has already been done, even if there is a major difference between Windows 1 and Windows One. But all they did to change it up is choose a different number. It’s odd, and it’s suspicious. Well, not 24 hours later, a theory that actually sounds quite credible to me starting popping around the popular social media website Reddit, seeming to claim that the reason they didn’t go with Windows 9 was because of legacy code in a vast swath of Windows-based programs that was designed to determine if the OS was Windows 95 or 98 and apply certain optimizations that would break the next modern version of Windows. The problem was that the code was of the form shown below.

Meaning, Windows 9 would show up to a ton of currently used programs as Windows 95 or Windows 98. Naming the product Windows 10 would be a pragmatic way to solve that. It just so happens that Terry Myerson had to come up with some spin to make it seem more…shall we say purposeful. I’m not saying that he lied, perse, as I’m sure there were many discussions being held about the name of the OS. This was probably one factor that they decided would be better left off the stage.

Obviously, this theory hasn’t been officially confirmed, so we can still just call it theory. But I find it kind of cute and hilarious. In the end, though, the name doesn’t matter and we should let it slide by. If it was called Windows Poop, I would still check it out (maybe even more so out of morbid curiousity). So with no further delay, let’s go to the features.

Multiple Desktops at Last!!!

Ironically, the first time I’ve ever heard of the concept of multiple desktops was from whatever Mac OS update provided it to Apple computers. I was working at Best Buy at the time, and I remember being blown away by the concept of having multiple workspaces with the different programs you’d need for various projects. I could open up one desktop, throw a word processor, my notes, and an internet browser on it. Then I could open up another desktop with music software, a player, and a file browser opened to my music directory. Then I could open up another desktop with a game set up on it. Then all I’d need to do was flip from desktop to desktop to go to whatever project my mind fancied at the time.

Now that I’m talking about it, it makes me sound like some sort of psycho control freak, but anyone who’s juggled multiple work projects or a couple of side projects while at home will know how useful this can be. You don’t have to constantly close and re-open apps. You create a desktop with your desired workflow layout once and never touch it again. No longer do I have to hunt around for the program I used for this project or find the file that I put somewhere at some point and then forgot where I put it. Honestly, this is the most exciting feature I’ve witnessed so far. If you still don’t really know what the heck I’m talking about, check out the video below, where I demonstrate how multiple desktops work and why you should be excited about it.

[youtube=http://youtu.be/OZww9-omU4A]

The Return of the Start Menu

This is the one bit of anti-Windows 8 rhetoric that I never understood. Yes, it took me all of about 5 minutes to get used to the Start Screen over the Start Menu. But I never looked back at the Start Menu as a superior form of software technology. The Start Screen is just as effective as the Start Menu (Hit the Windows key and start typing to search) but it also includes Live Tiles to present useful information and also is much more customizable than the rectangle block of same that is the Start Menu. Yes I understand you like your “All Programs” shortcuts so you can flip through dozens of folders to get to your applications. Yes I understand you want your user profile, documents, pictures, and control panel right there on the right of your rectangle. All I’m saying is that you can also do that on the Start Screen, and so much more.

But I get it. A huge friggin mass of people hate the change and think it’s unproductive or ugly or whatever. I agree that Windows 8 was a little bipolar, especially now that I’ve played with the Preview of Windows 10. Windows 10 is a lot more consistent with its UI design, what with modern apps and x86 apps now running in the same platform. It’s still not completely consistent yet in its UI design, though. Windows still has two completely different “settings” menus (Control Panel and PC Settings) in two different styles of UI design. The WiFi connection menu still pops from the right in a modern view while the rest of the taskbar icons pop up in classic 7-style windows.

Keep in mind though, that this could change. This is early software and will not be released until at least Q2 of next year. But having a Start Menu that combines the familiarity of the Windows 7 Start Menu with the flat modern style of Windows 8 and its Live Tiles, AND also includes both legacy and modern apps within its program list, really does help to bridge the gap. As much as this will make people grown, Windows 10 will not be Windows 7 part 2. Microsoft has made some UI design choices, partly out of performance gain mind you, and they are sticking with them. But Windows 10 is about taking the Windows 8 design and all the good stuff that came with that platform, and molding it into a form that is more familiar and more comfortable. But if you’re still not convinced, check out the video below and decide for yourself.

[youtube=http://youtu.be/70IBWrcXvpQ]

A Note to Continue..um

One other thing I should probably mention was that Joe Belfiore, the VP of OS’s, did unveil a teaser video for something they’re calling Continuum. Apparently the code is not ready yet, so it didn’t make it into this build of the preview, but it’s still interesting to note nonetheless. It looks like this will be a new UI switcher that’s designed for 2-in-1 devices like the Surface Pro. With the keyboard attached, the UI will be very much mouse and keyboard focused, with apps popping up windowed and with the Start Menu being used when the start button is pushed. But when you take off the keyboard, modern apps now become full screen, presumably for bezel touching, a back button appears on the task bar a la Windows Phone, and a full-screened Start Screen pops up when the Start Button is pushed instead of the Start Menu.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F_O-LrGL-YQ]

Oddly enough, this is actually a different Start Screen from what I’m currently seeing in the preview. Instead of the traditional Start Screen that I showed you in the above video, the Start Screen looks more like an expanded version of the Start Menu. The Program list, Jump Lists, and pinned applications all show up to the far left while to the right we get a traditional Start Screen layout of tiled apps. This may be implying that the Start Screen will be changing dramatically with further updates, which is pretty exciting to me. I think it does need a refresh. Also of note is that back button set up along with the Search button and Task Switcher button. With all these soft buttons being added to the taskbar, it’s clear that Microsoft is not deviating from trying to get Windows on tablets. Windows is still very much touch friendly, but this release also shows that Windows can be a lot of things for a lot of people. Gone is the idea that Windows is one unified UI. Windows is now more of a platform with a unified app store, a unified core, and an experience that tailors itself around the device it’s used on.

Wait, Unified App Store?

Yeah, we didn’t get a lot of information about this unfortunately, but Joe and Terry Myerson confirmed that Windows 10 will finally include a unified app store. That means whether you’re using Windows (Phone) 10, Windows 10 on an ARM tablet, Windows 10 on an x86 tablet, Windows 10 on a Desktop, Windows 10 on a laptop, there will be one marketplace with apps that you can download that will work for all of those devices. Hopefully that means the Windows 8 and Windows Phone 8 app stores will be combined. My Surface 2 could use some of those juicy Windows Phone apps.

Also of note, there was a blog post from Oliver Niehus, an application develop manager for Microsoft that seemed to leak additional details about the app store. Apparently, there will be support for desktop applications finally, as the difference between modern and desktop apps is much smaller than ever before. In the future, we may be able to purchase x86 and x64 applications from the store like Photoshop and Antivirus alongside modern apps. His blog post also went into a bunch of Enterprise details, which I won’t go into here, but one thing of note is that companies will be able to host their own company app stores within the Windows Store with their own company apps. Furthermore, the company will be able to purchase apps in bulk, distribute them to employees, and then recapture and manage license keys when the employees leave the company. This post has been subsequently deleted, but a cached version still exists within Google. It’s unclear why it got deleted, but I’m presuming that Oliver simply jumped the gun on something they wanted to reveal with a developer event in November.

But ultimately, there wasn’t a lot of details here. There is an event that is supposedly for developers in November, in which I’m sure they’ll be detailing some of this stuff. But all they told developers today, which honestly might be the same thing they tell developers in November, is to build Universal apps for Windows 8 and you’ll be fine.

A New Microsoft Philosophy

Microsoft absolutely needs to get this right. They are facing greater competition than they’ve ever faced before, and from device types that seek to put their traditional strong suit, PCs, out of commission. So far, tablets and smartphones have not killed off the PC, nor have they really slowed them that much. As long as tablets remain less capable or less comfortable to work with than a traditional PC, the PC will continue to live on as that thing you do real work on begrudgingly. But even though this is a limited preview of the new Microsoft vision for Windows, as the “consumer-ey stuff” as Joe Belfiore mentioned, will be coming later sometime probably in Q1, we are still seeing a glimpse of Microsoft’s new strategy under CEO Satya Nadella. The changes in this OS are very much based on simplicity, productivity, and familiarity. They’re trying to win back their professionals and enterprise customers, and it may just work. But we’re also seeing something else with this release, a very humble Microsoft.

For instance, this is the first time I’ve ever seen such an early build of a Windows release being offered as a public preview. I mean, while the build is stable, it’s clear that there are still a few rough edges, which I’ve talked about above. That search button is probably going to become Cortana eventually, but man does it look stupid right now. We have been offered public previews of OSes before, but they’ve always been stable and fully featured. Not this time. Instead, I think Microsoft is trying take control of the dialogue around Windows and create an expectation early on. All speculation can do is harm, honestly, and so Microsoft is trying to combat that with early and frequent information. It’s great! I love when companies are upfront with their customers.

Microsoft also seems much more interested in getting feedback for Windows 10 than ever before. So far in my experiences with the build, there have been no fewer than 3 obvious shortcuts to offer Microsoft feedback. There have also been no fewer than 3 popups asking me for feedback on a specific feature, like when I opened the Start Menu for the first time, it immediately popped up a notification asking me how I liked the Start Menu. This pop up led to an easy to use 1-10 rating scale along with a comment bar. While playing around with this app, I realized that you could make comments and suggestions and feedback on literally every single aspect of the OS.

But then again, they do it because Microsoft is well aware of how important it is that this OS succeeds. Unfortunately, they did not talk about pricing, and that is going to be a big deal here. Rumors range all over the place on pricing, and as a result, I’m not going to talk about them until I hear official confirmation. I’d imagine we’ll probably here something on this matter next year. In any case, I think it’s fitting that Terry Myerson seemed extremely nervous underneath a forced persona of warmth and caring. I found it fitting that Joe Belfiore rightly downplayed the new changes as “not very revolutionary” while also presenting them with glee. Their future may be in the cloud with Azure and OneDrive and Office365 and OneNote, etc. But nobody will care about these things if nobody is using Windows. Microsoft has been humbled and kicked around for several years now. But Microsoft is strongest when it’s the underdog, and this is the single biggest reason you should be excited for Windows 10.

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