Last Wednesday, Microsoft unleashed their sweeping consumer vision of Windows 10 on the world. We were expecting a lot from this conference, and despite your opinion of Microsoft’s announcements, it’s hard to argue that they didn’t deliver. Windows 10 is the most ambitious release in Microsoft’s history, but it has to be. Microsoft lost a lot of ground with the badly regarded Windows 8, and Windows 10 is going to have to be a tour de force if Microsoft hopes that “people will love Windows again” as Satya Nadella said.
However, when Terry Myerson said the next preview build of desktop Windows wouldn’t come until the next week, we took him at his word, albeit a bit disappointed. Luckily for us, he was wrong. Two days later, we got Windows 10 preview build 9926, introducing a lot of the changes we had just seen within the conference. While I appreciate getting the bits as early as possible, I almost feel that they should have waited those few extra days because this build is the buggiest build I’ve seen for Windows 10 to date, and we’ve seen some pretty buggy builds. That said, if you ignore the bugs and missing features that will certainly be filled in within the next few months, there’s actually a lot to appreciate and especially a lot to talk about. While it is the buggiest build we’ve seen, it’s also the most ambitious.
Proceed With Caution
But I want to say this loud and clear before we go any further. DON’T INSTALL THIS BUILD ON A PRIMARY COMPUTER. The bug list is actually longer than the feature list. While I say this with every build, you should definitely heed my advice here. This build breaks a lot of eggs in order to make a future omelet. Here’s what this build will do to your computer curtesy of the WinSuperSite:
The Windows Bootloader prompt comes up every time you start up your computer and you’ll have to select which OS you want to boot into (even if it’s only just one). There is no way to select a default boot order at the moment.
Games that connect via Xbox Live will not be able to connect. Supposedly a fix is coming via Windows Update soon.
Battery icon shows on lock screen of PCs without batteries.
Tiles on the Start menu show truncated app names (the Windows Feedback app states Windows Feedb).
Remote Desktop has some painting issues that result in tiled pixilation.
Connected Standby enabled devices like Surface Pro 3 may experience shorter than expected battery life.
Cortana reminders may or may not be created when requested, cannot be changed or deleted, and remain in the Cortana reminder history even after completion.
The Music app will disappear if minimized within 16 seconds of launch. Just leave it in the foreground for 20 seconds or so and it should work just fine.
Occasionally, the Start Menu is improperly registered and will fail to launch.
The new universal Store (Store Beta) does not support in-app purchases, and app purchases will not be saved.
Windows 10 can’t be installed on a compressed drive
Surface Pro 3 users will experience video problems (this is now fixed with a new driver update)
You can no longer drag tiles from the new Start Menu to the desktop.
The new Start Menu can only be maximized and minimized.
Cortana is limited to U.S. and English
Once Build 9926 is installed, there’s an immediate performance hit due to a OneDrive resynch
Continuum works for most, but not all, hybrid devices.
A Visual Tour
For those visual folks, I’ve gone through a video tour of the new build, so that you don’t have to. Enjoy!
For those who would rather chill out and read some words, please continue on and check out all the good stuff in Windows 10 from the good folks in Redmond.
Alright, let’s take care of the 800 lbs. gorilla first. After months of rumoring, tons of hints in the settings of previous builds, and lots of hand ringing, Cortana on the desktop is finally here. Admittedly, I was feeling pretty “meh” about Cortana on the desktop before the conference. I have Cortana on the phone, why the heck do I have to talk to my computer?
Well thankfully, Cortana is not just a copy/paste of Windows Phone. She’s getting a lot of functionality that applies directly to the desktop. Yes, the basics are there. You can talk to her, ask her to say witty things, type questions, ask her to remind you about something, ask her to open apps, and she’s also extensible, meaning app developers can write Cortana commands into their apps. This is all just like Windows Phone. However, there are two important differences that make this version of Cortana a bit more intriguing: You can initiate her without even touching your keyboard or mouse, and she can pull up stuff from your terribly mismanaged file system.
Yes, if you have a microphone connected to your computer, and you have turned on the feature in Cortana’s settings page, you can just say “Hey, Cortana” followed by a command and she will do whatever that is. That, ladies and gentlemen, is true multitasking. Just imagine that you’re writing an article like I am, or working on a complex spreadsheet as I do in the day time, or writing code, or whatever. You’re paying attention to something that’s taking up your vision and most importantly, your screen real estate. But then your mind wanders for a second and suddenly you remember that you have to send something to your project partner. Or maybe you remembered you have a meeting in a couple hours and don’t want to forget it. Instead of pushing your work away, opening Outlook, and then spending 20 minutes figuring out where you left off, you just say “Hey, Cortana. Send an e-mail to Dan” or “Hey, Cortana, remind me to go to my meeting with Dan at 1:30.” Done. As Cortana evolves more functionality when app developers add Cortana functions to their apps, maybe you’ll be able to change music stations, create a reservation, turn off your smart lightbulbs, turn up or down the temperature in your smart house, etc.
Or at least, that’s all the stuff that Cortana is supposed to do. See, it’s a damn good thing that Joe Belfiore got up on stage and told us everything Cortana’s going to be able to do, because we can’t really do much of it right now. Cortana in it’s current state on Windows 10 is damn near worthless. You can use the “Hey Cortana” command, ask her a few witty things, and ask her to search the internet for stuff, but that’s about it. Cortana can’t even access the file system or find your Word doc at the moment. However, this is a preview. We can see Cortana’s interface. We can play around with her home screen, which you fill in with preferrances for news, weather, food suggestions, stock tickers, etc. And we can sit and imagine how great Cortana will eventually be. I kinda wished that Cortana was a bit more feature packed in this version, but I should have known that something was up when Joe demonstrated sending an e-mail off using Cortana and let out a deep breath when it worked.
Also note that if you don’t like the big ol’ text box on the bottom of the screen, you can actually choose to change it to a Cortana icon or even get rid of it all together. Just right click on the taskbar, move your mouse to “Search,” and then click on your desired option. Note that if you have Cortana’s passive listening feature enabled, saying “Hey, Cortana” will still work even if the icon is disabled. Similarly, the text box will come back in the start menu if you do a search query in the start menu.
Charms is dead. Action center is dead. Long live Notification Center!
Remember that horrible dead white rectangle that used to be the Notification Center in the last build, well it’s picked up some functionality and looks a heck of a lot better. Although I’m not exactly sure why it looks better. I mean, it’s still just an empty white rectangle afterall. Maybe the black border helps. Maybe the new icons on the bottom.
Those buttons on the bottom are the new quick action buttons. Basically, these buttons just let you get to some quick settings, like WiFi, the Settings Menu, VPN, airplane mode, bluetooth, etc. These are normally laid out in a 4 x 1 configuration, but the above picture shows what they look like their “expanded” configuration, which shows all the buttons that are included in the build at the moment.
Other than that, it works as advertised. You get a notification from an app or something, then it pops up a toast notification, set’s an entry in your notification center, and then you can click it to open the app, swipe it away, or click the x next to the entry to dismiss it. In the future, the notification center will sync between all Windows 10 devices, including computers, tablets, phones, and presumably the Xbox One as well.
By the way, do you notice that big ol’ “Tablet Mode” button on the top left? That’s the official name of what Joe Belfiore teased two months ago as “Continuum.” This mode is for 2-in-1 devices that have detachable keyboards and touchscreens. Tablet mode just full-screens all your apps and turns the Start Menu into a full-size start screen, but it’s a neat toggle to make the Windows desktop a bit more touch friendly without creating some sort of “jarring” new Metro environment.
Technically, this mode is supposed to start automatically whenever you disconnect your keyboard from the “tablet” part of your 2-in-1. However, it only works on the Surface Pro line at the moment, but Microsoft is working on that. For everyone else working with this build, there’s a toggle in the notification center that will do it for you.
New Start Menu
I don’t just mean the start menu they introduced in earlier builds, this is an entirely new design of the start menu, presumably to allow their new Contiuum feature. The biggest notable change is the addition of the expand and collapse icon on the top right next to the power button. This will “maximize” the start menu into a full-sized start screen and will “minimize” the start screen into a start menu.
But there are a few more minor changes as well. The profile picture on the top left is rounded instead of squared. The live tiles on the right now compile downwards into a scrolling menu instead of expanding with the start menu vertically and horizontally. The “all apps” area is now organized by leading letter instead of being a long alphabetical list with no breaks. Finally, searching within the start menu will pull from the Cortana search box rather than a box that fits in-line with the start menu.
I like the looks of the new start menu / start screen. It’s functional, yet looks modern and sophisticated. However, if you don’t like it, you can actually change it back in this build with a bit of Regedit trickery. Just hit the start button, type regedit, hit enter, then navigate to the below folder:
Once inside that folder, right click, create a new Dword (32-bit) entry, and name it “EnableXamlStartMenu.”
Finally, open task manager (Ctrl + Alt + Del), find “Windows Explorer” in the task list, and click on restart to restart Explorer.exe. Voila, the old start menu is back. To revert it to the new one, just delete that entry and restart explorer.exe again.
The settings app is completely redesigned, but oddly similar. There’s a lot more stuff added to the Settings app since the last build, and I would even say that it includes pretty much anything an average user would need from Control Panel.
The only exception is in the personalization settings. This page is still pretty empty at the moment, and seems to be missing any start menu or start screen customizations. I’ve been told that these are coming though. But notice how much better than view looks than the settings in Windows 8. There’s not much that changed, other than the complete removal of color, but it does seem like there’s less “white-space” for some reason. Everything just looks cleaner and with less wasted space.
Power-users, don’t freak out. Control Panel appears to be here to stay and it will continue to have all the functionality you could ask for. Settings is designed primarily for the average user. That said, if you search for something within Settings, it will also queue up more advanced options in the Control Panel. So for now, we can say that the Settings menu is kind of a first step for finding an setting or an option.
Yup, there’s a new Xbox app in Windows 10. At the moment, there’s not much to say about it. You can check out your profile, look at your achievements, message your Xbox Live buddies, and view their shared content and videos, but that’s about it.
If you saw the conference, you’ll remember that this app is eventually going to be much sexier. In later builds, this app should have the ability to play/stream Xbox One games to your PC over the same network. That means if your wife is watching her favorite soaps and you want to play some damn CoD, all you have to do is turn on your console, hook up an Xbox controller to your PC, and fire up the game via your Xbox app. Pretty damn cool. Unfortunately, this is not available yet.
Also not available yet is the promised Game DVR. In future builds, this app should allow you to record live PC game footage, save the last 30-seconds of game as footage, and share said recordings over Xbox Live. Once again, this options also not yet available.
I rarely ever use the photos app in Windows 8. It’s ugly, it’s a waste of space, and it’s not really that functional. Well, with the new Windows 10 photo app, they’re trying to change that.
The new UI is clean and yet is trying to take a cue from Apple. The interface was designed to get out of the way of the content. The sheer black in the background makes the pictures pop. But instead of making each picture its own little island, Microsoft has minimized the black borders around each picture to a few pixels, meaning each picture kind of blends into each other.
Open up a picture in the app, and it comes to mostly full screen, with the taskbar and app bar showing at the top and bottom.
If you click on a picture, you get some simple editing options like red-eye fixing, sharpness, contrast, exposures, etc. You can also share the picture, set it as a background photo and create slideshows. The app will also “auto-fix” photos as they pop up in your collection a la Google’s auto-awesome. Same old stuff so far. Mercifully, this app also pulls data from OneDrive, even if it’s not synced to your PC, meaning that even though they removed placeholder files from OneDrive, at least there’s an easy way to get to your pictures.
There are a few more things coming to this app in the future, like the ability to automatically create albums based on the content, the location, tagged people, and the date, but that’s currently not available in this build. The main thing to pay attention to here is that they have dramatically changed and fixed the UI behind this previously terrible app. I can actually see myself using this now.
Yeah, I know. We’re getting real exciting here.
However, this app is pretty cool. Microsoft’s new universal Maps app is now powered by Nokia’s HERE maps, rather than the inferior Bing Maps engine.
As a result, we’ve also got a lot of new features inspired by Nokia’s HERE apps on Windows Phone, such as offline maps, traffic updates, and even a Local Scout-type feature which allows you to look up nearby restaurants, events, shops, banks, hotels, and parking areas. We’ve even received Nokia’s excellent Transit support allowing you to plan a public transportation-inspired trip.
However, this app also combines some of the excellent features from Microsoft’s own Bing Maps Preview app that I’ve been testing over the last few months. That includes a Google Earth-like aerial view, highly customizable turn-by-turn directions, and the ability to favorite and share locations and directions within the app.
With this feature set and the addition of HERE maps navigation, this app is quite an upgrade from the previous Windows 8 maps app. Unfortunately, voice navigation is not one of the features that are included here. However, considering you’ll be more likely to navigate with your phone rather than your tablet or laptop or desktop, I suspect this is by design.
General UI Design
Microsoft is showing off their finalized UI vision for the next generation of Windows. And it seems like the themes of Windows 10 are going to be contrast and boldness.
The new taskbar icons are super bright white, but hollow and traced by some super thin lines. These icons have some crazy contrast to them. However, it’s kind of effective because I noticed that when an icon has something to say, say like the notification center, it fills in with the same bright whiteness and really stands out against the rest of the environment.
The icons throughout the rest of the interface are not quite as contrast-y, but man are their colors bold. Look at the yellow of those folders. Interestingly, while the taskbar icons are hollow and traced with bright white borders, the borders of the system icons are muted and almost blend into the background. It’s a natural evolution of their flattened UI and I think it looks quite good. You are still seeing folders, hard drives, computer monitors, etc. But the Windows team has thrown skeuomorphism out the window and decided to apply colors that would never be seen in the natural world. Everything is bold and bright and leaps out to grab your attention. Yet it’s not gaudy or ugly or too distracting.
Overall, I like the new UI design. But that’s me. Let me know if you disagree. I’d be interested to see your opinion on this matter.
Windows Update Got Updated
Before I start talking about the more simple and minor things in this build, I want to quickly mention that Windows Update now has a new home. It’s not in Control Panel anymore, and there’s only one version of it. You do have to go to Settings: Update and Recovery to get to Windows Update.
However, for all your trouble, Microsoft finally updated the restart mechanism. Through this new Windows Update center, you can now tell Windows when to automatically restart and apply updates. You can either set a specific time or tell it to learn when you normally aren’t using the computer and restart then.
A Few Other Cool Things to Try Out
I’ve illustrated a few minor things you can do to tweak your Windows 10 install through regedit earlier, but there are a few other things that you can do to check out features that Microsoft apparently thought weren’t ready for prime time.
A New Slideout Clock Style
With a small regedit change, you can unlock a new style of calendar they apparently threw in but didn’t allow us to enable through conventional means. Like usual, open Regedit.exe and then navigate to the following folder:
Now right click in the white-space of the folder and add a new DWORD (32-bit) entry and call it:
There’s no need to reboot. Just click on your clock/date in the bottom right and you’ll see the new calendar style. Unfortunately, it’s not super functional at the moment. You can flip through the months and click today’s date to go back, but the “additional clocks” feature doesn’t seem to work quite yet.
Configure Windows Explorer to Open to Classic This PC View
Windows 10’s version of Windows Explorer doesn’t open to the classic view. Instead, it opens to this new “Quick Access” view, which will show your most commonly accessed folders and files.
However, if you’re like me and just want to go to the classic This PC view which will show your Hard Drives, user folders, and anything plugged into the PC, then follow the following steps:
Open File Explorer
Click on “View” tab
Click on “Options” in the right hand corner
Under “General” there will be a drop down box for “Open File Explorer to:”
Click on the drop down box and select “This PC”
Enable New Spartan Browser Engine in IE 11
One of the biggest disappointments to me with this build is that we don’t get to try Microsoft’s new “Project Spartan” browser. This browser simply looks amazing and I want to try it, but sadly it’s not ready.
However, it engine appears to be. You can actually enable the rendering engine in IE 11, which actually does improve the speed of website rendering by quite a bit. You won’t get Cortana integration, Chrome extensions, or that new minimal design UI, but at least you can try out the new version of their Triton rendering engine and maybe make IE 11 a bit better to live with.
To do this, open IE and then type in the following into your address bar: about:flags
This will open up a new page labelled as “Experimental Features.” There’s a lot of extra options you can play with here too. But go to “Enable Experimental Web Features” and then click the box next to “Enabled” instead of Automatic. That will force the Project Spartan version of the Triton web rendering engine to run at all times.
That’s All For Now – Stay Tuned for More
So what do you think? Sound off in the comments below or contact me in the usual manner. As new builds come out, I’ll continue to keep you in the loop.