What is Windows 10?
It is the latest version of Microsoft's Windows operating system, which was announced earlier this month.
Why is it called Windows 10?
The official word from Microsoft is that Windows 10 is such a significant change from Windows 8 that the company did not feel it was right to call it Windows 9.
Given that Windows 8 has an estimated market share of only 13 per cent two years after its debut, perhaps Microsoft wanted to put some distance between the two versions.
When will it be available?
Sometime next year. Microsoft said it would be available after its annual Build developer conference. Pricing has not been discussed.
Meanwhile, it has released an early Technical Preview for those who want to try out Windows 10.
Return of the Start menu
In Windows 10, the Start menu looks like a hybrid of the traditional Start menu in Windows 7 and the tile-based Start screen in Windows 8.
On the left are the regular Windows 7 Start menu elements, such as Documents, Pictures and other recently used apps.
On the right are the Modern apps from Windows 8, including the Windows Store and Mail apps. Like their Windows 8 incarnations, these Modern apps show updates (Live Tiles), including new e-mail messages and weather information.
More importantly, at the top of the menu, there is a power button to shut down or restart the computer. Not knowing how to switch off the PC was a frequent complaint from first-time Windows 8 users.
Our take: Microsoft brought back the Start button in Windows 8.1, but clicking on it took the user to the tiles of the Start screen.
In Windows 10, the Start menu is truly back and well worth the wait. It is highly customisable (see 'Five Windows 10 tips' for five Windows 10 tips) and is probably the best implementation ever.
Multiple virtual desktops
Desktop real estate is valuable. Professional users will pay for large expensive monitors so they can have more desktop space to fit in all their open apps. Windows 10 solves the space problem by introducing multiple virtual desktops.
You do not get more actual desktop space as you would with a bigger monitor, but the new arrangement reduces desktop clutter by letting you organise your stuff into separate desktops.
You can, for instance, keep one virtual desktop for work-related apps and another for your personal e-mail client, along with browser tabs for updates on your favourite football team.
Windows 10 has a Task view feature (it shows up as a new button on the taskbar) which brings up the currently open desktops so you can switch from one desktop to another.
Our take: It is about time Windows got a feature which Linux has had for the longest time. Apple's OS X also has a similar feature called Spaces. However, Task View feels more like a power feature for business and professional workers than for home users.
Snap four apps or windows
In Windows 8, you can snap an app to fill up half the screen by holding down the Windows logo key with the Left or Right arrow keys.
In Windows 10, you can use the mouse (click and drag the window to the side of the screen) or keyboard short cuts to fill four quadrants of the screen, meaning you can snap up to four open apps.
What is cool is that once you snap an app, the feature will suggest another open app or window which you might want to snap next to it.
Our take: When you have a few apps open, resizing them to fit the screen can be a hassle, more so if you need them to align properly with no gaps in between. This feature goes some way towards ensuring you spend more time using the apps than arranging them.
Run Modern apps in a window
The tile-based Modern UI apps from Windows 8 are still in Windows 10. Truth be told, there are some good ones, especially those created by Microsoft, such as its Food & Drink and Sport apps.
Windows 10 takes these apps and makes them run like a desktop app so they can be resized or closed easily (click on the Minimise, Maximise and Close buttons on the title bar).
Our take: It is indeed useful to be able to close and resize these apps like any desktop app. However, the degree of vertical resizing is fairly limited.
Also, having the title bar above these tablet-like apps can look jarring. After all, we do not expect smartphone apps to behave like PC desktop apps. At least this compromise is convenient for users, which is probably the most important criterion.
New Search button
This new button on the taskbar shows recent searches and suggestions from Bing, such as what others are searching online. It is a universal search which returns results from your PC (locating a local file) and from the Web. You can also search from the Start menu.
Our take: This feature is similar to the one on Windows 8, except for the extra Search button on the taskbar. Perhaps Microsoft wants it to be more prominent, but it also takes up valuable taskbar space.
Digital Life's verdict
The desktop is king again. After flirting with the touch interface in Windows 8, Microsoft has restored the desktop interface to the heart of its Windows platform. Given the reversals which we have seen with Windows 8.1, this move was not unexpected.
Microsoft paints a pretty picture of Windows 10 as an operating system spanning mobile devices and servers. The company also talked up universal apps, which work for all types of devices, and a common app store.
Currently, in Windows 8.1, only Modern apps are found in the Windows Store.
However, the Technical Preview looks very much about wooing desktop users and businesses.
Does this mean that years of development have been wasted on the Modern UI? It is probably unfair to arrive at this conclusion from this early build of Windows 10.
From the Technical Preview, it appears that retrofitting the Modern UI to suit the desktop has not been seamless.
The Charms bar remains, but some of its features have been replicated in the title bar of Modern apps. The PC Settings, accessible from the Charms bar, continue to have some unique settings which are not found in the Control Panel. Having two locations for changing settings is bad for usability.
In short, Windows 10 as it is now, feels like a Windows 8.2 update. Obviously, there is time for Microsoft to work out the kinks and add new and cool features, but I would be reluctant to pay for just an update.
One hopes that the rumour of Windows 10 being offered free for upgraders will turn out to be true.
What is missing in the Technical Preview
When announcing Windows 10, Microsoft touted a feature called Continuum, for two-in-one hybrid devices which can perform as both tablets and laptops.
Basically, the software will detect how the user is using a hybrid device and prompt him to switch to the more appropriate interface (Modern UI for a tablet or the Windows Desktop for a laptop).
At least, that is what we gathered from the mock-up video shown. Continuum did not make it to the Technical Preview.
Some other features, although widely rumoured, also failed to make it to this early Windows 10 build.
Cortana, the Siri-like virtual assistant on Windows Phone, was expected to be in Windows 10, but no details were given at the announcement. Online, users report finding files in Windows 10 which hint at the presence of Cortana. Another upgrade we are waiting to see is a proper notification centre, like those of mobile operating systems, such as Android and iOS. Windows 10 currently offers only one-time pop-up notifications from apps, but you cannot review them after they disappear.
Hackers have found a way to enable a semi-functional notification centre in the Technical Preview, but it is not officially available yet.
Windows 8 offers two versions of Internet Explorer (IE) - one for the desktop and a Modern version which is optimised for touch.
In the Technical Preview, there is just the desktop version.
Perhaps the reason for having a single version in the Technical Preview is that it is intended for desktop PCs and laptops.
However, the code for the Modern version of IE remains in the operating system, so it could make a comeback in a future update.
Try out the early version
Interested in trying the early Windows 10 build? Sign up for the Windows Insider Program (preview.windows.com) with a Microsoft account to get access to the software.
You will be able to give feedback about your experience. Microsoft is tracking how you use the software, so avoid working on tasks involving personal and sensitive information, such as checking your online banking account.
You cannot revert to your older Windows operating system after upgrading to the Windows 10 Technical Preview.
So, you should create a recovery disk or know how to reinstall your original Windows OS. Alternatively, try out the preview in a virtual machine using software such as VMWare (paid) and VirtualBox (free of charge).
If your PC can run Windows 8.1, it will run the Windows 10 Technical Preview.
Perform a system check before installing the software to ensure your computer meets the following hardware requirements:
1GB RAM (32-bit version) or 2GB RAM (64-bit version)
16GB free disk space
Microsoft DirectX 9-capable graphics card
The Technical Preview will not work for devices running Windows RT.
Windows 7 users who have upgraded to Service Pack 1 can upgrade to Windows 10 via Windows Update. However, this upgrade path is not available for Windows 8 users. You will have to install Windows 10 from an ISO image.
If you are upgrading from Windows 7, Windows 8 or Windows 8.1, your settings, personal files and apps will still be available in the Technical Preview.
Installation using an ISO image
1. Use your Microsoft account to sign in to preview.windows.com and follow the instructions there.
2. Download the appropriate ISO file (32-bit or 64-bit versions).
3. Create a bootable USB flash drive by downloading the tool from wudt.codeplex.com.
4. Plug the bootable USB drive into your computer and run the Setup.exe file from the drive. Follow the instructions.
New keyboard short cuts
Microsoft has published a list of new Windows 10 keyboard short cuts related to new features, such as virtual desktops and Task view.
Snapping window: Windows logo key + Left or Right arrow
Task view: Windows logo key + Tab - New Task view opens and stays open.
Create new virtual desktop: Windows logo key + Ctrl + D
Close current virtual desktop: Windows logo key + Ctrl + F4
Switch virtual desktop: Windows logo key + Ctrl + Left or Right arrow
Use third-party apps to get the new features now
Cannot wait till next year for Windows 10? With the help of a few third-party apps, you can now add those new Windows 10 features, such as virtual desktops and the Start menu, to your Windows 8 computer.
Restore the Start menu to Windows 8
Third-party apps which can bring back the Start menu are relatively common, but the best two contenders on the market are Classic Shell and Start8.
Classic Shell is free, although you can make a donation to its creators if you feel they deserve it.
This app restores the Windows 7 Start menu by default. However, there are plenty of alternate skins and options to change the appearance of the Start menu. The amount of available customisation can be overwhelming to new users. Start8, from Stardock, costs US$4.99 (S$6.35). It is more polished than Classic Shell. It has many of the same features as the Windows 10 Start menu.
You can pin both Modern and desktop apps to the Start menu, resize the Start menu, as well as search for files, settings and apps from the Search box.
Run Modern apps on the desktop
Running Modern apps on the desktop in the window is one of the new features of Windows 10. However, you can do this on a Windows 8 system only if you are willing to pay US$4.99 for Stardock's ModernMix app.
This utility lets you resize and close Modern apps as you would a desktop app. You can also pin both desktop and Modern apps to the taskbar, a feature which was added in Windows 8.1.
Multiple virtual desktops
Third-party apps have offered this feature to power users for years. Dexpot is free for personal use and is frequently updated. You can preview all your virtual desktops at a glance and drag windows and open apps between different desktops using the mouse. It is highly customisable and supports multiple monitors for even more desktop space.
VirtuaWin, another viable option, is an open-source software. It does not appear to have received updates for more than a year, but the app still works. You can have up to 20 different virtual desktops, but it looks plain and is less user-friendly than Dexpot.
This article was first published on Oct 15, 2014.
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