Windows 10 is shaping up to be the upgrade that many users were hoping for from Windows 8. Not only does it more cleverly integrate the new touchscreen-centric features with the traditional desktop ones, but it also brings a whole host of new features.
Joining the virtual desktops and improved command line that we first got to try back in October 2014, Microsoft has now revealed the final release of Windows 10 will include the search and personal assistant Cortana (that was first introduced on Windows Phone), a new web browser called Spartan, a tablet mode, a new notifications centre and a powerful Xbox app that includes Xbox game streaming and built in game recording.
Although the final Windows 10 release date is still some way away, you can install the Windows 10 Technical Preview to try out many of the new features. In the latest release is Cortana, an improved Start Menu, a basic version of the Xbox app and the notifications centre.
So we fired it up and dove in for our second look at how Windows 10 is shaping up.
VIDEO: Watch the introduction to the Windows 10 Technical Preview
Windows 10 Preview: The Start Menu Returns
The most obvious thing about Windows 10 is that, yes, the Start Menu is back, and it’s just as welcome as you might expect. The full-screen Start Screen of Windows 8 was a UI design fail of epic proportions and being able to go back to the familiar pop-up menu is so much more efficient.
Of course, it isn’t just that the Start Menu is back. It has also changed. Now the Live Tiles of the Start Screen are embedded within the Start Menu, providing yet another area for shortcuts (along with the taskbar, normal menu items and desktop) to opening your apps. Those Tiles that are actually Live will also show previews of app information, such as a message notification or the day’s weather.
Start Menu Small
It's good to have you back
New to this latest release of Windows 10 is that the Start Screen can be made to go full screen. Now this may sound just as bonkers as the Start Screen, but crucially it still functions like the Start Menu so you can still see the task bar, your favourite apps, the power button, search box, etc.
Live Tiles make a bit more sense in this mode, too. Tacked onto the normal size Start Menu they felt a bit token, but in fullscreen mode you can really stretch them out to take full advantage of them being Live. In fact, we'd like to see the option to make them even bigger so you can fill the screen with detailed useful information like weather and news.
Start Menu Fullscreen
You can also just resize the Start Menu to get a similar affect without completely filling the screen.
Also improved in this latest version is that the search bar is now on the taskbar rather than the Start Menu. This makes it more immediately accessible and means you don't have the doubling up of search features like on the previous release.
There are a few things we're still not so keen on, though. You still can't access the Control Panel by default and the power options are at the top of the menu, tucked away between the Live Tiles and user profile button. In fact, it's even worse in fullscreen mode as the power button goes all the way to the top right of the screen!
Windows 10 Technical Preview: New Icons
Although a minor point in the grand scheme of things, one of the most visually obvious changes to the latest build of Windows 10 is that Microsoft has started bringing the look of the desktop interface more in line with the touchscreen bits.
This older version of Windows 10 Technical Preview used old style icons
Mainly this is down to many of the core icons having been updated to the new flattened style, plus the start menu uses little coloured squares round existing icons to make them fit in better. It definitely feels more like a finished product.
Windows 10 Technical Preview: Cortana
One of the biggest new additions to Windows 10 is Cortana, which is a glorified voice search and personal assistant. First launched on Windows Phone as a rival to Siri and Google Voice, it provides context aware search and will provide alerts based on things like upcoming world events, appointments in your calendar and what’s happening to the traffic nearby.
It also has quite a powerful casual language recognition system that works great if you’re using voice control. So the user can, for instance, say ‘what’s on TV tonight?’ or ‘am I free on Wednesday?’ and Cortana will respond based on what it knows about you.
Cortana Windows 10
Microsoft is also keen to point out that users can easily tailor exactly what Cortana does and doesn’t track, so those of you of the more paranoid persuasion can stop it snooping on certain activities or turn it off altogether.
It really does work surprisingly well, though as ever with these sorts of services, the emphasis on voice control does perhaps miss the point that most people still don’t want to talk to their hardware – certainly not at work or out and about, at least.
If you find you can’t access Cortana on the Windows 10 Technical Preview because it’s not available in your region you can simply change your language and location to the US to try it out.
Cortana Windows 10
Windows 10 Preview: Virtual Desktops
If the Start Menu didn't already, it’s the inclusion of virtual desktops that really marks out how directly Microsoft is trying to please the desktop power users with Windows 10. It isn't as slick as the virtual desktop integration in Mac OS, but it's a really useful addition.
New desktops can be added by either pressing Windows Tab or clicking the new Task View button. These bring up a new live app-switching interface below which is the option to add new desktops.
Once you’ve added a new desktop you can, from the same interface, move apps between them and rearrange them. Apps that are open in other desktops are underlined in the taskbar where if you click them it’ll switch to that desktop, which can actually be a little annoying if you just want to open another instance of that app and don’t know the keyboard shortcut.
suffice for those power users that simply need virtual desktops. However, it doesn’t reinvent them in a way that makes them immediately useful for the rest of us.
Again, comparing to Apple’s implementation, in Mac OS apps automatically open to a new virtual desktop when made fullscreen, returning to a normal desktop when windowed. You can also swipe between desktops using the multi-finger gestures available on its trackpads. The result is an interface that revolutionises the way you work. Here, though, it’s a lot of clicking to get the same result.
Microsoft’s app management improvements aren’t limited to virtual desktops, though, as it has also tweaked how Snap works. Previously you could snap apps to fill one half of the screen and that was it. Now, though, you can snap four apps and when you snap an app it will show suggested other apps to fill the left over space.
Like virtual desktops, Snap is most useful for laptops, where the smaller screens make having multiple windows open at one time less practical. This is still true even with the new four-way snapping as most apps just don’t end up in a usable shape when snapped into the shape they would when taking up a quarter of the screen.