Ever since the public builds of Windows 10 have been available, I’ve been using them on various machines for testing. For some time, I had build 9926 on my personal rig, and I currently am writing this on my netbook, an Acer Aspire One, using build 10240. This is the “Release To Manufacturing” (RTM) version of WIndows 10, and very likely the last of the major builds that we’ll see as Microsoft prepares fo the launch of this OS. For the next six months or so, priorities will be set on bug fixes and performance patches to make sure that things are going smoothly for most people, so this is as good a chance as any to gauge what Windows 10 will be like on launch, and whether you will find it worth your time.
Index of A final look at Windows 10 in beta
- Part 1: The Desktop; Start is back
- Part 2: Search and Virtual Desktops; Taskbar Changes; Action Centre and Taskbar calendar
- Part 3: Explorer; Aero Snap; Bundled applications
- Part 4: Xbox; Phone Companion; Mail, Maps, Calendar, and People
- Part 5: Edge browser; Settings; Another work in Progress
The desktop is where you’ll land after running through the installer, so we’ll begin here. Note that during the install process, you can skip the option to sign into Windows using your Microsoft account – you can create a local one that has no links to Microsoft’s services if you wish, and all services and applications should work as normal. Microsoft’s been going through an odd time with the styling of the icons, and the recycle bin icon, the computer icon, and even the user folder icon are reminiscent of the Windows Longhorn project – ultra-modern and flashy, but there’s no reason for it whatsoever. It might grow on me.
The default wallpaper is pretty neat. It seems to hint at the power of the Windows platform that we’ve all known for some time now – multitasking, and doing a pretty good job at it. There’s also the possibility that it might be a hint to the new headline feature of Windows 10, which are virtual desktops, but I won’t get into the gory details about the artwork – I still consider the Windows 7 Betta fish to be the best one, after all.
A lot of hotkeys still work. Win+X brings up the power menu. Win+M minimises all apps. Win+D still takes you back to the desktop temporarily. Some hotkeys or shortcuts are now deprecated, like Win+W to search just settings, but that’s to be expected.
The biggest change, honestly, is that Modern apps now function just like Win32 apps on the desktop – they can be snapped and minimised, they can be adjusted to tiny widths and float on the desktop along with everything else. Every complaint about Windows 8 and 8.1 and how they both forced full-screen apps on users is immediately solved by this single change.
Start is back
The Start menu returns finally, and mimics some of the functionality we’ve come to expect from third-party apps like Classic Shell, or StartIsBack. Microsoft’s had a long history with the start menu, dating all the way back to Windows 95 – its nice to see it return by default after years of not having it in Windows 8 and 8.1
Typing immediately after invoking Start brings up the local search window, which is just as powerful as the one in Windows 7. Files and settings are indexed and searchable, just like Windows 7. Windows 8 tried to give this some context in that it grouped results into separate categories that you could select, but this is a way better method, in my opinion.
Online search isn’t available in South Africa for now, though, and to use it requires that you use one of the supported languages and that you change your region to that of a supported country. The Bing search engine powers the online search and it is very impressive, if you’ve had any experience using Bing on the desktop recently.
Online search is also tied into Cortana, Microsoft’s virtual assistant, which is also only supported in a few countries. Cortana’s abilities aren’t working fully yet, so I’ll have something up for that later on after the launch. As of this writing, Cortana still isn’t an option for Windows Phone users who aren’t using a supported language, so my advice would be to change your language and region to English (US) to be able to enjoy Cortana’s assistance.
The full-screen Start menu is still available, and has a few nifty improvements of its own. Clicking on the names for the groups now allows you to rename them, instead of Windows 8.1’s method which involved a right-click and then highlighting the group you wanted to name.
A right-click on a tile gives you the same option as the tile options in Windows 8.1. You can also have folders pinned to Start, and clicking them will open them up in Explorer. This is a pretty neat method of working around having to use Explorer in touch mode, but while it is slick and works well, it does feel like an afterthought.
To the left of the Start window are also two useful additions and tweaks to the user interface. Clicking the hamburger menu on the top left brings up a menu that acts as a second taskbar, which has some of your most recently used programs as links to their executables, as well as recent folders used.
Not only do you get links to your most recently used programs, but you also get access to their Jump Lists by clicking on the arrow key. Jump lists are very useful on the desktop and for applications pinned to the taskbar, they provide quick access to some of the programs other features without opening them first. Steam, for example, lists your top three recently played games if you don’t feel like going through your library to relaunch one of them.
Clicking the menu button on the bottom left now brings up the “All Programs” menu that you’re used to. These two menus are governed by options that can be configured later, which is also welcome. Both of these menus and their capabilies are also available in the smaller Start menu.
For the two most-seen parts of Windows, the desktop and Start menu, Windows 10 is already on to a good start, immediately allowing Windows XP, Vista and 7 owners a familiar environment, as well as showing Windows 8 and 8.1 users something new that they might like. As always, switching between the small start menu and the full-screen one is a choice that users have to make on their own, although Microsoft clearly thinks the smaller Start menu is better, as they don’t ever ask you which one you prefer when setting up the OS.
That’s all for now! We’ll have more on Windows 10 later this week to keep you up to date. Windows 10 launches on 29 July 2015 for Windows Insiders and those of you who’ve reserved their upgrade copy, and a fully packaged product launch is expected around the end of August 2015.