Windows 10 review

Microsoft this week took the wraps off the next version of its Windows operating system, and in doing so it took everyone by surprise. We expected the next generation of Windows: we just didn't expect it to be called Windows 10.

None the less here is Windows 10: the next Windows OS for PCs and laptops, smartphones and tablets . And, indeed, an OS for servers and all points inbetween.

Microsoft execs said that Windows 10 would be built from the ground up for a world in which mobile- and cloud computing are key. They also told us that Microsoft was committed to making Windows 10 friendly for the enterprise, ideal for keyboard and mouse users, but also optimised for touch. Oh, and Windows 10 will put the same interface on devices with displays ranging in size from 4in to 80in. 'One product family, one platform, one store,' says Microsoft.  

Given the lukewarm reaction to compromised Windows 8, these seem like bold claims. They are probably necessary.

Also necessary is Microsoft's decision to make Windows 10 the most beta-tested product it has ever released. Windows 10 Technical Preview will be available to everyone who wants to test it from today - October 1 2014. Given that we don't expect it to launch until the middle of next year, that is a longer test period than we have previously seen. And the version of Windows that Microsoft is sharing is very far from the final code. Microsoft tells us to expect the Charms to change, for instance.

Critically the Start Menu contains standard Windows software and Windows Apps. Modern UI apps. So you can use those apps from within the Desktop area. Hopefully this removes some of the pointless division in Windows on X86 systems. It should also help Microsoft make good on its claim that Windows 10 will feel familiar to Windows 7 users. But we are a long way from that just now.

All of which means that this article is very far from a final Windows 10 review. More of a flavour of what to expect. As yet there is no music, IE or video to be found. We're guessing that won't be the case come launch in 2015. We brought you live coverage of the Windows 10 launch event, and our colleague Mark Hachman - he works for our sister title PCWorld.com - spent some time getting hands on with Windows 10 Technical Preview, and gave us detailed thoughts on some of the new features. We share some of them here with you in no particular order. Y

Windows 10 review

Windows 10 review: search improvements

Personally I think that universal search in Windows 8 is a much-undervalued feature. Searching to load up apps and files is much more efficient than navigating via apps and file systems. And going by the Technical Preview Microsoft has made strides in this area.

Because, quite simply, Windows 10 sees a search button added to the taskbar. This in one important move one of the few important aspects of the Windows 8 Start page is pulled into the Desktop. Microsoft officials tell us that Search and File Explorer now displays your recent files and frequently visited folders. This should make finding files you've worked on faster and easier. It's difficult to test this on a demo machine, but we look forward to trying it out on the Technical Preview just as soon as we can get it installed.

Windows 10 review: Snap Assist and windowed apps

With Snap Assist every app in Windows 10 can be dynamically resized in a window. And unlike in Windows 8 - where a snapped app takes up half the screen - with Windows 10 up to four apps can be snapped per screen. This has the potential to be a killer productivity app - true multitasking in a single window.

Even better, Snap a document to one side of the screen, and Snap Assist will suggest others that you may wish to open. Snap an app and Windows 10 suggests another, similar app that you might want to snap next to it. Mark was impressed with his brief test: "The feature is intended to save you the hassle of hunting about through menus to actually construct a virtual desktop. Time will tell whether these suggestions will prove useful, but it's a good start.

"You can see, however, that a number of different features - Snap Assist, windowed apps, virtual desktops - all flow somewhat organically into one another. I'm honestly interested to see what difference they make in my own daily workflow."

Windows 10 review

Windows 10 review: the all-new Start Menu

Now we get on to the big stuff. The Start Menu is back, back, back baby. But this time it is improved, and it may even make Windows apps useful. Look to the left and you'll see a list of frequently used apps and shortcuts to PC settings. Here you will also find documents and pictures folders. At the bottom we see an 'All apps' shortcut.

And Microsoft has retained the functionality of the Windows 8 Start screen over on the right, with resizeable Live Tiles so that you can immediately check unread mail or Calender appointments. The Start Menu is customisable - you can resize it, and rearrange the tabs, You can also revert to the Windows 8 Start page, should you wish to. Who will wish to?

Mark wasn't impressed with the Windows 10 Start Menu's looks, but he can see the beauty within: "Aesthetically, it looks like someone surgically conjoined the Windows 7 and Windows 8 experience. Move past that inelegance, however, and it's darn useful."

Windows 10 review: Task View, virtual desktops, ALT-TAB

Another useful and visual productivity enhancer is the way that Task View allows you to create a kind of multi-monitor setup within a single monitor. As with previous versions of Windows you can use ALT-TAB to quickly shuffle between windows. The killer difference here is the new Task View button. Third from the left in the Windows Taskbar is the Task View button. Press it - or hit Windows+TAB - and you will see an array of 'virtual desktops', virtual displays into which you can snap multiple apps. So you could keep your email and web browser on one Desktop that you hide away when you are working on an Excel spreadsheet.

Potentially a very useful feature.

OUR VERDICT

It is clearly much too early to give a verdict on Windows 10. We applaud Microsoft's commitment to user-driven testing of Windows 10, and are excited about the possibility of fixing some of the problems with Windows 8 - particularly on the Desktop. We are a long way from being able to praise Windows 10, but the start is good. And, yes, that is in part because the Start Menu is good.