What to expect when you’re expecting … Windows 10

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In an article penned for Certification Magazine last month, I spent some time speculating about the next version of Microsoft Windows, the beta release of which was due out Sept. 30. In that article, I pieced together all of the rumors and speculation to try to form a coherent picture of what this new version of Windows will look like. Here’s what I came up with:

How did we do at predicting the future of Windows 10?
  Microsoft will distance itself from Windows 8 by naming the new operating system “Windows 9” instead of “Windows 8.2.”
  The Metro interface will be disabled by default on desktop systems.
  Mobile devices will only use the Metro interface.
  Windows Store apps will run within windows on the desktop.
  The Start button will return in its true form.
  We will bid farewell to the Charms bar.
  Virtual desktops will be added.
  The Cortana virtual assistant will be added.
•  Windows 9 will cost much less than earlier versions of Windows.

Right on schedule, on Sept. 30, Microsoft made its latest version of Windows available to the public to preview. So now I’m back to review what I got right and what surprised me.

Before going any further, however, there is one caveat to be aware of. Microsoft has released a preview of only the desktop version of the operating system at this point in time. The mobile version is still a long way out, and we still don’t know what form it will take.

With that in mind, let’s see how I did:

We’ll call it … “Windows 10!”

First of all, I got the name completely wrong! Microsoft surprised everyone in the industry by skipping right over “Windows 9” and going straight to “Windows 10.” Typically, when Microsoft increments the version by a full number we expect significant changes. If they increment it by two full version numbers, we expect earth-shattering changes. To be frank, this is not the case with Windows 10. It’s not much different from Windows 8, in my opinion. Really, it represents what Windows 8 should have been in the first place. Microsoft clearly wanted to put some distance — actually, a lot of distance — between this new version of Windows and Windows 8.

I suspect one reason for this is that the general distaste for Windows 8 is stronger than many of us realized.  Recently, I saw a statistic that indicated Windows 8.x only occupies about 12 percent of the desktop and notebook market share, while Windows 7 still holds more than 50 percent.[1] That’s a stark reminder of how little uptake there has been of Windows 8 over the last two years. So, from here on out … Windows 10!

We’re running a little behind

Another key revelation concerning Windows 10 concerns the timing of this preview release. This was actually supposed to be a beta release, but it isn’t. Instead, it’s being called a technical preview, which is code in the software industry for “We’re not ready for beta yet but we wanted to get something out there.” That said, the technical preview of Windows 10 runs remarkably smoothly. The code seems relatively well baked. Most of the features and functions work as they should, and the operating system itself seems stable.

Because this was not a true beta release, however, it’s very likely that the beta and final releases of the operating system will ultimately be delayed. Original hopes were that the final release of Windows 10 would be available in April 2015, but that now seems unlikely. The license used by the technical preview is valid through April 2015, so it’s likely the beta release will occur close to that point in time. Most estimates suggest that the final release of Windows 10 now won’t occur until the fall of 2015.

A real desktop OS

In my previous article, I predicted that the hybrid Frankenstein interface used by Windows 8 would be split off into separate mobile and desktop interfaces. Desktops and notebooks would only use the desktop environment while mobile devices would only use the mobile interface. After reviewing the technical preview of Windows 10, it looks I came pretty close with this prediction.

In the desktop version of Windows 10, there is no Start screen by default. This could not make me happier. I truly disliked switching back and forth between the Metro interface and the desktop interface in Windows 8. As you would expect, all of your traditional Windows desktop applications will run in the desktop environment in Windows 10, just as they did in earlier version of Windows. All of your apps from the Windows Store, however, will also run within windows on the desktop. This is a welcome change! No more switching between environments when I want to use an app from the Windows Store!

Windows 10 Desktop

Figure 1: The Windows 10 Desktop Environment

Be aware that the Metro environment is actually still available in Windows 10 — it’s just disabled by default. If you access the properties of the Taskbar and select the Start Menu tab, you can re-enable the Start screen that we all detested in Windows 8. Rumor has it that this option will go away by the beta release of Windows 10, and few will mourn if it does.

Don't like the Start screen? You'll never have to look at it again.

Figure 2: Disabling the Metro Environment

For mobile devices, I predicted that the desktop environment would be removed altogether. This prognostication may not have been entirely correct. According to Microsoft, if someone uses Windows 10 on a hybrid device that uses either a keyboard or a touch screen, such as a Microsoft Surface tablet, the operating system will automatically reconfigure its interface based upon what input device is currently in use. For example, if the keyboard is disconnected, it will automatically switch to the Metro mobile interface. When the keyboard is connected, it will switch to the desktop interface. Time will tell if this actually happens or not.

A homecoming celebration for the Start button

In the previous article, I predicted that the Start button would be re-introduced in the desktop environment. This would be a “real” Start button, not the half-baked Start button Microsoft hastily put back in with Windows 8.1. It turns out this prediction was true! The Start button is back in Windows 10 and it is better than ever. All of the functionality we had in the Start button in earlier versions of Windows is there. You can launch desktop applications, search for information, and shut down or restart the system.

In addition, the Start menu in Windows 10 includes several new key functions. For example, the Start menu incorporates a condensed version of the Start screen. This allows you to view live tile content, pin your favorite apps, and launch Windows Store apps just as you did from the Start screen in Windows 8 without having to jump back and forth between environments. I like it!

All hail the new Windows 10 Start button!

Figure 3: The New Start Menu

Turn off the charm

I also predicted that the Charms bar would go away in Windows 10. I was right again! Because the Start screen has been integrated into the Start menu, there’s really no need for the Charms bar anymore, although it will likely be retained in the mobile interface. Even if you manually re-enable the Start screen on a Windows 10 system, the Charms bar is still absent. I won’t miss it.

Make my desktop virtual

Previously, I predicted that Windows 10 would provide a very Linux-like function called virtual desktops. Right again! Virtual desktops are awesome. Instead of one single desktop, Windows 10 provides multiple virtual desktops. Using virtual desktops helps to keep your computing environment organized and neat, especially if you run many different applications at the same time.

For example, using virtual desktops you could put all of your productivity applications on one desktop, all of your open browser windows on another desktop, and all of your personal apps on yet another desktop. You can easily switch between them as needed using a button on the Taskbar. My life just got easier!

Use virtual desktops to organize your workspace in Windows 10.

Figure 4: Virtual Desktops

Cortana is tardy

Previously, I predicted that the next version of Windows would include the Cortana virtual assistant. The assumption was that Cortana would provide a function similar to Siri on Apple products. Users could issue either typed or verbal commands to Cortana. She would perform the task requested and return the results. Cortana would also be used to provide verbal notifications and reminders.

Turns out I was wrong on this one, at least for now. Cortana is still just a rumor at this point. She was not included in the Windows 10 technical preview, but all is not lost. Rumor has it that Microsoft has Cortana working in its internal development builds of Windows 10. Therefore, the expectation is that Cortana will still be included in Windows 10 beta release coming in the spring of 2015.

Brother, can you spare a dime?

The last prediction I made in my previous article centered on the pricing structure for the new version of Windows. As you probably know, Microsoft pricing prior to Windows 8 was very aggressive (meaning they extracted a lot of coin from us). Because of the liberal upgrade strategy used by Apple, however, I predicted that Microsoft would need to follow suit to stay competitive.

At this point, I don’t know if this prognostication will play out or not. Because we’re only at the technical preview stage, Microsoft has not been forthcoming with pricing information for Windows 10 yet. When pressed with this question, Microsoft representatives avoided the issue, preferring to focus on “the overall product family,”[2] which is a nice way of saying “No comment.” So, time will tell how Microsoft will price Windows 10.

That’s about all that I can tell you about Windows 10 for now. The beta release of this operating system is expected to occur around April of 2015 and more will be known at that point. For now, though, I’m very pleased with what I’ve seen in Windows 10. As I said earlier, it’s what Windows 8 should have been in the first place. Microsoft seems to be listening to its customers and trying to make things right. Time will tell whether customers will respond in kind by broadly adopting Windows 10. Until then, this is Robb Tracy signing off.

[1] See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Usage_share_of_operating_systems.

[2] See http://www.pcadvisor.co.uk/new-product/windows/3496959/windows-10-release-date-price-features-beta-technical-preview-launch-event-free-update/.

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Robb Tracy


Robb Tracy is an IT consultant and certification guru. He has written numerous certification study guides, as well as being featured in a series of training videos for TestOut's Pro line of certifications.

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