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Where Windows 10 stands right now

Where Windows 10 stands right now

Windows 10 betas are coming fast and furious. Discover what Microsoft has released so far

With beta builds arriving at an ever-increasing pace, Windows 10 testing proceeds full speed ahead, with new features unveiled at every turn. If you don't have the time -- or the interest -- to keep up with the details, this report will keep you posted on how things stand. Like, right now. And we'll update it as Microsoft fleshes out more of Windows 10.

The latest changes to Windows 10 beta

In the last update on April 10, based on leaked build 10056:

  • Start menu: Now resizable.
  • Project Spartan: Adds Save as PDF option.
  • Cortana
  • Continuum
  • Virtual desktops and task view: Cosmetic changes.
  • Windows Settings: New settings added, migrated from Control Panel.
  • Other Windows apps: New Weather app.

The Start menu

Unless you've been living on an alternate Windows desktop, you know that Win10 sports a new Start menu, with Windows 7-like menu entries on the left and Windows 8-style tiles on the right.

Where the Start menu stands

There are a few customizing options -- for example, you can drag entries onto the pinned list in the top left, or drag items from the list on the left and turn them into tiles on the right. Tiles on the right can be resized to Small (see the three on the bottom right), Medium, Wide (two single-size slots, as with the Search and Weather tiles in the screen shot), and Large (Money). You can click and drag, group, and ungroup tiles on the right, and give groups custom names.

In build 10056, you can finally resize the Start menu. You can adjust it vertically in small increments, but trying to drag things the other way is limited to big swaths of tiles: Groups of tiles remain three wide, and you can only add or remove entire columns. You can drag tiles from the right side of the Start screen onto the desktop for easy access.

While it's possible to manually remove all the tiles on the right (right-click each, then choose Unpin from Start), the big area for tiles doesn't shrink beyond one column.

What's likely to appear

There's some transparency available on the Start menu, but we're waiting to see how much.

What we'd like to see

Power users would benefit greatly by seeing at least some of the extensive customization available in the Windows 7 Start menu make it through to the final version of Windows 10. Win10's Start menu doesn't have the moxie of Win7's because it has been rewritten in XAML, and the bells and whistles fell off in the process.

At a minimum, Win10's Start menu should have a hierarchy on the left, with customizable menus. The All Apps list should also be customizable with easily defined folders and entries. (If all else fails, bet on Stardock to come up with a Start menu replacement that's modifiable.)

Project Spartan

Long overdue -- and for many of us, a real surprise -- Project Spartan finally sheds the albatross that is Internet Explorer. Although it's still too early to tell for sure, initial reports have been almost uniformly positive. A stripped-down, consciously standards-compliant, screamingly fast-so-far shell of a browser, Project Spartan may see Microsoft taking back the mindshare it's been steadily losing on the browser front for the past decade or so.

Where Project Spartan stands

Although we don't even know the product's final name, Project Spartan has drawn

significant accolades. Spartan doesn't replace Internet Explorer -- to date, IE still lurks, but it's buried in the Start > All Apps > Windows Accessories menu's list. Project Spartan is, however, the default Web browser, with its own tile on the right side of the Start menu and its own icon on the taskbar. IE continues to use the old Trident rendering engine, while Spartan has the newer Edge.

Spartan is a Windows app (formerly universal app, formerly Metro app) that runs inside its own window on the desktop, like every other WinRT API-based Windows app. Thus, the chances of Spartan being ported to Windows 7 (which doesn't support WinRT) are zero.

Adobe Flash Player can be turned on and off with a simple switch in Settings. There's the Reading View as well, which helps on smaller screens. Click the OneNote icon in the upper right to make all the OneNote markup tools available. And you can now print as PDF.

Spartan supports Cortana for voice assistance and search capabilities, but the implementation to date doesn't do much -- for a glimpse of what may or may not be the future, use Spartan to go to cuoco-seattle.com.

What's likely to appear

Much more robust support for Cortana is a given: Limiting Cortana's intelligence (some of it gathered at the expense of your privacy) to specifically crafted Web pages will certainly change, as will the rest of Cortana (see next section).

It's also highly likely that the shipping version of Spartan will include support for extensions. Whether the support will be as robust as the extension support in Google Chrome remains to be seen. We also don't have any idea if the existence of extensions will spawn cottage industries that will rival the size of the Chrome or Firefox add-in communities, but we do know that Spartan extensions will (at least in theory) be much more secure and stable than the current plug-ins, toolbars, and other flotsam floating around IE.

What we'd like to see

Many of the features we've grown to expect from any browser -- private browsing, saved passwords, the ability to drag tabs, drag and drop files, a favorites or bookmarks manager (and importer), thumbnails when hovering on the taskbar for each open page, robust download handling with a for-real download manager. The list of "wanted" features is long and deep.

Cortana

While Apple partisans will give you a zillion reasons why Siri rules, and Googlies swear the superiority of Google Now, Cortana partisans think Microsoft rules the AI roost, of course. Unlike Siri and Now, though, Cortana has taken over the Windows search function, so it has a larger potential footprint than its AI cousins, which comes with a double edge.

Where Cortana stands

Cortana occupies the Search box to the right of the Start button. It also appears when you click or tap on the Search tile, on the right side of the Start menu. Cortana will only work when connected to the Internet, and it's severely limited unless you use a Windows account. You can control some aspects of Cortana's inquisitiveness by clicking on the hamburger icon in the upper left corner.

Frequently overlooked in Cortana discussions: everything -- absolutely everything -- that you search for on your computer gets sent, through Cortana, to Microsoft's giant database in the sky. Cortana's Notebook, as your personal repository is called, can be switched off, and entries can be manually deleted, but Microsoft's banking on you leaving it on.

What's likely to appear

Cortana will improve as it gathers more information about you -- yes, by snooping on what you do. But it also improves as Microsoft hones its artificial intelligence moxie, on the back end.

Microsoft has announced that Cortana will be ported to both iOS and Android, although the extent of its integration/usefulness remains to be seen. No, you won't be able to use Google Search with Cortana.

What we'd like to see

Cortana is all well and good, but it doesn't give you any advanced search capabilities for your computer. Windows 7 and all earlier versions of Windows, going way back, had extensive searching capabilities. Those are all gone, at least at this point. It would be nice if we could search for, say, all Word documents written this year that contain the word "flugelhorn."

Will Windows 10 customers revolt when they realize that everything they search for on their PCs is sent to a Microsoft database? Microsoft could certainly soften the blow by making options for turning off the Cortana tracking much more visible.

Cortana could also pick up more computer-centric capability. For example, if you said, "Hey, Cortana, start a new document based on my letterhead," Cortana would obey and wait for you to dictate your letter. It'll happen, but probably not any time soon.

Continuum

Windows 10 includes a new feature called Continuum, which lets you switch between desktop mode -- the mode you're no doubt accustomed to using, where mice and keyboards rule -- and tablet mode, which mimics (but doesn't replicate) Windows 8's Metro side of the fence, the touch-based world.

Where Continuum stands

There's software inside Windows 10 that, by default, prompts you every time it detects that a keyboard has been added or yanked from your computer. The prompt asks whether you want to switch to tablet mode or to desktop mode. That part works reasonably well. You can also switch to tablet mode manually (choose Start > Settings > System > Tablet Mode).

The part that's drawing a lot of criticism is tablet mode. The Windows 10 tablet mode is a real let-down for many people who use Windows 10 with their pinkies: It keeps the taskbar, launches apps full-screen but still retains the title bars seen on the desktop, doesn't make the tiles any bigger, the All Apps list remains small, and the full-size mode doesn't support many of the old Windows 8 swipe gestures. (There's no Charms bar, for example.)

Build 10056 adds the ability to turn off the app icons in the taskbar, but it doesn't turn off Home, Search, Task View, or the system tray -- so the taskbar's still there, taking up all that space.

What's likely to appear

At this point, with all the bad vibes created by the original Windows 8's Metro side, I don't see Microsoft spending much more effort on Windows 10's tablet mode. I know it isn't fair, but given a choice between setting a dev team on beefing up one of the core new features, versus gussying up tablet mode, I don't see where tablet mode has much chance.

What we'd like to see

Basically, all of the Windows 8 features, and some sort of accommodation for the Charms bar's functionality that doesn't rely on individual apps or tapping a tiny hamburger icon.

Virtual desktops and Task view

Windows has had virtual (or multiple) desktops since Windows XP, but before Windows 10 you had to install a third-party app -- or something like Sysinternals Desktop, from Microsoft -- to get them to work. Windows 10 implements virtual desktops so they're actually useful.

Where virtual desktops and task view stand

To start a new desktop, press Win+Ctrl+D, or bring up the Task view -- the environment where you can work directly with multiple desktops -- by clicking the Task view icon to the right of the Cortana Search bar, then dragging an app onto the + sign in the lower right corner. You can move windows among desktops by right-clicking and choosing Move To. Pressing Alt+Tab still rotates among all running windows. Clicking on an icon in the taskbar brings up the associated program, regardless of which desktop it's on.

What's likely to appear

Different wallpaper for different desktops.

What we'd like to see

The ability to drag and drop open windows among desktops would be very handy. Although there are subtle differences in the taskbar icons, depending on whether a running app appears on the currently active desktop or not, we'd like to see the much-discussed ability to limit taskbar icons to only apps running on the current desktop. There should also be some ability to name desktops and show the name of the currently active desktop somewhere -- perhaps in the system tray.

Windows Settings

Microsoft is stuck between several rocks and corresponding hard places. It has to make a Settings app that'll fly on smartphones but also remain adaptable to the copious settings on PCs. There are many settings/features -- Homegroups, for example -- that are both loved and loathed by legions of Windows 7 and 8 customers.

Although many of us prefer to run with local accounts, some of the features in Windows 10 won't work -- indeed, can't work -- without a Microsoft account.

Microsoft can't satisfy everybody. There's no easy way to change adapter settings, or to enable or disable the current network connection. That's just a small sampling.

Where Windows Settings stands

The schizophrenic Windows Settings/Control Panel situation isn't getting much better in recent builds.

Homegroups in Windows 10 are buried as deeply as they were in Windows 8, which means they're all but deprecated. I, personally, like Homegroups, so I find their departure deplorable. But it's easy to find people who vociferously disagree.

What's likely to appear

I don't see any indication that Microsoft will be able to port the zillions of Control Panel settings over to the Windows app side -- and precious little incentive for it to do so. I do, however, expect to see more settings dribble over from Control Panel to Windows Settings, perhaps with greater emphasis on migrating entire categories of settings.

There's been so much complaining about the inability to easily change adapter settings and enable/disable the current network that I expect we'll soon see a feature that duplicates what we had with the Network icon in Win7's system tray.

Other Windows apps

OneDrive in Windows 10 doesn't work anything like it did in Windows 8, primarily because Microsoft is doing away with "smart file" behavior -- where thumbnails of files are stored on your machine, and only pulled down from OneDrive as needed. I have a

much more detailed explanation in my review of build 9879.

Mail and Calendar made their debut, in very preliminary form, in leaked build 10051. People is still largely an unknown, although there are rumors that Windows 10 Phone will have a People Sense app. Music and Video have replaced the Windows 8.1 Xbox Music and Xbox Video. The new Photos app is a dud. The Weather app (still called "MSN Weather") shows more weather and less sappy background.

Where Windows apps stand

Mary Branscombe posted a widely acclaimed suggestion that Microsoft at least improve OneDrive a little bit in Windows 10. Microsoft has responded saying, basically, it ain't gonna happen.

Mail and Calendar are nascent, at best, but undoubtedly due for much more affection in the future.

Music and Video received a full makeover, but there's little if any improvement to their core features.

The new Windows Photo app looks a lot nicer than the Windows 8.1 version, but it has fewer features.

What's likely to appear

The OneDrive change has been beaten to a pulp. Microsoft isn't going to change.

Mail and Calendar will undoubtedly get beefed up (at least we should get the minuscule feature set in the Windows 8.1 Metro Mail app). Look for a branding change, somehow incorporating the term "Outlook" -- which seems to be Microsoft-speak for "mail client" on all platforms.

For the rest, it's likely that we won't see significant improvements until after Windows RTMs. Microsoft tore off many Windows Live applications -- pulled them from Windows, you may recall -- as it approached deadlines on Windows Vista. Similar unbundling occurred with Windows 7 and 8. Although it's still hard to draw the line between what's in Windows and what's an app (Exhibit No. 1: Project Spartan), Microsoft's under the gun to get Windows out the door, and if the apps lag a few months, so be it.

The great unknown

One big untouched area at the moment involves updating. We don't know anything about how Windows 10 will get updated. Right now, testers can't block individual patches, can't hide an update, and can't control automatic installation of updates. No doubt that will change by the RTM version given to PC makers, but it's a real can of worms.

Microsoft has announced Windows Hello biometric authentication, but we haven't seen it in action yet.

There are hooks inside Windows 10 right now to install updates through a P2P system, something like a torrent approach within trusted networks. That means you'll need to download patches only once, and they'll propagate through a network. Tom Warren at The Verge has some details, but the final result is anybody's guess.

There's a lot of conjecture about how Microsoft might feed advertising into Windows 10. WinRT API pro WalkingCat has uncovered some details about Windows Spotlight, which point to some sort of new advertising mechanism.

We also don't know anything about Win10 SKUs and prices. Those are topics that generally come to the fore around the time Windows is ready to ship.

Stay tuned. We'll be updating this article as the Windows 10 builds roll out.

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