What is Windows 10?
When you think of Windows, you probably think first of conventional desktop PCs and laptops. The Windows 10 release encompasses a much broader range of devices, taken from a Microsoft presentation, makes clear.
Although all these devices share a great deal of common code, it’s not the case that the same code will run on each device. The version of Windows 10 Enterprise for a 64-bit desktop PC, for example, is very different from Windows 10 Mobile or the Xbox OS.
But that common code has a big payoff when it comes to app development. Apps that are built on the Windows universal app platform can run on all Windows device families. They are also easier to manage and more secure than conventional Windows desktop applications, which run only on PCs.
A new approach to updates and upgrades
As I mentioned, the most revolutionary change in Windows 10 is the concept of continuous improvement. New features are delivered through Windows Update rather than being set aside for the next major release. In a major change of longstanding best practices, Microsoft now recommends that enterprise customers enable Windows Update for the majority of users, although the option to use Windows Server Update Services (WSUS) might still be available for some configurations.
In the Windows 10 Technical Preview, the more-or-less monthly new builds are delivered through Windows Update. Participants in the preview program can choose between two update speeds, also known as rings. Choosing the Fast ring makes new builds available as soon as they’re released by Microsoft; opting for the Slow ring delays the availability of a new build until it’s been thoroughly vetted by the Fast ring, with any bugs addressed via interim updates.
When Microsoft officially releases Windows 10 to the public, the preview program won’t end. Members of the Windows Insider program will continue to receive early access to new updates, using the same Fast and Slow rings. Windows users who are not part of the preview program will receive updates for what’s known as the “Current Branch.” In addition, Microsoft has committed to an additional approach for enterprise customers who want a more stable environment, with a “Current Branch for Business” that is several months behind the consumer releases as well as “Long Term Servicing” branches that are appropriate for mission-critical applications.
The evolution of the Windows user experience
In the beginning, there was the Windows 95 Start button, which actually included the word Start. Clicking that button led to the Start menu, which was chock-full of shortcuts to programs, utilities, and settings. Both of these crucial parts of the user experience evolved significantly in appearance and functionality over the years, but a time traveler from 1995 would have no trouble recognizing the Start menu in Windows 7.
In a singularly controversial decision, the designers of Windows 8 removed the Start button and Start menu completely, replacing them with a full screen filled with live tiles instead of icons. The Start button returned in Windows 8.1, although its main function was to provide access to the Start screen. Now, by popular demand, the Start menu returns in Windows 10.
This Start menu design (which will undoubtedly change before the final Windows 10 release) contains some familiar elements, including links to common locations, a list of frequently used apps and programs, and power controls. The items on the right are live tiles, which work like their equivalents from the Windows 8.1 Start screen.
The search box, just to the right of the Start button, offers quick access to the local file system and to the web. With a few quick configuration steps, you can enable Cortana, the voice-powered personal assistant that debuted in Windows Phone and is now moving to the larger Windows 10 platform.
The double-headed diagonal arrow in the top-right corner expands the Start menu to fill the full screen. A separate option, called Tablet Mode, also expands the Start screen but makes additional changes designed to make Windows 10 more usable on tablets and hybrid PCs.
Several navigation elements that were added to Windows 8 have been removed for Windows 10. The Charms menu is gone, replaced on the right side of the screen by an Action Center that shows notifications and includes shortcuts to common tasks. Likewise, the Windows 8 navigation controls based on aiming a mouse pointer at corners are replaced by a new Task View, which also supports multiple virtual desktops.