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This week Microsoft has released what appears to be the final built of the technical preview, and this time it does not show the version number watermark on the bottom right corner. That might indicate that this is what will be shipping to customers in the next two weeks. So what has changed?
First of all, Cortana now seems more stable and all functions seem to be working. She is capable of searching files in your computer, search the web, provide services like weather forecast, tickets, remind you of your scheduled appointments, set new ones on the calendar, execute Windows apps, create emails and allow you to dictate them aloud, and things like that. There are 3 ways to access Cortana, one by clicking her icon on the taskbar, by typing on her search box, and the other is by calling her aloud by name ("Hey Cortana!") and tell her something to do.
Everything we search in Win10 is automatically handled by Microsoft Bing, and that is both a good and a bad thing. It's good because, technically speaking, Bing uses AI (artificial intelligence) to find contents, as opposed to indexed hashes like Google does. The advantage of AI over indexed hashes is that it has a better understanding on the context of what you are searching for, that is, the semantics of the question you are asking. Conversely, Google would simply search for the keywords you have typed, with no regards to their meaning.
The bad is that Microsoft has a very long disclaimer listing a gazillion difficult to read legal mambo-jumbo that appears to mean that they will collect everything you say or search, and will share that info with all their associated partners. They claim you can avoid that by never using Win10 search (Bing) or by disabling Cortana. I was rather disturbed by that statement, and I hope I didn't get it right. I will need clarification on that. At least they claim they will not read your emails, notes and messages, which is very "kind" of them.
By now, everyone who has Win7 or 8 should have seen the "Reserve your FREE Win10 copy" app running in you system tray for a few weeks. I have already reserved my free copy of the fully licensed Win10 in 3 of my computers, but will not do that for my main PC because some programs may not work and I cannot stop my production pipeline until it gets fixed. Microsoft is granting people a whole year to decide if they want to upgrade for free, so no need to hurry now.
I have been testing the final build for a few days, and noticed the new Edge browser (project spartan) is now faster than IE, and includes a built-in password manager and form filling tool. It is worth mentioning that Edge will not support any kinds of extensions and plugins like IE did in the past. Extensions and plugins tend to be a main reason for security risks, performance degradation, and browser malfunction. This is both good and bad, because some of us have grown fond of some plugins or extensions that made life easier for some tasks.
Quite surprisingly, Microsoft Edge ships with Adobe Flash built in and activated by default, which goes against what Microsoft had originally stated that Flash would not be installed by default in Win10. This is because Flash always came in as a third party plugin, but now Edge claims it is integral part of it - not an extension. I was rather concerned if this was really Adobe Flash or something Microsoft had slapped together. In previous versions of Edge, right-clicking the player would not display what it was. But in this final built, right-clicking shows the proper context menu from Adobe, showing it is indeed the genuine Adobe Flash Player, latest version. This is still unclear to me, but it appears that Edge automatically updates the player when needed. This means 2 things: you never have to install Flash again, and we never have to worry about having the latest version installed. Flash is now a permanent part of the browser.
Microsoft had also previously claimed they would no longer include their Solitaire card games with Windows, which would make Win10 the very first version of the OS to be shipped without it. Nonetheless, the final built I have been testing has the complete Microsoft Solitaire Collection suite preinstalled, which again contradicts what they had previously claimed. I love these games, so I am not complaining.
There were claims that Microsoft would have the final versions of the Office universal apps ready before the release of Win10, and that they would be preinstalled by default. In this final built all I could see is a "Get Office" app, which is how they have always done in previous Windows versions. Under closer inspection, the "mobile" version of Word, Excel, PowerPoint and Calendar are all available for FREE at the Microsoft app store. They are only installed by default on mobile devices with screens smaller than 10", and that's probably why I had to manually download them from the store.
I believe this will be the first time Microsoft is giving away their Office programs (brand new universal apps version) for free. I have tested them and they look pretty much like the commercial version of Office 2013. Chances are that was because Android tablets are now shipping with a pretty good FREE office suite that rivals Microsoft Office, and it's installed by default. This is good news for those who couldn't afford Office and had to fumble with third party solutions that were not always fully compatible. Although Office doesn't come preinstalled on desktops with Win10, anybody can now download the mobile Office apps for FREE.
One major change compared to previous Windows versions is that Windows Media Player has been retired, as well as Windows Media Center. There is no installed programs or apps that can play videos, music, or DVDs in Win10. I strongly recommend the awesome VideoLan app for Win10, which is FREE and can play anything you can throw on it. I have to admit I have never missed Windows Media Player, which hasn't changed much since the times of WinXP. In the same way, probably most users have never heard of or used Windows Media Center, so I won't miss it.
As opposed to my first review of the Technical Preview, the general Win10 (final version) performance seems impressive. I am running it from a virtual machine in Win7, and it still seems faster and more responsive than Win7 and Win8. I remember it used to be slow and sluggish, but it seems like they have worked it out. It's hard to compare start-up times from a virtual machine, but once it loads up, it's fast.
I had it tested on an older Acer laptop, but the HDD (hard drive) was so slow that I couldn't get good performance, since that is the slowest part in a computer. I imagine if I could get a faster HDD, or perhaps an SSD, that old laptop could outperform itself with Win10. In my tests, running a few programs would use an average of 1.5GB RAM, so there is a chance Win10 could run well on lesser computers with only 2 or 3GB RAM. Regular computers nowadays have 4GB RAM in average, and that should be plenty for most daily usage.
So Win10 performs well, has decent memory management, comes free for a year for existing Win7 and Win8 users, and now comes with free Office apps. Installation includes 3 options: preserve your existing files and programs, preserve only user data, or preserve nothing (clean install). For those who give it a try and don't like it, Win10 will allow going back to your previous Windows version, even if you choose the clean install (in that case it won't preserve your installed programs). I haven't tested that, but I've noticed that after installing Win10, there is a "windows.old" folder sitting on the drive, and that's what will be restored if you choose to do so. It should preserve your user files, but probably not the programs.
This is the final Win10 build as far as the OS goes. Microsoft claims they will be working on polishing the apps until release date, so at least in theory, we shouldn't see any surprises on the RTM version of Win10 when it comes out by the end of this month.