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There are many things that make the upcoming Windows 10 different from what Windows has been in the past versions. As a matter of fact, there are so many fundamental differences that Microsoft has decided to skip version 9 altogether, and go straight to 10. A more probable reason for skipping version 9 is to avoid confusion with Windows 95 and 98, which were commonly referred to as Win 9X.
First of all, there is a new concept called Continuum, which tries to unify multiple platforms into a single one running the same OS. For example, Windows Phones, tablets and even the XBOX will be running the same version of Win10. From this comes another concept: the Universal App. Those can run in any of these platforms without having to write specific code for each one.
One of the things that pushed people away from Win8 was the lack of a Start button, and also the oddball approach of having to deal with two different interfaces - the Metro interface and the regular desktop. Depending on which program is being used, you may be thrown back to the desktop, which can be confusing and even challenging in some cases because the desktop doesn't support gestures from the Metro touch interface.
This was resolved in Win10 by making all Metro apps also work in a window that can be resized, minimized and maximized. This means there is a new button on the upper right corner for dealing with Metro apps when it comes to making them run in a window or full screen. It's like a maximize/un-maximize button, but only for Metro apps. I was initially confused with it, since the regular maximize, minimize and restore buttons are still there, but after a while it becomes clear what they do.
Another frustrating experience with Win8 was how limited it was to dock multiple Metro apps on the screen at once. They can only be resized to up to certain sizes before they collapse. Win10 allows running Metro apps in individual windows, so now we can stack them in any way we like. When running Metro apps in full screen, we can also stack them in different layouts instead of the Win8 horizontal layout.
Win10 now eliminates the dual interface from Win8 by integrating the Metro interface into the Start button. There are new buttons on the upper right corner of the Start menu that allows running Metro embedded into the Start menu, or full screen like it was in Win8. Continuum will automatically set Metro to full screen if it detects a touch device (tablet, smart phones, etc), or not if it detects keyboard and mouse are connected. Even in tablets, the user will always be able to manually switch Metro to desktop mode with a click of a button if so desired.
One thing that has existed for years in other OSes were multiple desktops, and now they are integrated natively into Win10. You start with a single desktop, and there is a new button on the task bar to add as many more as you want on the spot. Windows users can now create separate desktops for different tasks, and I can already see myself using this to separate my workflow when working with music composing, 3D modeling, and computer programming.
Multiple desktops can be browsed in a similar way as browsing through programs that are currently running in your computer, where we can see a preview of each desktop as a thumbnail, and click the one we want to switch to. One thing that is still not available in the Technical Preview is the ability to move an application from one desktop to another, but that might be included in the official release.
After about 20 years of Internet Explorer, Microsoft is now finally moving to the next concept: Project Spartan. Yes, I can see a pun from the Halo franchising there. Spartan is the new web browser to replace IE, which not only intends to be faster and more efficient, but also include the ability to create annotations right on top of any web page and share them with other people. Annotations can be created with a stylus or with regular keyboard. I can see this useful as means to share info during collaborative works. But this doesn't mean the end of IE for the time being. Spartan can load IE at any time to guarantee backwards compatibility with older web sites that rely on specific versions of it.
Win10 also features Cortana, the personal assistant that was previously only available in Windows phones. Yes, here goes another Halo pun! Cortana is a hybrid combination of TTS (text-to-speech) synthetic voice and recordings from Jen Taylor, the actress who performed the voice of Cortana in the Halo games series. Cortana replaces the search function from Win7 and Win8, by unifying them into a single solution. Cortana searches will return hits for the computer, and also from the internet.
But the real fun comes from us being able to click Cortana's microphone button and verbally ask her questions. Things like "how's today weather in New York", "who won last night's hockey game?", or "what appointments do I have for this afternoon"? You can also ask Cortana to locate files and photos in your hard drive, execute programs, or add events to your calendar. Over time, Cortana will learn more about you and will be able to make suggestions about your schedule, or better ways to do things you do regularly. Of course, you have the option to set what things Cortana should "remember" about you, and which not. In the current version, most of these functionalities are not available yet.
In a way, this reminds me a bit of how annoying the "Clip Assistant" in older versions of Microsoft Word used to be. The little animated talking avatar used to annoy people to great extends by interrupting them quite so often while trying to "help" with suggestions of what to do. They later offered other versions of the animated assistant, like Sherlock Homes, but as far as I can remember, they were all equally annoying most of the time. I can only hope Cortana will be better than that when it comes to making suggestions.
To make things more engaging, Microsoft has included a number of Easter egg questions you can ask Cortana that will trigger Jen Taylor recordings with amusing, and often funny answers. Things like "who's your father?", "what do you think of Apple?", "How old are you?", "did you really die in Halo?", "how do you work?", or "what is the meaning of life?" will all get you an amusing answer. People were so impressed that you can now find web sites posting the alleged complete list of all questions that will trigger amusing answers. LOL
One of the most controversial sides of Win10 is the fact that Microsoft has initially claimed that this will be a FREE upgrade for all Win7 and Win8 users, whether they use a genuine or pirated version. The free upgrade offer will be valid for the first year after the official release, but more recently Microsoft stepped back where it comes to pirated versions. They now claim that those will remain flagged as "non genuine" after the upgrade, which probably means they will expire after a trial period. They didn't want to completely contradict what they had previously stated, so they released this new info shrouded in difficult to read attorney legal jargon. I imagine the major reason for Microsoft to offer FREE upgrades to the new OS is to prevent what has happened in the past, where a lot of people refused to upgrade to new versions until it becomes stable - which never happened with Windows Millennium, Vista, and for different reasons, Win8.
Perhaps one of the least known new features in Win10 are the HoloLens, which will come built into the OS by default. This is a new augmented reality initiative that will allow developers to create applications and games that take advantage of a kind of virtual reality that can be accessed through Win10 and a pair of goggles that will be sold by Microsoft.
Augmented reality is not something new, for we already have Google Glass and other goggle-based solutions. The new headset will come with three high-end dedicated processors that, according to Microsoft, will process something like 4TB of data per second to provide real-time virtual experience with the real world (pretty much like Google Glass). This means the glasses are see-through, where the user will be able to interact with virtual objects using their own hands through gestures (major difference from Google Glass). There will be no wires to plug anywhere, and no computers are required to use the HoloLens. It's all built into the headset, along with Win10.
One of the major concerns when it comes to Windows in a corporate environment are security and installation in multiple systems. Microsoft claims to have created a new user authentication paradigm, where we would only have to authenticate our identity ONCE when we log into our Win10 account, and that will involve a three-layers authentication that, according to Microsoft, will make identity theft a thing of the past. They claim to have identified and eliminated mechanisms used to steal identities, and built security countermeasures into the OS itself.
In simple terms, this new security layer will eliminate the need to login into web sites and services using different user names and passwords for every site and account. They claim our digital identity will be authenticated when we log into Windows, and that will be used to identify ourselves in all web sites and online services that require login credentials, removing the need for keeping multiple accounts. It is still unclear to me how that will work, but in general terms, I like the idea.
Some people are concerned that this would also make it easier for hackers to steal our identity, and then use it to have free access to all web sites and services we use, to include bank accounts and other sensitive info. Microsoft claims that just stealing people's user names and passwords will no longer be enough for thieves to be able to get access to the data. A PIN number will also be involved, and they claim this info cannot be obtained in the same way passwords are stolen nowadays. I guess we will have to wait and see how that will work in the real world, but I am glad to know that account security is now built into the OS, instead of being sold separately by third party companies.
Microsoft has opened the new OS to the public by allowing people to join the "Technical Preview" program, downloading the current build, and also participating with feedback to help deciding what people like and hate about Win10. So far we had a new build being released every month with all the additions from development progress, and also changes based on people's feedback. Sounds like Win10 will become what people would like it to be, at least for some part of it. As far as I could see, the most requested features or changes have indeed been incorporated into the next build.
So far I have been running Win10 in a virtual machine under Win7, but a couple of days ago I've decided to install it as the main OS in my Toshiba Satellite laptop. Under Win7, I was having a series of issues with hardware not being recognized after an update, and model-specific features stopping to work as well. To my utter surprise, Win10 has recognized ALL of the model-specific laptop hardware without the need for any internet driver-hunting from my part.
After installing Win10, there were still lots of unrecognised devices under Control Panel -> Device Manager. But a simple click on "Automatically search for updates" got me the right drivers for every device, and now all functionalities that had previously stopped working after Win7 updates are working again, to include support for laptop model specific features that previously required an installation CD from Toshiba. The only special button on the laptop that is not recognized is one that uses Toshiba's custom power management, but the one from Win10 does the job all the same, if not better.
I am personally impressed since this is just a "technical preview" version, where many things are still only partially working, and others are not working at all. General performance is still not great, like IE is still faster than Spartan, but these things are still being worked on until the Beta version comes out. Remember this is not even Beta version yet, where some things are changing drastically from one month to the next. I wouldn't consider using this in a production environment, and it is not advised to try that at this point.
There is a lot of speculation concerning how much Win10 will cost for new computers, or for upgrades following the first year after the official release. The first impression was that Win10 would be the first FREE version of Windows, but now we see that is not the case. When we look at the competition, Windows is probably the only mainstream OS that is still being charged for. The first year freebie seems more like a gimmick to force people to switch to Win10, as means to avoid what happened with Windows Vista, Win7, and especially Win8 in the past, where many preferred to keep their existing versions.
Switching to a new OS version is very risky because of initial bugs and instability issues that will be ironed out over time. People usually wait for the first service release to come out before even considering the upgrade, but since Win10 has been open to the general public so early on in the game, people will have a pretty good idea what to expect from it way before the official release. Giving the amount of feedback that has been incorporated into Win10, I imagine people will be getting more of what they really want this time.
The official release is planned for this summer, where there is a chance the first version will come out as soon as in June, followed by the other version somewhere around October. Not sure what the versions will be, but I imagine something in the lines of "Home Edition" and "Enterprise". There are rumors that future updates will require signing up with a subscription program, but at this point there is no official statement on that from Microsoft.