I've spent just over a week with the 'technical preview' of Microsoft's newly-announced Windows 10. This build is unfinished but very much working, and available to all for free, for the time being. Infamously, it was supposed to be called Windows 9, but changed to 10 Because Marketing. Much more than living up to a fabricated number rides on its shoulders, however - can it possibly undo the bad rep of Windows 8?
Well, it's fine.
N.B. the Technical Preview is not a finished or complete version of Windows 10. Any of the below is subject to change - I'm simply talking about whether it's worth installing this right now, not about whether you should buy the release version (which will most likely happen late next year.) A 'Consumer' preview is also expected for early next year, which may well increase the whizzbang factor. I'll report again then if there's more to add.
The Technical Preview is basically a pointless update from Windows 7 in its current build, but fine. For the most part, it's rolling back the miserably short-sighted mistakes of Windows 8, even more so than the 8.1 update already had, but to the average eye it's now very hard to ascertain just what it does differently to or better than trusty old Windows 7. (If you're still on XP, it's a much more meaningful step on).
Under the hood, it does mean we get Windows 8's improved and faster codebase, and perhaps some greater degree of future-proofing, but this is fairly nebulous stuff. DirectX 12, if it proves to be exclusive to Win 10 (this has not been announced one way or the other as yet), may make the difference, but right now I cannot point to a single element of Windows 10 that would cause me to say "you should upgrade from Windows 7 because of this."
I'm not sure I could say "you should upgrade from Windows 8 because of this" either, as most of that particular whipping boy's 'hey, let's just randomly mash desktop and tablet UIs together because no-one in their right mind uses a traditional PC these days, right?' misfires have already been remedied by third-party applications. If you've been resistant to those for any reason, then yes, you may well have a comfortable time if you upgrade from Windows 8/8.1 to the W10 Technical Preview.
That said, I quite like Windows 10, and I'm pleased to find that the free-to-all (for now) 'technical preview' has proven rock solid and thrown up zero compatibility errors so far. I've also played a wide selection of games on it with no issues whatsoever (but again, only so far). If you want to take a punt on it for a no-strings (financially, at least) sample of what post-7 Windows is like, I've found no reason at all not to, bar the faff of potentially backing up and reinstalling stuff. Give it a spin for fun, basically.
Here's what I like:
- It feels fast. Not lightning fast, but just a little faster than 7 and maybe even 8. However, I think some of this is a beauty-in-the-eye-of-the-beholder thing. It looks more modern than its predecessors, in terms of going a little further with the flat UI ethos that Win 8's 'Metro' approach uses, but dialing down the somewhat garish colours, and that modernity may be encouraging me too think "ooh, whizzy-fast!" The Metro stuff is more in the background now, trying to steal attention less. I probably couldn't tell you without the assistance of a psychoanalyst whether this really is that it's 'more modern' or simply that it's a) less familiar and b) more coherent. I am pretty sure it's quicker to boot up, however. There have been no stability issues as yet either.
- Er, I basically already said this, but it looks a little prettier. Buttons are subtle, there's a pleasant use of straight lines and transparency, and all told it doesn't do that 'ugh, Windows' thing that most XP and beyond versions of the OS elicit from anyone with even a faint fondness for visual style.
- So far, it very much seems to have broken with Windows' long tradition of a whole bunch of software and drivers being initially incompatible with a new version of the OS. Almost everything has Just Worked, and there have been no games issues whatsoever - even the Oculus Rift has been happy on W10.
- I've had only two niggles so far, one of which was that drivers for my Radeon card wouldn't install via the executable - I had to do it via device manager manually, then install the Catalyst Control Centre separately. Subsequently a new beta driver came out, and that installed OK, however. K-lite Codec Pack, which I used for watchin' ma movies, also didn't work until they shoved out a special W10-friendly beta. That's it so far though, which really isn't bad going.
- No more Start Screen, at least not unless you want it. This feels like a pure-blooded desktop OS again, not an awkward touchscreen hybrid. 'Metro' apps continue to exist, but can now be seen and resized on the desktop, rather than necessating switching to a counter-productive fullscreen view. This does raise a question of their purpose - e.g. why isn't Windows Mail just a standard Windows program? - but I suppose you'd fullscreen them and swipe between them if you did have a tablet or touchscreen monitor. Again though, the overall sense is Microsoft stepping backwards rather than forwards. It was the smart thing to do, but frankly it doesn't leave Windows 7 looking more outdated.
- Virtual desktops work pretty easily, though perhaps need a slight menu overhaul in terms of sending apps to a different desktop or making stuff 'snap' into position. It's something that's existed in third-party programs for yonks, but it's good to have it built-in at last. I find this particularly useful since I stopped using two monitors a few months back (it just felt a bit oppressive, basically), as now I've got a desktop dedicated to email, RPS chatroom, Twitter and that sort of thing, which I can quickly switch to when coming out of a game to check that the world hasn't exploded. Unfortunately, Windows 10 doesn't remember your virtual desktop setup upon a reboot, which is an enormous oversight, and one I hope is fixed before full launch.
- It installs very quickly and easily. The days of XP's long-winded, question-strewn installs are long gone by this point.
- The Start Menu's back. It's impossible not to feel relieved. I know there's an argument that those who prefer start menus to start screens are simply set in their ways, but there is a fundamental difference between calling up a menu and calling up a whole new screen when you're looking for a program. Additionally, this no longer feels like you're being taken off into a completely different operating system. It's part and parcel again now.
- The mother-lovin' Charms are gone. The settings menus that could only be reached by rubbing the cursor against the far right edge of the screen have been banished in favour of in-app drop-downs. Again, really it's a rewind, but it's a vital one.
So yeah, Windows 10 is fine. Obviously this is an unfinished version, so Exciting New Additions may turn up further down the line (by all accounts, Microsoft are currently much more focused on convincing Windows 8-phobic businesses to upgrade than they are consumers, so there may well be more in the wings) but right now it's fine in the way Windows 7 was fine - i.e. nothing is brazenly wrong-headed.
The trouble, once again, is that it's so focused on undoing the mistakes of Windows 8 that reasons to upgrade from 7 are hard to come by. The main takeaway, I suppose, is that if you're in the market for a new gaming machine next year, you don't need to run screaming from ones that have W10 preinstalled. Indeed, once DirectX 12 is doing the rounds, this may well become the go-to OS - much as such exclusivity wouldn't be a noble move. Let's just hope that the Consumer Preview in a few months offers more reasons to add a digit or two (or three) to our Windowses.
The Windows 10 Technical Preview is available for free (if time-limited) download now - you can upgrade to it from Windows 7 or 8. A consumer preview will follow early next year. The final release date is TBC, but likely to be in the latter half of 2015.