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On Tuesday, Microsoft announced the newest version of its flagship operating system: Windows 10. And better yet, the company made the Technical Preview free and available to download on Wednesday to anyone who’s interested in testing out some early software. I downloaded and installed the preview on my Surface Pro 3 that night and I’ve been using Windows 10 exclusively since then. The verdict so far: not bad.

Start Menu

start-menuThe biggest news about Windows 10 by far is the revamped – or maybe revised – Start Menu. As users well know, the Start menu had been a Microsoft staple since the Windows 95 days. The exact form and function has evolved in that time, but it’s more or less stayed the same, keeping your most important programs in a list, and providing access to more utilities and settings if you need them. Windows 8 threw that in the garbage in favor of the “Modern” Start Menu, an assemblage of random live tiles that was hard to navigate and not really helpful.

Windows 10 blends the two. Now, hitting the Windows button on the bottom left of the screen or the Windows key, the list pop-up has been reborn in much the same style as the Start Menu in Windows 7. Additionally, a batch of Modern-style live tiles have been tacked on, giving users the chance to pin their favorite or most-used programs right there. It’s a smart solution, and does the trick.

Task View and Apps

Task View is an addition that didn’t get much hype before the release of the Technical Preview, but it’s also a welcome addition. When you hit the Task View button, you’re presented with an easy-to-navigate list of all the active programs you’re running, and you can choose which one you want to use. It’s a feature Windows has had for a while by hitting Alt-Tab, but its simplification will be a welcome addition to those who may not have used Alt-Tab too often.

task-viewThat isn’t all: Task View also gives users the option of opening up a number of additional Virtual Desktops, so if one view gets too cluttered, you can open up a new desktop and start working on some different programs there. My main complaint on this is that, as of now, there’s no way to swap programs from one Virtual Desktop to another. Additionally, if I want a Chrome or Word window open in more than one Virtual Desktop, I’m similarly out of luck. Might this be the kind of thing that gets added in a future update? Or is that just not what Virtual Desktops are for?

Oh, and you know how Modern apps used to occupy the whole screen in Windows 8, essentially cutting you off from your desktop entirely? Well, Microsoft has put the windows back in Windows. Now apps can be resized and moved around at your discretion, all while keeping total access to the taskbar and other programs at the same time. It’s a simple change, and it’s a step backwards in terms of design, but it’s the kind of thing that makes Windows work. Welcome back.

Tablet Commands

There are a few interesting tweaks to Windows when using it on a touch-based system, too. For one, some of the trademark touch-commands have been removed – at least in Desktop mode. In Windows 8, to close a program you would swipe down from the top of the screen to the bottom. To switch between programs and apps, you could swipe from the left side of the screen, while swiping from the right brings up the Charms menu, which includes the Windows button, Search, Share, Devices, and Settings.

Swiping down no longer does anything, while swiping from the left simply reveals the Task View screen. Despite reports to the contrary, the Charms bar is still alive and well in this latest version of Windows. However, many Modern apps that have made the jump to Windows 10 now have a little Options button that looks like an ellipsis on the top of the window that brings up many of those same choices for an app. Will the two continue to coexist in the future?

One thing I noticed that was missing was the “Continuum” feature that Microsoft had talked about on Tuesday. That was supposed to change Windows 10 based on the context in which it was being used. If I detach the keyboard cover from my Surface, I’m supposed to be hit with a prompt to activate Tablet Mode. So far, that hasn’t happened, so maybe Continuum simply isn’t in this release. Or, just as likely, I haven’t hit the right settings button. I’ll keep investigating that, but if anyone has any ideas, let us know.

A Few Issues

True to their word, Microsoft has released an unfinished, unstable operating system. That’s not to say that I have problems all the time – far from it. Considering its unfinished status, it’s been pretty reliable. But there have been a few times when I’ve closed the Surface’s cover to put it to sleep, only to wake it up and find that it had restarted entirely. And for some reason, my Windows Mail app doesn’t give me any notifications anymore, despite my having turned notifications on for each account. It’s a mystery there.

I also get a RunDLL error every time I restart the machine, though I know that’s related to Logitech drivers that like to act up every time I upgrade an operating system. It’s not even close to disruptive, but no one likes to see pointless error messages every time they start their computer.

Final Thoughts

I’m pretty happy with how the Windows 10 Technical Preview has gone, despite the few hiccups I’ve seen over only two days of use. I’m surprised it’s gone this smoothly – I was kind of afraid I’d be dealing with problems left and right. Moreover, the changes Microsoft has made to Windows are all positive – I don’t miss anything about Windows 8 that got canned, though there are options to turn the Modern Start Menu back on should I get really nostalgic. I’m hoping to give Tablet Mode a whirl soon, but otherwise, I’m pleased with this next step in Windows’ world.

Have you downloaded the Technical Preview? What do you think so far? Let us know in the comments.

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