Introduction, bugs and feedback
The Windows 10 Technical Preview has been out since the beginning of October and while it has had three milestone updates (plus many more smaller ones) since then, it's not until now that we've had a really big update in terms of the feature set.
1. Not everything demonstrated last Wednesday is here
The latest build is 9926. It was released to members of the Windows Insider Program over the weekend, so here's what's new, what's wrong and what's right with Microsoft's latest preview release of Windows 10.
Once again, we need to stress that this is really very pre-release software – we won't see a full Windows 10 release until much later in the year, so this OS still has several months more work to be done on it. If you saw last Wednesday's Windows 10 keynote speech from Microsoft HQ in Redmond, you might be a little disappointed as not all the Windows 10 features demonstrated there are present.
However, it's clear that there will be more preview builds released to the Insider Program, and they'll be released faster, too: "Much is still in-progress and we're getting it out to you as fast as we can – so you can try it out and give us feedback," says Microsoft's Gabe Aul. "Over the course of the next few builds, you will see us refine Windows 10 and continue to improve the experiences as well as quality and stability."
2. The charms are back (sort of)
Some of the functions that used to be in the Charms bar on Windows 8 are now in the Action Center menu (launched from the system tray/Notifications area) in the bottom right. A new Connect feature enables you to find and connect your PC to devices such as a DLNA-enabled TV or Bluetooth speakers far more easily.
However, more work is needed; this didn't work for us when we tried it, and we couldn't connect to either our smart TV or locate a pair of Bluetooth headphones. Note that you can also connect to other displays using a button in the Action Center.
3. There are plenty of issues
The last major build of the Technical Preview, November's 9879 release, was pretty buggy, and with the advent of a batch of new features here the story is the same, although it doesn't appear to be affecting the stability of our version of the OS.
There are actually stacks of issues, which Microsoft has fessed up to. A boot selection menu shows whenever the PC is started for many. Xbox Live enabled games that need sign-in won't work (this is being fixed via Windows Update very shortly). Tiles on the Start menu show shortened names, while sometimes the Start menu doesn't load properly (we haven't experienced this ourselves but Search is really slow).
The release also isn't optimised for Connected Standby, so if you're used to this you may find your battery life is significantly shorter. One again, all these issues show that you shouldn't install the Windows 10 Technical Preview on a PC you need to use on a daily basis (unless you're TechRadar that is, because we need to test it out to write articles like this).
4. Changes have been made based on feedback
Microsoft is keen to stress that feedback from Windows Insiders has been taken into consideration. Alt-Tab was too jarring before, many folks said. It was changed. It was hard to make apps full-screen in some circumstances. Changed. People wanted to be able to pick a default folder for File Explorer. Changed. Feedback works.
Cortana, Start menu and Continuum
5. Cortana is here!
We didn't actually expect Cortana to be in this release, and despite the fact that we had a US English installation, Cortana wasn't working for us. It's integrated into the Search bar on the Taskbar (search has moved from where it was on the bottom of the Start menu). You can search for files, settings, the web, and more.
Via Cortana Settings, you can also set up your PC to respond when you say 'Hey, Cortana'. I won't be doing that in the office. According to Microsoft there are some bugs with reminders – especially the first one you try and create.
6. There's a new Photos app
Thankfully there's now a new Photos app. This is quite important, as the old one was a dog's dinner. You can also perform edits on your photos, too, but again, this is currently feature incomplete. The Maps and Xbox app are present and revamped as well, but functionality is currently limited.
7. The Start menu is different
We've already mentioned that the Windows 10 Start menu has lost its search box, but there are some other changes to Start, too, since Microsoft has completely recoded the menu for this build.
The main thing is that it's a little more Windows 8-style. In fact, we'd go as far to say it's regressed in that respect (you can make it full-screen like the old Start screen, which is totally not what anybody wants unless they're using a touchscreen, and we'd have preferred to leave that to Continuum to sort out).
We're not quite sure what to make of it as yet, but Microsoft says there will be more personalisation, drag and drop, and Jump Lists as time goes on. The version of the Start menu in this build also can't be resized which is a little irritating. This is the type of thing which will drip down through Windows Update.
8. The new Settings app is a false dawn
One of the worst things about Windows 8 was the disconnect between desktop and Windows 8 apps, especially in terms of the way Settings were handled. So you had the Control Panel on one hand and the PC Settings app on the other. Microsoft claimed it had come up with a brand new Settings app – but actually it's just a new front page to the Settings app that simply provides easier navigation. And Control Panel is still there running in the background.
9. Continuum is here
There's a little button in the Action Center that enables you to switch into tablet mode. With Continuum this should happen automatically whenever you detach a keyboard, such as on a Surface Pro device. In tablet mode, all apps can now be closed (even desktop apps) by dragging them down from the top.
10. There's a new Windows Store
There are two Windows Stores in this version of Windows – a grey tile in the Start menu takes you to the Windows Store Beta, a new version of the store that will be arriving with Windows 10, and will bring a new visual style across all Windows devices.