On Sunday, it was 110 days since the Windows 10 Technical Preview hit the streets. Or rather, hit the PCs of 1.5 million developers and other interested parties who are members of Microsoft's recently-established Windows Insider Program.
So we thought it was high time we reviewed how we've found it so far – especially given that we'll see another build of the OS launch this week. It's important to stress that the Technical Preview is NOWHERE NEAR the finished article and there are bugs. But Microsoft is getting a lot of information back from the userbase – according to Microsoft's Gabriel Aul "Windows Insiders are using Windows 10 preview builds more actively than with any prior beta release of Windows".
Microsoft requested (and common sense dictates) that a pre-beta such as the Technical Preview should not be installed on a main PC, but that's no way to test an OS (and anyway we don't do things by halves here at TechRadar), so we installed Windows 10 instead of Windows 8.1 on our workday laptop – an Asus Zenbook.
And we've been using it every day since. The overall experience has been surprisingly pleasant. Day to day operation has revealed remarkably few major issues. The main problems we've had involve dual-screening (we use the Zenbook connected to a second monitor in the office) and connecting Bluetooth devices which has always been a really weak point of Windows.
The Developer Preview has received updates including three 'milestone' releases. We're now on Build 9879 which has been the buggiest of the three releases – Microsoft has released fixes (and indeed has rolled out a completely new version of the latest build for everybody).
Many issues that were in the original 30 September version have since been fixed and other enhancements made over the duration of the Technical Preview. Aero Snap didn't work properly on multiple screens initially plus there have been improvements to Internet Explorer and the OneDrive integration (yes, OneDrive is totally, fully integrated in Windows 10, though you can ignore it if you want), numerous UI enhancements including refreshed icons.
A pop-up Action Center has been ported over from Windows Phone, while there are new gestures for precision touchpads, too. Indeed, the number of changes Microsoft has made based on feedback from users are in the tens of thousands.
One key problem we had when we came to use Windows 10 was that we're used to using Windows 8. As you may have heard, the charms bar on the right of the screen have disappeared. They are still present within the codebase of Windows 10 (and a version of it will almost certainly be present for touch users), but they are absent within the Technical Preview. That meant we had to get used to shutting down our PC using the Start Menu.
That sounds simple, but it took us a good couple of weeks before we were used to it, just in the same way as it took us ages to adapt to Windows 8. It just shows how confusing Microsoft has made access to basic Windows functions during the Windows 8 period. Hopefully it has learned from its mistakes now.
Searching for problems
And that brings us onto the new Start Menu. Now, we love the fact it's like Windows 7, as will you. And we love the ability to search within it as we could in earlier versions of the OS. But the results aren't any better than the Start Screen and Search Charm in Windows 8 and 8.1. Let's go for an example. We've got Excel files on our PC that are called, Holiday 2008.xls, Holiday 2009.xls and so on. Up to 2015, you'd rightly guess. But Windows' search only insists on showing the files for 2010 and 2011. Why? We hope this is improved for later builds. Will adding in Cortana help at all?
The jury's still out on the Modern UI apps within Windows 10 and the Start Menu. It is effective being able to preview pictures using the Photos app on the desktop. But because the menus and functions in these apps are in the Modern UI-style (in other words, they are at the bottom), you have to adapt to them – they just don't work like full desktop apps. Users that come from Windows 7 to this will still find it jarring.
As for the Modern UI elements in the Start Menu, we actually found this reasonably useful. We're not logged into our personal email at work, but the Mail app is, so we were able to see if any new emails had arrived as well as peruse news and weather headlines whenever we opened the menu. However, we did not use the Modern UI Start Menu tiles to launch apps and we believe most users just won't bother customising the panel unless they're helped to do so.
Task View is an acquired taste. We are used to using Alt+Tab to switch apps, so we continued to do that rather than using the taskbar icon. However, it's clearly going to be a boon for those who don't use keyboard shortcuts to switch between apps. And being able to add additional desktops is extremely useful when you need to switch gear completely into a different workspace – this was great when we were using one desktop for web and email but wanted to have another area for laying out a document in Adobe InDesign. We really like the new Aero Snap features enabling you to snap windows to each quarter of the screen, having variable width windows.
Finally, though, the PC Settings app is still a noddy Control Panel and we'd prefer to just use the Control Panel please. Microsoft clearly doesn't want to bin the work done in Windows 8 and 8.1 by having a separate app, but it just doesn't make sense to have two places to change settings. According to leaked builds, it does seem like more updates are planned for this app, though.
But enough of that, the fact remains that our third-of-a-year play with Windows 10 has been an unqualified success. We're really looking forward to seeing what Microsoft can offer us in the Consumer Preview.