Windows 10 – Microsoft drops the bombshell and we’re excited!
Last month, Microsoft held a press conference to announce their latest preview build of Windows 10 as well as discuss some other plans for the hardware. Naturally, the entire IT news industry across the web lit up like a Christmas tree after the event and if you’re feeling a little bewildered with all the information that came out, we’re here to condense and translate it into non-geek speak for you, as well as to trim out some rumours and half truths that have been doing the rounds.
First of all, one of the most exciting announcements was to do with price. If you’d not heard already, be sure you’re sitting down. Windows 10 will be free to anyone who already has Windows 8.1, 8 OR Windows 7. That’s right, for the first time in Windows history, a major update will be completely free.
Following this announcement, speculation was rife as to why Microsoft had done this. Rumours were that Windows would be switching to a subscription model. Microsoft were quick to deny this however, and have promised that once you upgrade to Windows 10, its yours for life, with no additional fees to pay just to keep using it. Microsoft’s motivation for doing this is more likely to do with getting all their users onto the latest platform to simplify support, as well as positioning Windows as a serious competitor and cost effective alternative to Google’s Android on mobile devices and tablets.
There was also plenty of speculation as to how the upgrades would be delivered. Would Windows 7 and 8 users be entitled to download ISO (CD) images of the new operating system? Over the last few days, eagle eyed IT pros have noticed that you can now actually update Windows 7 to Windows 10 technical preview through Windows update. While we don’t recommend that you do this right now, unless you’re a confident IT pro, it certainly bodes well for the future. Upgrading to Windows 10 should be as painless as installing a regular Windows update! Personally we’d still recommend taking a full backup first of course.
A few days after the conference, Microsoft sent out an upgrade for everyone enrolled on the Windows 10 preview program. After updating to this new build we were able to experiment with some of the new features, here’s what we think.
One major new feature is Cortana, Microsoft’s digital assistant who can respond to your voice commands and carry out tasks for you. You can see a picture of her on the right here (click here to see a bigger version). Users who have the latest Windows Phone upgrades should be familiar with this already. Windows 10 Cortana isn’t terribly well prepared for our very British accents yet, but talking to her in our best “deaf relative” voice we managed to get her to carry out a few rudimentary tasks like searching the web or telling us a joke. Launching applications seemed beyond her current programming however, and tasks like lowering the volume or changing font sizes had her stumped.
At the moment, Cortana on the desktop feels a little bit like a gimmick. Supposedly fully voice activated, she wouldn’t respond to our “Hey, Cortana!” shouts no matter how much we tried. Worse still, Microsoft insist you have a Microsoft account login before she’ll even entertain doing anything for you. Pretty much anything you can do with Cortana you can do faster with your keyboard and mouse, though we can see the potential when used on other types of PC that might not have a keyboard attached at all times. Finally, if, like us, you’re fans of the “real” Cortana from the Halo video games, you might be disappointed to know she’s not voiced by the lovely Jen Taylor and sounds nothing like the Cortana from the game. She will call you “Chief” if you like though.
Speaking of games, Microsoft is introducing some awesome features for gamers. Kids of all ages who love Minecraft will rejoice at the new screenshot and video clip feature. While we haven’t tested this yet, supposedly pressing the Windows key and G while gaming will bring up an interface that lets you save screenshots and even videos and share them using the new Xbox app. The Xbox app will also let you chat with your friends on PC and Xbox One console as well as play against them in certain games. It all sounds very cool, but so did Microsoft’s ill fated and much maligned Games for Windows Live service when it was originally announced.
There were further refinements to the usability of the new preview build too. Switching between Start menu (shown on the left, click here to see a bigger version) and Start screen can be done with the click of a button. The new Start screen includes a Windows start menu like list of shortcuts on the left hand side (a move that didn’t go down well with everyone). Microsoft have developed a slick new notification centre too. If you’ve ever missed one of those pop-up notification messages, you can now click the notification icon in the notification area to see the last few messages your PC displayed.
It’s been a long road with plenty of miss-steps, but Windows 10 might actually have found that sweet spot where an app can exist that works acceptably on both desktop/laptop and touch-screen tablet. Of course, Microsoft talks of “Universal” apps, but apps will continue to be developed with either touch or keyboard and mouse in mind, most developers will still pick one or the other as their primary interface. Thanks to Windows 10, touch-centric apps now exist far more harmoniously with those all powerful desktop productivity programs. All modern (Windows Store tile) apps now run in a Window unless you switch to tablet mode, in which case they run full screen. Microsoft has gone as far as to remove most of the touch interface from non-touch PCs altogether, giving up on the notion (most would say thankfully!) that one method of working can be suitable for both types of input. Since we don’t actually have a touch PC around the TWT HQ (a situation we hope to remedy soon) we’re not completely sure how you even get around Windows 10 on a touch only machine just yet, but we’ll update you on that in the future. Polarizing Windows 8 features such as the hot corners and the Charms bar are gone, probably for good. Further refinements for touch PCs are expected in the next update around April.
Not every feature Microsoft talked about made it into the latest preview. No sign yet of Spartan, Microsoft’s new improved web browser. Sadly, we weren’t one of the lucky few to get a go with Microsoft’s new holographic headset either, though frankly we’re quite envious of anyone who did. If you didn’t see or hear about this device on the news, it’s an “augmented reality” device. You put it on your head and it then overlays holograms onto your vision. Microsoft demonstrated some fantastic uses for this technology, from building Minecraft cities on your dining table to using it with Skype while doing some DIY, letting a helpful friend or relative see through your eyes and draw augmented reality instructions to help you with your project. No details on when this amazing technology will be available or how much it will cost and it was probably included in the conference just to generate that bit of extra buzz. Nevertheless, its clearly something really cool.
Lastly, Microsoft showed its commitment to making Windows into something truly universal as it announced that Windows 10 would be available for the new Raspberry Pi 2. These tiny, super inexpensive little computers are used in education and by hobbyist project makers all over the world. When the first Pi computers were announced, the idea that such diminutive, super low cost hardware could run something as heavyweight as Windows was absurd, but now thanks to Redmond’s efforts at getting the Windows kernel (the core part of the operating system) leaner and meaner, it’s now possible. This means, by the end of the year, you will be able to buy a Windows 10 computer for $35. Of course, it won’t run all your regular desktop applications because the Pi uses a different type of processor to regular desktop and laptop PCs (Microsoft has actually not yet announced just how much of the Windows 10 experience will make the jump to Raspberry Pi and other diminutive hardware).
Overall then, Windows 10 has us feeling excited and optimistic and we look forward to helping you all upgrade later in the year. Keep subscribed to our newsletter and we’ll bring you all the latest news without the fluff and without the geek speak as we get nearer to launch day.
Has the final battle for the internet begun?
That headline sounds a little bit melodramatic doesn’t it? What’s it all about? We’ve talked about “network neutrality” in the newsletter before. Basically, network neutrality means all traffic on your internet connection is treated equal. If you access Top-Windows-Tutorials, the connection between you and us is the same priority as if you access a site like Facebook or Amazon, or any site around the world, big or small. Big cable and internet companies around the world dislike this idea. They see the money making potential in a system where consumers are charged more for “priority lanes” for popular services like Youtube and Netflix. Sure, you might be a Youtube addict and love the idea of paying a buck or two extra a month for a super fast connection to your cat videos, but how long will it be before your bill goes up and up as more and more websites get unbearably slow because you’re not paying for “priority access”?
Of course, without net neutrality the cable companies could try and charge the website operators too. Small sites like ours cannot afford to pay to be prioritised and so would be squeezed out. We believe small, niche sites like ours are what make the internet great and true net neutrality is the only way to protect this. Currently this legislation is affecting the USA only, but obviously policy makers around the world often look to the USA as an example. In the Eurozone, for instance, we still lack solid net neutrality rules and there’s likely to be a similar battle here in the future. If you’re in the USA and you want to learn more about network neutrality and do your bit, please visit this link.
A note about Windows 7 support
Just wanted to take a moment to quash any rumours that might have done the rounds regarding Windows 7 support. On the 13th January 2015, Windows 7 went into what Microsoft calls “extended support”. As usual, many websites used this as a way to post sensationalist “click bait” headlines about support ending for Windows 7. We want to set the record straight and say that support for Windows 7 is most definitely not ending. Products in extended support continue to receive security updates, but don’t usually get any new features. For instance, Windows 7 won’t get the latest version of DirectX or the new Spartan web browser.
Even if you’re not planning to upgrade your Windows 7 to Windows 10 when it eventually launches (the upgrade is free, so we’d strongly recommend that you do) you will still continue to get security updates until 2020, so no need to panic, despite what some websites may have told you.
That concludes our newsletter for February. On behalf of the team here at TWT, I’d like to say thank you to all our readers, new and old for your continued support. The TWT Newsletter will return on the 10th March 2015 and will bring you more tips, tricks and techniques to help you get the best out of your PC, be it Windows Vista, Windows 7 or Windows 8. We hope that you found this newsletter informative and useful. If you did not then please let us know why, you can contact us by visiting this page. If you have enjoyed this newsletter, feel free to pass it on to all your friends and family, or better still encourage them to sign up for their own copy. Until next month, keep checking Top-Windows-Tutorials.com and enjoy happy, safe and stress-free computing!