Windows 10

When Microsoft introduced Windows 8, enterprises reacted much as vampires do to garlic — they threw up their arms and screamed "Noooooooo". There was too much change. There was too little management. And it would have been an expensive pain in the — ahem — to implement.

One has to wonder what the folks at Microsoft, who got so much so right with Windows 7, were thinking. I have to suspect politics; it drives a lot of irrational behaviour.

Windows 8.1 back-pedaled a bit — and in the process annoyed customers who had adopted and gotten used to Windows 8 — by fiddling with the user interface. Suddenly user actions did different things, and we weren't given clear information about the changes. For example, the swipe down to close an app was quietly altered to merely minimize it, unless you paused the swipe just above the bottom of the screen until the app's tile flipped over.

But the tweaks weren’t anywhere near extensive enough. They still didn't mollify the enterprise.

Enter the Windows Threshold, now officially named Windows 10 (skipping Windows 9 because, rumour hath, so many products filter for version 9x due to artifacts from Windows 95 and 98), and things are looking up. Microsoft is still messing with the user interface, trying to reach a compromise between its vision of a modern UI and the enterprise vision of "no surprises, please." Windows 7 handled the dichotomy perfectly; it's a hard act to follow.

This time, Microsoft decided to (gasp) actually ask customers what they want, a smart decision based on the miserable enterprise sales and the volume of complaints about Windows 8.x on social media and elsewhere. And boy, did they get feedback! And they're actually doing something about it.

The biggest fuss was over the touch-first interface. Using Windows 8.x was awkward for those relying on keyboard and mouse. Some concessions were made in Windows 8.1, with the familiar "x" in the top right corner of application windows appearing in native Windows 8 (aka "Modern" or "Store") apps. But Store apps still insisted on running full-screen, and the brick wall between desktop and Start screen remained. The Start button returned, but there was still no Start menu.

Windows 10, desktop with new start menu open
Windows 10, desktop with new start menu open

In Windows 10, things have changed. On machines with a keyboard, the desktop view is the default. The software more closely resembles the familiar Windows 7 interface, with mouse and keyboard controls intact. The Start menu is back, for real this time. It looks a bit different, admittedly, but it’s not jarring; instead of a list of programs on the right side of the menu panel, there’s a block of tiles, which can be sized as on the Windows 8.1 Start screen.

Desktop and Start screen are more closely integrated as well. Every app, be it desktop or Store, has the same controls to close, maximize, or minimize it, and Store apps will now run in a window, and show up on the Taskbar. In other words, Windows 10 looks and acts more like Windows 7 than Windows 8.

Windows 10, add a desktop
Windows 10, add a desktop

Mind you, I’m basing this on the technical preview Microsoft released a couple of months ago. Over the subsequent two updates to said preview, some things have changed, and more will be altered before the operating system enters final testing and is ultimately released. To some extent, Microsoft has been tossing features against the wall to see what sticks, and tweaking the features its "Windows Insiders" — the folks who bravely installed a half-baked operating system (hopefully on a non-production machine) so they can offer feedback — vote yea or nay upon.

It has been experimenting with the connection to OneDrive, for example — and the most recent build dumps the separate OneDrive Store app in favour of access through File Manager, the interface most familiar to Windows 7 OneDrive users (it also broke the file synch, but hey — it’s a test OS — this sort of thing happens. It’ll be fixed before release).

Because cloud is such an important part of today’s IT, Microsoft has added compatibility with its Azure Active Directory, as well as with the on premises Active Directory, for authentication and policy management. Microsoft says that this will enable single sign-on to local and cloud-based services. You can expect more cloud-y integrations in the future.

The next build of the Windows 10 Technical Preview isn’t scheduled to show up until early next year. New features will appear, bugs will be fixed, and duds will be purged. We can’t make a definitive judgement until features are locked down, but Windows 10, so far at least, is looking promising for consumer and enterprise alike.

Until then, it’s well worth grabbing the technical preview, trying it out (on a spare machine, please — it is NOT ready for prime time), and providing feedback.