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By | Iain Thomson 30th September 2014 20:10

Microsoft WINDOWS 10: Seven ATE Nine. Or Eight did really

Windows NEIN skipped, tech preview due out on Wednesday

Vid+Pics Microsoft has shown off Windows 10, and described it as a blend of Windows 7 and 8.

Redmond thinks the new operating system is so revolutionary, it skipped over version 9 and went straight to double digits.

"We will carry forward all that is good in Windows," Terry Myerson, executive vice president of the operating systems group, told a press conference in San Francisco, shortly after 0930 PDT (1630 UTC) on Tuesday.

"Because we’re not building an incremental product, the new name will be Windows 10," he said, joking that they'd thought about resetting to Windows One, but Bill Gates got there first in more than two decades ago.

The very early build shown off by Myerson, and Joe Belfiore, corporate vice president of the OS group, is going to be a single operating system that will run on everything from the largest screens – 80 inches in size – right down to embedded devices such as life-support systems. That's the dream, anyway.

As for hardware support, the OS will run on "the vast majority of Windows systems out there," Myerson promised, although he acknowledged that phones may be a trickier proposition than PCs and tablets. The release date will be after the Build developer conference due sometime next spring, but on October 1 a "technical preview" for x86 machines will be opened up for all.

Developers will be able to build applications that are "write once and run on any Windows 10 platform", a mantra we first heard in the early days of the Metro interface's introduction – when Win 8 software was supposed to comfortably run across desktops, touchscreen tablets and pocket-sized phones.

From Wednesday, Microsoft will start a Windows Insider Program, where tech-savvy users can get very early code, comment on it, and discuss changes that are needed in forums.

"We're planning to share more than we ever have before and, frankly, earlier than we ever have before," Myerson said.

"Our intentions are quite simple. We believe that together, with the feedback you provide us, we can build a product that all of our customers will love. Windows 10 will be our most open, collaborative OS project ever."

Look and feel

Windows 10 Start button

The Start screen mixes the old and the (relatively) unwanted (click to enlarge)

Probably the key reason why enterprises shunned Windows 8 is that the interface is too different, and their IT departments are being deluged with calls from frustrated users. With Windows 10, Microsoft is seeking to build a user interface that even basic Windows users will recognize, but which rewards the savvier operator.

Windows 10 is going to be instantly recognizable to Windows 7 users based on the early build shown off on Tuesday. There's the same task bar on the bottom of the screen with a Start button, but when you click on that the Windows 8 input becomes apparent.

As well as having installed programs listed in the Start menu (the size of which can be customized), there's also a selection of Metro-ish tiles that can be used to launch software. Microsoft promised that almost all current Windows applications will be supported by the new operating system.

There will be a task bar so that users can flip between pages and browsers seamlessly and quit out of unwanted programs, similar to Apple's OS X Expose or Android's app viewing system. Features like the "snap to fit" application windows in version 7 have been added to allow apps to get the maximum available area without overlapping.

Windows 10 command prompt

Click to fit windows are nice and the command prompt has an upgrade (click to enlarge)

All the old keyboard shortcuts will still work, Microsoft said, again in a nod to the mouse and keyboard users who still make up the vast majority of Windows users. But Microsoft has also improved the command-line interface for power users hoping to get deep into the operating system, Belfiore promised.

Keeping the BOFH sweet

Myerson insisted IT administrators will love Windows 10, and attempted to explain why.

Firstly, Microsoft will allow its mobile device management software to run on all platforms, from the desktop to the smartphone. There will be a single control pane for all of that gear, and a host of new features to make life easier for hassled IT admins.

Security is going to be a big focus, he said, but declined to give much in the way of detail other than to say there will be an extra level of data protection, better support for remote wipe and lockdown, and customizable access to the Windows Store for enterprises that only allows whitelisted apps to be downloaded and installed.

These security tools will also protect data in transit, Redmond claimed, and if the Windows device is lost or stolen, the ability for others to access its stored data will be severely curtailed.

While Microsoft has promised software compatibility, there are still going to be a lot of legacy apps that IT managers are going to be worried about, so Redmond is including easy-to-use tools that will let managers test compatibility ahead of time, just in case.

Two become one

At this year's Intel Developer Forum there was a huge amount of hype for two-in-one devices; laptops with detachable screens that become tablets.

Belfiore said Microsoft is betting that these kinds of systems will be the next big thing in the laptop market, and Windows 10 will be built to address this hardware form specifically. When the screen is detached to become a tablet, a prompt pops up asking the user if they want to switch to tablet mode.

Youtube Video

If picked, the user interface changes to a more touch-friendly interface that's more familiar to Windows 8 users. Click the screen back into the casing, and you get another prompt box to switch back into a more keyboard-friendly Windows desktop.

Speaking of Windows 8, the Charms bar is also being heavily reworked, in part due to user feedback, Belfiore said. Swiping in from the right of the screen still brings up a menu, but according to the build shown today, the icons shown are for more useful things, like accessing Wi-Fi networks. This may change before release, he warned.

El Reg's early verdict

It's very early days yet, and what we've seen so far is only a small facet of what's coming for Windows 10 and its apparent focus on the enterprise sector. More consumer features will be announced in the coming months but, based on the sneak peek, this new OS may get Microsoft back in the good books of enterprise buyers.

Sitting in the presentation, the overwhelming thought in your humble hack's mind was: "This is what Microsoft should have done two years ago with Windows 8." Instead of Ballmer and Sinofsky trying to bully Windows users into accepting a touch-driven operating system, Satya Nadella's first operating system seems to want to seduce the user with a more gradual change in pace and design. It's like watching someone play bad cop, good cop.

Having fiddled around with the desktop-only OS build on show, the approach could well work. Users can still get a familiar UI, but Microsoft still has the benefit of being able to use the OS across a wide range of devices – in theory; if the promises of true cross-platform software are true, developers should like the new system, too.

That said, there's many a slip 'twixt the cup and the lip, as my granny used to say, and Redmond still has the possibility of mucking this one up. But on a very basic first look, Windows 10 looks promising indeed. ®

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