I’ve had a first squint at the next version of Windows

Windows 10 Start Button

It’s back! The Start button in Windows 10

The next version of Windows will be with us in 2015 and it’s called Windows 10. A release date is expected to be announced in April for some time “later in the year”.

What happened to Windows 9? I’ve read two different explanations:

  • Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella said of Windows 9 “It came and went”. This suggests they might have started down a development path that they abandoned.
  • Terry Myerson, executive vice president of the (Microsoft) Operating Systems group, said “Because we’re not building an incremental product, the new name will be Windows 10”.

Thinking about it, though, these two statements aren’t mutually exclusive. Anyway, Myerson’s point is that Windows 10 will be significantly different from previous versions in that the same operating system will work on smartphones, tablets, laptops, and even other devices that are part of the “Internet of Things”. Or, more cynically, they are trying to big up the “newness” by skipping from 8 straight to 10.


What is “The Internet of Things”

Windows 10 Start Menu

The Windows 10 Start Menu

According to Wikipedia, “The Internet of Things (IoT) is the interconnection of uniquely identifiable embedded computing devices within the existing internet infrastructure”.

An example would be a smart cooker that can be remotely controlled from a smartphone (to switch on the oven as you leave work, for instance). In other words, devices, appliances and gadgets that have embedded chips to control or monitor them can be connected wirelessly to a router (just as tablets and smartphones are already) and then controlled via another device that connects to the same network. Other examples are medical appliances (such as heart monitors) that can be remotely interrogated.

Perhaps we should forget about this potential aspect of the new Windows for now and think about how Windows 10 will function in its main guise – that of a desktop/laptop operating system. The most astounding thing that I’ve discovered so far is the simple fact that Microsoft have finally listened to what their users want and given up trying to impose the “metro” or “tiled” interface on us as a replacement for the good old Start Menu. Yes – they’ve brought back the the Start Menu!

They’ve not given up on the tiles, though. You can access them from the Start Menu (see illustration). Perhaps I should have said before this point that the version of Windows 10 that is currently available is a “technical preview”. The final thing may look very different. This technical preview isn’t even a “beta release” (ie a version that’s almost finished, but which will almost certainly be “de-bugged” by end users putting it through its paces in a real-world environment). Nevertheless, it’s hard to imagine them swallowing their pride and bringing back the Start Menu for a “technical preview” and then dumping it again before the final release.

If you’re feeling nerdy, brave, or just bored, you can download this technical preview from Microsoft. The download is in an “iso” format for burning to a DVD that then becomes the source media for the installation. I wouldn’t recommend installing it on your “real” system. I’ve put it on a spare laptop. The installation was quick and painless. Certainly the easiest installation of a new Windows operating system that I’ve every come across.

Logo Under Construction

There doesn’t seem to be a Windows 10 logo yet

A lot of my own computer support clients found that accessing the “charms” bar in Windows 8 is confusing and a bit tedious. This is achieved by scrolling off a right-hand corner of the screen. It’s very easy to do this when actually trying to close a window (top right) or when trying to access the tiny rectangle of taskbar to the right of the date that, when clicked on, immediately displays the desktop. For the technical preview of Windows 10, at least, this behaviour has been removed. But is it any better to have to learn that depressing the Windows key and tapping on the letter “c” brings up the “charms” bar (as it does in Windows 8).

As well as bringing back the “proper” Start button and menu, a right-click on the Start button brings up a list of options just as it does in Windows 8.1. Between left and right clicks on the Start buttons a whole wealth of options can be easily accessed. I haven’t tried it, but I’m sure these left and right menus will be user-configurable.

Windows 10 will also include the possibility of having multiple desktops so that similar tasks can be grouped in different desktops. It doesn’t seem to be working very well in my own installation (and is probably a “work in progress”). If you’d like to learn more about this, have a look at winsupersite.com.

After playing with Windows 10 for a couple of hours, I have to say that I like it. For some reason, it makes a big psychological difference that the “proper desktop” is, once again, the “default” place to be in Windows. Having to see – and then switch from – the tiled interface in Windows 8 really did feel as if Microsoft were trying to herd us in a direction that they wanted us to go, and in which we didn’t want to go! I think it’s even possible that I may now play with some of tiled apps. Previously, I’d just clicked the desktop and refused to get involved with the tiled apps. Now that they are accessed from WITHIN the “proper” interface, I feel much happier.

All in all, I’m rather optimistic about how Windows 10 will perform when it’s finished and released next year.

If you’d like some more detail about the expected features of Windows 10 have a look at Techradar.

You may be thinking of buying a new PC and be wondering how you will get on with Windows 8

Windows 95 Start Button

Window 95 Start Button

In particular, you may have heard that Microsoft have done a strange thing by removing the “Start” button. This has been a part of Windows since the introduction of Windows 95 (was that really 18 years ago?) I remember the first time I encountered Windows 95 and my irritation at not being able to find any way of closing it nicely. Surely I can not be the only person who found it completely ridiculous that the option to “close” would be found within a button marked “start”! Anyway, we all got used to the Start button and a lot of users are rather upset that it’s gone.

It appears that people are missing two main things:

  • The ability to launch programs and system items from the Start menu
  • The ability to switch off the computer from the Start menu

So let’s deal with the first of these:

After a couple of weeks of “real” use of Windows 8, I find the tiled “Start Screen” irritating and pointless. If I want “apps” I’ll reach for my beautiful, light, well-behaved iPad Mini or maybe even my iPhone. So, the first thing I always do when I start Windows 8 is to click on the “Desktop” tile and get back to familiar territory.

If, however, I think of the Start Screen as being a replacement and evolution of the Start Menu (instead of a “re-imagining of Windows ” as Microsoft would like us to think), then things get better. Remember, for instance, the “search” box in the Start menu of Windows 7? Well, just click on the Windows key to go to the Start Screen and you can just type in the first few characters of any installed program to launch it. Once you get used to it, this is far quicker than searching through the old “desktop” for a particular icon. It works just like the “search” box in the Start menu of Windows 7. The key is to think of the “Start Screen” as being a replacement for the “Start Menu”. Just get used to accessing it with the Windows key instead of clicking on a Start button.

To illustrate, I am writing this blog in OneNote. If I now wish to launch, for instance, Adobe Acrobat (assuming that there’s no shortcut pinned to the taskbar) then I just hit the Windows key, type “acr” and the Enter key. That’s just five keystrokes. Let’s try another one. I can launch Opera by hitting the Windows key followed by “op” and the Enter key. Just four keystrokes. No Start button needed and no hunting through an insane confusion of desktop icons.

What about system utilities? No problem: the good old Control Panel is accessible by just typing the Windows key, “co”, and Enter.

Windows 8 Start Screen Icon

Start Screen Tile

There is an alternative way to access the Start Screen and that is to aim your mouse cursor at the bottom lefthand corner of the screen and click when a little “Start Screen Tile” appears. Don’t make the mistake of trying to move your cursor over the top of the tile before clicking as that will just make the tile disappear. Very annoying. So, just head for the corner of the screen and click as soon as the tile appears.

Directing search results to installed apps

When you start typing anything from the Start Screen you will see that the Windows search options that pop up are far more sophisticated than I suggest here. You can type your search term and then choose to narrow your results to “Apps”, “Settings” or “Files”. There are also a host of other places whither you can direct your search. For instance, I typed “cla” into the search box and then clicked on an app I have installed called “London Tube Map”. My search was then directed specifically to that app and the results returned were Clapham Common, Clapham North, etc. Clicking on one of these then displayed the tube map with the chosen station bleeping away at me. This was just for the purpose of illustration, of course. I’m afraid my mind really has decided that “apps” are for an iPad or Android tablet, and that “applications” are “proper” programs for a laptop or desktop.

Windows Key

Windows key – aka “winkey”

Maybe I can be lured away in time by Microsoft’s attempts to get us to view both “desktop” and “smartphone/tablet” app(lication)s on one device, but I must agree with what seems to be the prevailing opinion so far – Windows 8 is a bit clunky as a result of merging a desktop operating system with a mobile/tablet one. For the time being at least, I am choosing to view Windows 8 as being “desktop based” and the new “tiled apps” as a bit of nonsense. And I’m not going to be seduced by Microsoft’s (presumably intentional) use of the word “apps” to include both proper “applications” and mobile “apps”.

But, to return to the main topic of the missing Start button, I found that as soon as I started to think of the Start Screen as a very big replacement for the Start menu (instead of being the main way to use my computer) then I started to progress in using Windows 8. I’m still “desktop focused” and I’ve quickly learned to access the Start Screen with the Windows key (aka “winkey”) instead of aiming for a missing Start button.

Next week I’ll look at the other main gripe about the lack of a Start button in Windows 8 – and that is the lack of a “shutdown” button within it. And just in case I can’t convince you that you don’t need it, I’ll show you how to create a shortcut for your desktop that will let you shut the computer down with a single click.

© 2011-2019 David Leonard
Computer Support in London
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