Everything You Need to Know About Windows 10

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The desktop and Start menu on the Windows 10 Technical Preview

Microsoft recently announced Windows 10, the next version of Windows. In Windows 10, Microsoft backtracks from Windows 8 in many ways, which is good news if you were put off by Windows 8 (as I was).

Is Windows 10 Out?

Windows 10 isn’t out yet. Microsoft has said it will be released in late 2015, so it’s probably a year or so away. But they have released a Technical Preview (in other words, a public beta) that lets enthusiasts try a very early version of Windows 10.

Anyone can download the Technical Preview and use it for free, although you should install it in a “virtual machine” program, or on a PC you don’t use much. You shouldn’t install it on your normal PC, as it will likely be unstable. If you hear about someone using Windows 10, they’re just using the unstable, incomplete version. It’s interesting to experiment with, but not something you’d want to run on your computer for the next year.

Also, it will eventually expire, so you will need to replace it with Windows 8 or the final, retail version of Windows 10.

What Happened to Windows 9?

Microsoft is apparently skipping the number 9. During their announcement, they said the name Windows 9 “wouldn’t be appropriate” because there are so many improvements in Windows 10.

That’s their story and they’re sticking to it.

So, no, you didn’t miss anything. There wasn’t a Windows 9. Microsoft is naming it Windows 10 to get far away from the tainted Windows 8 name, or they may just be trying to catch up to Apple’s OS X, which has been holding steady at version 10 for more than a decade now.

What’s New? Is It Any Good?

So far, the big takeaway in Windows 10 is that Microsoft cares about the desktop again. After calling the desktop “just an app” in the initial release of Windows 8, the desktop is now back with a vengeance. The current Windows 10 Technical Preview is all about the desktop.

There’s a pop-up Start menu again, and those new Windows 8-style applications run in windows on the desktop. The charms and app switcher hot corners are gone and won’t get in your way when you move the mouse around. The charms themselves will even be going away entirely for desktop users — and good riddance. There’s a new “Alt+Tab” interface that shows you an overview of your running applications, and a virtual desktop feature (the ability to have multiple desktops, each running different apps) that Windows power users have long been begging for.

Overall, Microsoft seems to actually be listening to users rather than shoving a new interface down their throats. That’s perhaps the biggest improvement in Windows 10. Yes, Windows 10 is definitely looking good so far — and I say that as a person who didn’t really like Windows 8 and clung to Windows 7 for a long time.

Task View on the Windows 10 Technical Preview

So, Touch is Gone?

Nope. Touch isn’t dead, but Microsoft realizes not every device has a touch screen. When you plug a keyboard into your computer, you’ll receive a popup that asks if you want to use Windows in desktop mode or in full-screen-touch-interface mode. This feature isn’t included in Windows 10 yet, but Microsoft did show it off. If you have a convertible device, it will truly convert between desktop and tablet modes.

Microsoft is also making a big push with Windows 8-style apps, now called “universal apps.” They don’t run in their own weird full-screen interface anymore. Instead, if you’re using the desktop, they run on the desktop. Microsoft is hoping people will actually start using them — Windows 8 users certainly aren’t using the new apps on desktop PCs, as Microsoft expected they would. If you do use these apps, it will be nice and easy to switch between tablet and desktop modes. Those full-screen apps will become desktop apps when you enter desktop mode, and vice versa.

Will It Be a Free Upgrade?

How much it will cost? Well, Microsoft isn’t talking about that yet. Historically, they’ve always charged for upgrades to new Windows versions. These upgrades have often cost $100 or so. Rumors indicate that Windows 10 may be free, at least to Windows 8 users. Let’s hope that’s true.

Windows 8 users haven’t been totally forgotten. Microsoft has already made Windows 8 better for desktop users with updates like Windows 8.1 and Windows 8.1 Update. (No, that’s not a typo, those really are two different things.) We’ll be waiting on the Start menu for a while yet — it’s not arriving until Windows 10 — but you can get a Start menu on Windows 8 today if you don’t want to wait a year.

Image credits: Microsoft

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