It’s no secret that Windows 8 was not a particularly successful release, as Microsoft struggled to convince both consumers and businesses of the virtues of its split nature. Fast forward to today, and the company has announced its successor, known as Windows 10. The next version of Microsoft’s operating system makes some big changes, perhaps most notably the removal of the much-hated tile UI.
First of all, that’s not a typo – Microsoft has decided to skip a number with the new release. Apparently somebody in Marketing thought "Windows 9" didn't sound like big enough a departure from the maligned Windows 8. But "Windows 10?" Now that's something completely new!
Interestingly, Microsoft has designed Windows 10 to scale from devices with screen sizes as small as four inches – meaning that it isn’t just the next desktop OS, but also the new software for Windows smartphones and Xbox game consoles. As you might expect, the user interface will be different on the phone version of the OS, with no desktop. Past that, we’ll have to wait for further announcements to learn more about the cross-device nature of the new release.
On the desktop OS side of things, the first big change won't surprise anyone who's either used or followed the fortunes of Windows 8.x. The Start screen (initially known as Metro UI) is effectively dead. We say effectively, as the upcoming release won't completely eradicate the tile-based interface from the platform. Instead it shrinks it down to fit inside a reincarnated Start Menu.
Though the tile UI has been shrunk down to fit inside half the Start Menu, you can actually resize the menu if you so desire. There’s a touch mode that pulls it up to fill the screen, adding more tiles and closely resembling the Windows 8.1 Start screen UI. While the majority of users probably won’t make use of that feature, it’s something that Windows tablet and 2-in-1 owners will likely be thankful for.
To coincide with the removal of the full-screen tile UI, Windows Store apps will run in windows, just like standard desktop programs, helping to unify the platform and making the experience of using the OS effectively much more like Windows 7.
If you're an OS X or Linux user, then virtual desktops won't be a new concept (it's essentially exactly what it sounds like – extra, virtual desktop spaces that help you better organise open programs). Microsoft is finally on board with the feature, adding the ability to run apps in different virtual spaces, viewing all open programs at the press of a button – something the company calls Task view.
Microsoft was also keen to stress the benefits of Windows 10 for enterprise users, highlighting the ability for companies to choose how quickly they adopt new features and customize an app store so that it caters specifically for the needs of its workers.
Microsoft will start distributing the Technical Preview build of Windows 10 for laptops and desktop machines on October 1. The consumer version of the operating system is expected to ship mid-2015.
It’s likely that you still have some pretty significant questions about Windows 10. Given the questions that Microsoft left unanswered today, that’s a reasonable reaction. The company sees this initial announcement of the OS as a step on the road to its eventual release. It intends to listen closely to enterprise customers and preview testers over the coming months, tweaking and improving the experience leading up to release.