Windows 10 preview: A glimpse of our desktop future

The good: The Start menu rises from the dead: Will you welcome it back?

In a valiant attempt to be all things to all people, Microsoft has re-created its Start menu as a massive hybrid of application list, live tiles, suggested help topics, and “Everyday apps.” Once you get your head around it, the design is fairly flexible. The tile portion can be re-arranged just like the Start screen in the Modern UI of Windows 8.

Not so good news…

The Start display (its not quite correct to call it either a menu or a screen, and it isn’t exactly a window) can also be shown either fullscreen or as a smaller version more similar to the old-fashioned Start menu. Purists will quickly notice that the actual menu portion only displays a few items (Places and Most used items) by default.

Just funny: Cortana may have had a few too many drinks before her debut

As promised, Cortana has been integrated into the Taskbar, but it isn’t very useful or easy to use yet. In theory, when you hit the Windows key and start typing, your keystrokes will go to Cortana. It (she?) will then handle the (hopefully) very quick search for matching applications (e.g. if you type Word or OneNote or Control Panel) and also more sophisticated questions (ala Siri or Google Now or Amazon’s Alexa). From having used Windows Phone 8, I know Cortana is capable of quite a lot. But the implementation in Windows 10 is currently really broken. Sometimes typing does nothing, other times Cortana is confused. And it doesn’t have nearly the sophistication of the Windows Phone version. Its ability to answer questions also seems to vary from hour to hour.

The best news is that Microsoft is listening

An under-reported segment of Microsoft’s event, and of Windows 10 preview, is the very extensive user feedback system built-in. Microsoft has taken great pains to explain that it is trying really hard to listen to users about what they want to see (and not see) in Windows 10. I can already hear many of you exclaiming, “It’s about time!” or “Likely story!” but it seems like it really is trying to shape Windows 10 to fit the needs of its users. On one hand that is a little sobering, as it means that Microsoft itself is heavily conflicted about its vision for the future of Windows, but if Microsoft can successfully incorporate all this “bottom-up” feedback into a coherent product, Windows 10 will not only be what most of us hoped Windows 8 would be, but will go far beyond it.

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