Microsoft made an odd choice with its latest desktop operating system in development.
The current release, as you may know, is called Windows 8. This follows Windows 7 (which was internally numbered as version 6.1), which followed Windows Vista (6.0), which followed Windows XP (5.1), which followed Windows 2000 (5.0). Older consumer releases of Windows (95, 98, and Me) were a separate development line versioned differently.
So when Microsoft announced that the successor to Windows 8 would be called Windows 10, perhaps it shouldn’t have been a surprise. There was a Windows 8.1, after all – a free update to Windows 8. Given the whole 6.1/7 thing, maybe there was a plan at some point to call Windows 8.1 Windows 9 instead, but it was scrapped so that no one would think Microsoft was starting to give away operating systems for free, but inside the company they still thought of 8.1 as 9, so … maybe?
Supposedly, 10 is such a huge update over 8 that they just had to skip a number. And yet, the most visible differences in the Windows Technical Preview — a test version of Windows 10 that of course I downloaded and installed on the Vista laptop I haven’t gotten around to selling yet — back away from the radical user interface changes made for Windows 8.
Most obviously, the good ol’ Start menu is back. Click the button in the lower left and you get a vertical list of programs, just like all Windows versions from 1995 until 2012. The full-screen Start menu of Windows 8 legit enraged many longtime users, so Microsoft wisely gave in and put the old style back.
The tiled design of Windows 8’s Start menu has been integrated, though. Live Tiles, brightly colored squares that launch apps and display current information like weather and news, sit beside the program list. Tiles can be resized, added, and rearranged with a drag and a drop. It’s pretty nicely done, jarring to neither old-school proponents nor anyone who’d gotten used to the new full-screen Start menu.
The next big rollback puts full-screen apps into resizable windows. Sensing a theme here? Sure, people are using smaller, mobile devices more, but they still want desktop PCs to be desktop PCs. The option remains to have menus and apps take over the whole screen, but at least in this Technical Preview, it’s not the default.
The installation was pretty simple. After downloading a multiple-gigabyte file and burning it to DVD, I was able to install cleanly onto an unused hard drive partition. A boot screen now offers me a choice of Technical Preview or my totally intact Windows Vista partition.
Most settings from my Windows 8.1 laptop transferred over via my online Microsoft account. My display and touchpad were a bit wonky at first, but Windows Update was able to download new drivers with just a click.
Behind the interface changes, a lot of tweaks are still in store, from security enhancements to battery optimization. New builds are being released every couple weeks — which, honestly, could make the end product both better and worse, depending on the feature. With lots of user feedback, Microsoft just might make something people want again.
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