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Windows 10's changes are as big as the Start menu and as nitty-gritty as the command prompt, with lots of interesting stuff in between. Let's dig in.
The future of Windows, now
After months of rumors and leaks, Windows 10 is officially here, and this is no mere paper launch. The operating systems isn’t due to hit consumer PCs until mid-2015, but Microsoft’s already rolled out a Windows 10 Technical Preview stuffed with all sorts of new goodies designed to entice PC power users—not tablet owners.
PCWorld’s guide to installing the Windows 10 Technical Preview can help you get the OS up and running on your system. But if you’d rather stay far, far away from very early pre-release operating systems—an understandable caution—this slideshow reveals all of Windows 10’s first wave of secrets. Look for even more to appear in a consumer preview next year.
The Start menu
Of course we’re starting with the Start menu. Windows 10 revives the old standby, but rather than focusing on desktop programs alone, the Windows 10 Start menu fuses a traditional Start menu layout with a mini-Start screen of sorts, populated with tiles for the Windows Apps or desktop programs of your choosing.
You can turn off the “Live Tile” functionality and resize the tiles as you see fit—just like you could on Windows 8’s Start screen. Alternatively, you could unpin all Apps from the Start menu to collapse the Windows 8-esque portion completely, leaving you with a Windows 7-like menu alone.
The squat Start menu
You can also resize the Start menu as you see fit, shrinking it down ‘til it’s squat or dragging it almost all the way up to the top of the screen. It’ll automatically expand horizontally as you add more and more Live Tiles to the Start menu.
Pick your poison
Windows 10 for PCs defaults to the desktop and the new Start menu, but you can bring the Windows 8 Start screen back if you'd like. Right-click on the taskbar, select Properties, open the Start Menu tab, and uncheck the box next to “Use the Start menu instead of the Start screen.”
After you click OK you’ll be prompted to sign out of Windows, and then log back in…
Windows 10 Start screen
…where you’ll promptly be greeted by the full-screen Start screen! Yep, it’s still here—just hidden.
Start menu customization options
The same Start menu tab that allows you to default to the Start screen also includes a Customize button that lets you tweak exactly how the desktop Start menu behaves, as well as which specific shortcuts appear on it.
Metro apps meet the desktop
As promised, Windows Apps now appear in desktop windows, rather than being the full-screen-only giants they were in Windows 8. They can be resized just like any other desktop window. Meanwhile, the mouse-friendly Windows App menu bar introduced in Windows 8.1’s spring update has blossomed: It’s now full of options that used to be buried behind the Charms bar.
Those Windows Apps can be split-screen Snapped next to traditional programs on the desktop in Windows 10. Another nifty feature: After you Snap a window to half (or whatever) of the screen, the operating system pops up suggestions of running apps you may want to Snap next to it in the “open” half of the screen. It’s reminiscent of the tiling windows management found in Linux PCs.
Search on the desktop
Now for the two new icons next to the Start button: First up is the magnifying glass icon, which brings up Windows 10’s search feature. The feature largely mimics the search functionality baked into the Windows 8 Start screen, surfacing programs, files, and even Bing-surfaced web pages related to your search queries. It’s lightning-quick and insanely useful—just like Windows 8’s search capabilities.
Ew, trending searches
It’s too bad the Search button includes this ugly addition before you start typing: A list of “Trending now” topics provided by Bing. The “feature” is ugly and feels like a slimy invasion of my desktop—a dirty way for Microsoft to push Bing more than a genuinely useful feature for end users.
Next to the search icon is an odd little icon of two rectangles, one in front of the other. This brings up Task View, Windows 10’s new (and long awaited) virtual desktop support. Task View lets you create multiple, virtualized versions of the desktop, each populated with their own set of open apps. You can have a desktop for work and another for play, for instance. When you click the taskbar icon, your available virtual desktops appear at the bottom of the screen. Clicking them showcases that desktop’s open apps in the center of the display.
The shortcuts found on virtual desktops are universal—at least currently—so you can’t create tailored shortcuts and programs for each instance. Alas.
One app, multiple desktops
If you look closely at Windows 10’s task bar, you may see that some of the apps are underlined. (Check it out under the File Explorer and Windows Store icons here.) That means it’s currently open in another virtual desktop, and clicking it will drop you there instead of opening a new instance on the current desktop.
You can, however, right-click an app that’s open in another virtual desktop, then select its name to open a new instance of the app on your current desktop—at least for legacy desktop programs. The functionality is flakier with Windows Apps.
All powerful ALT + TAB
The good ol’ Alt + Tab keyboard combo still cycles you through open programs, but it includes any apps open across all of your virtual desktops, and it displays small visual previews of each app now. Win + Tab brings up the Task View.
Flat icons, borderless windows, and File Explorer tweaks
Windows’ core has received a makeover in Windows 10 as well. Icons are flatter now—you notice it instantly looking at the File Explorer icon in the taskbar. Window borders are almost imperceptible, giving open programs a floating look, and they’re more squared off, with sharp corners.
The flat aesthetic carries over to File Explorer, which also has a “Home” screen populated with your most frequently accessed folders and recent files, in addition to your favorites. I dig it—it seems like it’ll make navigating your computer faster, and I’m all for that (especially after Windows 8 did the distinct opposite).
Sharing moves to File Explorer
In Windows 8, sharing files to different apps was handled via the Share Charm, in the Charms bar hidden on the right side of the screen. The functionality has been added to File Explorer in Windows 10. Selecting a file or folder and then clicking on the new 'Share' icon on the left side of the Share tab's ribbon menu—it's the small black circle in this screenshot—brings up the available apps you can share the file with, just like the Share Charm.
Supercharged Internet Explorer
The Windows Technical Preview doesn’t include a new version of Internet Explorer, but IE11 has been given a notable superpower under the hood: Support for the next-gen HTTP/2 protocol , which lets websites deliver information much faster than is allowed by basic HTTP.
Leveled-up Command Prompt
Windows 10’s Command Prompt tool has received some handy-dandy new features, including as the ability to use Crtl + C and Crtl + V, respectively, to copy and paste, an option to re-wrap text to fit the window after you resize it, and more.
They’re not enabled by default however. To activate the new tools, open the Command Prompt, right-click on its title bar, and select Properties. In the window that opens, choose the Experimental Tab, check the box next to “Enable experimental console features,” and select which new toys you want to play with.
Finally, the Technical Preview includes an app designed specifically for you to deliver feedback to Microsoft engineers—that is the entire point of the Windows Insider program, after all. As you try new elements of the OS—such as the Start menu—for the first time, the feedback app pops up notifications asking you how the experience went.
Don’t expect this to work its way into the final Windows 10 build, but it sure is a handy way to let Microsoft know what you think of the Technical Preview.