Updated: February 2, 2015
As you know, I have already reviewed Windows 10 a while back, and I liked it. Which meant I wasn't expecting to spend too much time fiddling with the latest release of the preview build, numbered 9926, when it came out in late January. And yet, I found myself hands deep in testing and troubleshooting, and this is the first of many articles on the topic.
This new edition brings us that much closer to what the official product ought to look like. On paper, it sounds glamorous. Windows 10 will be a free upgrade for Windows 7 and above, you get Cortana integrated in your desktop, and other cool tricks. Enough to convince people that Microsoft is back on its feet. Truth to be told, I did purchase some of its shares, but if you expect bias in this article, you're wrong. I'm going to praise and then lambaste Windows 10. While the reaction is not going to be as cheerful as my Windows 8 reviews, it gets close enough. A doomsday warning. Now read.
The new build is available in Windows Update, so you can just download it. The procedure will take a bit of time and a couple of reboots. Roughly an hour to two hours later, you will be running the new version. In my case, it also meant the custom Mac OS X theme was changed to a default one, and it's different from Windows 8. Microsoft wants to distance itself from failure with great vigor.
Indeed, at first glance, it's just Windows, and the only notable thing is the addition of the integrated search in the panel, wherever you've placed it. There are other cool changes underneath the hood, so let's review them all, shall we.
Menu search is gone
This is one of the first things you may notice when powering up the menu. No more classic search box. You get that other search box, but that's something else entirely, as I'm going to show you in a few moments. Shame really, because the great thing about Windows 7 and above was that you could hit the Windows key and then type. Note: You can disable the new search, and the old one will be sort of back, but more about that later.
Of course, you can expand the menu if you want, yippie!
The search functionality now comes with its own cloud-powered AI, allowing you to run supposedly intelligent, contextual searches inside your desktop. This is very similar to what Ubuntu tried to achieve with its scopes and lenses and the long Alt presses that activated the Dash. This is also somewhat similar to what Google is trying to do on its own devices, by acting as a natural language portal to all your needs, whatever they may be.
The cloud thingie has a fancy name, Cortana, and it's the name of a fictional character from the Halo game franchise, which is supposed to give nerds a digital boner. The voice also matches, of course.
In order to use Cortana, you must sign in with a Microsoft account. This is a wickedly clever arrangement by Microsoft. They are trying to entice you to start using an online account on your desktop. I find this not to my liking, but for the sake of this review slash experiment, I let Windows convert my local account to an online one. The process is fully reversible, as I've shown you on Windows 8.1, but you will have to use a different name for your user after the conversion, which can be a bit of a hassle.
If you refuse, you won't be able to use Cortana. This is pretty silly and restricting, especially since you get no normal search, per se. But like I said, I'm saving my fury, venom and prophetic truth for later on.
I will go into details about Cortana in a separate review, but for now, let's have some interesting observation. If you decide to use Cortana, then you can choose between keyboard input and voice commands. Shouting Hey Cortana will activate the search lady, and she will listen to you through the microphone, provided it is turned on, and you let your apps use it. If not, you will get a cryptic error.
Voice recognition in Cortana works fine, but you must speak slowly. For instance, narrating 'a sphincter says what' resulted in my default browser opening to a Bing search page about Wayne's World. Curse words are omitted, anything non-English is a no-no, and sometimes, she won't really get what you're trying to say.
Text search is more efficient, and you can also do math and ask stupid questions, if you feel that much forever alone and have to interact with a scripted Turing machine like a retard. We will talk more about this in another article.
If you do not use Cortana and want to disable the new search functionality, you will get a generic search instead, which will also display Bing crap. In general, I hate news of all kind, especially when you get the mellow politically correct Silicon Valley bullshit drama, and having this on my desktop feels like non-consensual intercourse with a sheep. Again, we will have a WHOLE article on Windows 10 privacy.
Explorer & Access Denied to network shares
This is one of the first big problems I encountered. You cannot browse your network shares easily anymore. You will get a stupid, pointless, unnecessary error message that says:
\\something is not accessible. You might not have permission to use this network resource. Contact the administrator of this server to find out if you have access permissions. The account is not authorized to log in from this station.
This is nonsense. But do not worry. I have a tutorial on this coming in a few days. It's somewhat similar to Windows 7 sharing stuff I wrote a while back, expect we will be dealing with a different set of registry keys. It will be fine.
Other than that, the new Explorer is relatively cool, and you can pin/unpin locations into your favorites very easily. The quick access view is also quite handy overall. But not in the German sense of mein handy, which is totally fun and rad. Notice the somewhat Gnome 2 old era windows decorations.
You can also tweak the folder options, to open a non-default location when Explorer is launched, which is something you could always have done using shortcuts, so it's a new way of presenting the same functionality really. But cool, why not.
New settings menu
If anything, Windows is more and more converging toward Linux. Free upgrades, open-sourcing dotNET or whatnot, and now system settings applets that look and behave like any of its counterparts, Ubuntu, Mint and friends. This is a sure sign of progress, once you start imitating your opposition. Control Panel is still there, though.
Another interesting new view is the notifications popup pane on the right side of the screen, which effectively replaces the Windows quick-access super menu, and now looks more like something that you get on a smartphone. Not very useful for desktop, I must say. This will make more sense on tablets. Once again, notice a very KDE like behavior here.
There's been a lot of praise for the latest spin of Metro apps and the Store, and how things are getting better, more refined, more useful. Perhaps this is the case, but the modern apps are still inferior to their desktop counterparts. A good example is Skype.
The fancy new version wanted to merge all my existing accounts for the particular email address into a single one. And then, you have to keep using it. But what if I have multiple Skype addresses for a reason? Well, tough luck. This is why you'd better use the desktop version, because it's simply more convenient, and you can sign in with any number of Skype IDs as you feel like.
The Store is shiny and whatnot. And it does not impress me. It's still pointless. The same is true for Google Play, but with Android, people got used to the subpar quality right from the start. With Microsoft, you expect desktop results, and you don't get them yet.
Another highlight of this release is the Xbox application. You may treat is as the extended media center thingie to what used to be the Windows media center in olden releases, and probably comparable to Steam Big Picture. Anyhow, I launched the application, and then was promptly told I had to sign in for an Xbox account to be able to use it. Not a problem, except I managed to make the online portal hiccup. Twice. And so I was unable to test the software.
The new Microsoft browser, the replacement for Internet Explorer is still not available, so we will all have to wait for that. Frankly, Microsoft is going to need a miracle to convince people to go back to their browser. The key is in this thing called extensions, lots and lots of them, and with real value and whatnot, so perhaps they might yet pull it off.
Some extra observations and comments. Battery life remains very impressive. The T400 laptop used for testing can squeeze some six hours of juice. And even after much rigorous monkeying about, the battery meter still showed some three hours left. Neat.
Once you're done fiddling, if you feel like going back to your local account, you can. You will just need to use a different name. But your data will be retained. Again, compare this to other companies, and you certainly get more freedom here. The path yonder is a little convoluted. You need to go under User Accounts and Family Safety > User Accounts. Then, Make changes to my account in PC settings. Then, hit Disconnect under your account name. And follow the wizard to its successful completion.
And I guess we're done. One last final screenshot:
And now a big, big warning
Windows 10 Build 9926 has some really cool new features, but it also comes with a potential disaster waiting to happen. Remember, this comes from a guy who was 100% accurate regarding Windows 8 stupidity and failure, which is why you should listen to me very carefully. Windows 10 could end up the same way as Windows 8 unless it sorts its search thing. The search will become the new menu crisis. Repeat, the search might undermine all Microsoft efforts. Read thing, and forward to whoever necessary.
And the reasons are as follows: The default setting is to use the integrated desktop search. This means NO search in the menu. The integrated search WITHOUT Cortana is loaded with crap advertisement, even after pruning. Cortana works well, and you can have a nice search, but you must use an ONLINE account for that. This means that you're basically forced to suffer.
The new search is also less efficient. Windows key, type, nope. This does not work in this new thing. Perhaps there is some cool magical shortcut that people can use to become insta productive, but since I haven't discovered it within nine seconds of using the new desktop, then no. I find the search functionality to be less useful than the old one, as it takes more keystrokes and mouse movements to achieve the same. We talked about this in the past, right.
A workaround is to disable the integrated search, and then, the search box will pop down when you open the menu, overlapping your shortcuts, and this is ugly, unrefined, and not as good as what you get in Windows 7. This means that smart, intelligent, efficient users will find themselves hating and resenting Windows 10 for similar reasons they rejected Windows 8. And average people will just be confused. However, there is a better, simpler way. How do you solve all these? With Classic Shell!
But it won't run! Microsoft has blacklisted this program for Windows 10, and even if you change its compatibility settings, it still won't run. The simple solution is to rename the executable, and then it will install without ANY problems. There are several other tweaks and changes you should apply to get a seamless desktop experience, which is why I will waste your time with a dedicated Classic Shell article for Windows 10. Soon, soon.
But then, what if Microsoft decides to permanently blacklist Classic Shell, for some reason? This should not happen, but then it might. Let's assume that it does. In that case, your options regarding the desktop search are limited. And this means, Windows 10 will not become an upgrade option for people who have a sane way of doing this in earlier versions of Windows.
Microsoft, heed my words carefully, I'm the smartest man alive, your business success hinges on this. Make it smart. Make it efficient. Not the way it is in this preview release.
Windows 10 Preview Build 9926 brings a lot to the table. It's a pretty decent release, with many new good things and improvements, as well as some potential disasters. Most notably, the search functionality is flawed, and the approach to online use needs refinement.
Other than that, Metro slash modern applications remain inferior to their desktop counterparts, battery usage is phenomenal, the system is stable and sturdy. However, we go back to the local versus online, search functionality, system menu, and such. This is the one thing that will make or break Windows 10, and Microsoft needs to invest all its effort in nailing it right. If you ask me, a search box should feature somewhere in the menu permanently and with a static position, if and when the online search is disabled. There should also be no restrictions on third-party menu software, and the whole Bing stuff needs to be toned down a little. People won't like it on their desktop. Microsoft must do this gently, slowly, patiently. PC are not smartphones, and people will respond with fierce negativity to any attempt in making them behave as such.
There you go, the most detailed and honest Windows 10 review you will ever have read, and this is just a beginning. We will have separate articles on Cortana, privacy tweaks, Classic Shell, network access problems, and more. Stay tuned, and let me solve all your computing woes for you. Final word, Windows 10, it could become brilliant, but there's a chance of suicide, all depending on how search integration and advertisements are realized in the final version. See you around.