New build of Windows 10 shows Cortana, unified app store, ability to buy Xbox One games on PC
An upcoming version of the Windows 10 Technical Preview has leaked, and it has some really, really big changes. Where the first few builds of Windows 10 have been very teasing, only showing small tweaks and upgrades, this new version (build 9901) finally has Microsoft revealing most of its cards. Most notably, it looks like the original Control Panel might be going away, replaced by the new Metro-style PC Settings app — and, somewhat oddly, it looks like you’ll be able to buy Xbox One apps from the Windows 10 app store. Does this mean you’ll be able to play Xbox One games on your PC? There are also lots of changes to the UI, and a general downplaying of Metro. All in all, Windows 10 is looking very nice indeed.
Over the weekend, build 9901 of Windows 10 leaked. The current Technical Preview, which was released a couple of weeks ago, is only build 9879 — this is a big jump, and thus a lot of changes and new features. Judging by the full version number, it was compiled at the beginning of December — so this probably isn’t the version that we’ll see at the “official” consumer unveil of Windows 10 on January 21 next year. This is probably a good thing, as the videos and screenshots of the leaked build show quite a few rough edges and incomplete/broken features.
Changes in Windows 10 Technical Preview build 9901
I’m going to do this as a bulleted list, because there’s a lot of ground to cover, and then we’ll look at a few of the more important points in detail.
Cortana in Windows 10 [Image credit: The Verge]
Cortana is now available. The search button on the taskbar now lets you search with your voice, by asking Cortana questions. The implementation is virtually identical to Cortana on Windows Phone. Along with search, she can manage access to a notebook and reminders. Along with clicking the button, you can also activate Cortana by simply saying “Hey Cortana,” which could be very useful for hands-free usage (cooking in the kitchen… or other things where your hands might be busy…)
- There’s a new unified Windows Store. After going through a few revisions — which took it from “worst app store ever” all the way up to “this is still an awful app store” — it seems Windows 10 will finally get a big, fancy, feature-rich app store. Along with apps, you can now use the Windows Store to buy music and movies and TV shows and… Xbox One games!
- There’s a new Xbox app. Somewhat oddly, there’s a new Xbox app that shows all of your Xbox Live achievements, friends, messages, and so on (pictured top). It also lets you buy games, which pops open the Xbox section of the Windows Store.
Updated: It looks like the “store” button in the Xbox app actually takes you to a list of Windows/Windows Phone games, not Xbox One games. So maybe you can’t buy Xbox One games from Windows 10 – or maybe the functionality isn’t quite there yet.
- Lots and lots of new apps. This build includes lots of new, Metro-style apps — such as a new-look Calculator app, and a Metrofied version of Sound Recorder. Interestingly, though, these apps are clearly meant to be run in a window rather than previous Metro apps which were oriented around full-screen use.
PC Settings in Windows 10, looking a lot more like Control Panel…
The PC Settings app is more functional. With Windows 8, system config was uncomfortably split between the original Control Panel and the new Metro PC Settings app. With Windows 10, it looks like Microsoft has decided to consolidate on the PC Settings app — or at least, PC Settings will be gaining a much larger range of options.
- App settings are now in-app. In Windows 8, you accessed a Metro app’s settings via the Charms bar, which was rather odd and resulted in most people simply thinking that most apps just didn’t have any settings. Now, in addition to the new menu button in the top left corner of Metro apps, the app’s settings are now just part of the app window. Touchscreen devices might retain the old method of accessing settings — we’ll have to wait and see.
- Updated UI. The new build of Windows 10 looks a bit different, too. More animations have been added. Icons on the taskbar have changed slightly: The accent color for open apps is more pronounced, and the hover effect is different too. I’m sure there are some more new, flatter icons too, but I haven’t gone hunting for them yet.
Overall, build 9901 is clearly the best indication yet of the direction that Microsoft intends to take with Windows 10 — at least on mouse-and-keyboard PCs, anyway. The Metro UI is still present, but it’s significantly downplayed — and with other changes to the standard Desktop interface, such as 1-pixel borders and flat icons, the whole package feels a lot more together and less of a mishmash of interface paradigms. Now it almost just feels like “Metro” simply consists of nice typography, block colors, and better use of negative space. It might be very different on touchscreen devices, of course, but we’ll have to wait and see.
Cortana is interesting, of course, but we’ll have to wait and see how that works in practice. She will be useful in situations where you’d rather not type, but I don’t think there are many such instances in conventional desktop PC use. The unified app store is very nice to see, after months of posturing from Microsoft. The inclusion of Xbox games in the Windows Store is very intriguing — it might simply mean that you can buy games from your PC, and have them download to your Xbox One… or it might mean that Windows 10 will be able to play Xbox games. I think the latter is a long shot, though Microsoft has indicated that it would like to merge all three ecosystems (Windows, Windows Phone, Xbox) and they do all share a lot of low-level code.
In any case, we’ll find out a lot more about Microsoft’s consumer vision for Windows 10 on January 21. Previously, I was a little bit worried that Windows 10 was just going to be a rejigged version of Windows 7 — but now… now I’m altogether more excited for what Microsoft might have in store.
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