Windows 10 New Old Start MenuI couldn’t help myself, I had to sign up to the Technical Preview and get Microsoft’s latest operating system, Windows 10, installed in a virtual machine immediately. Ultimately I will try out some CAD software to see if it will install and run appropriately. I will try out AutoCAD, Inventor and possibly even SOLIDWORKS. In the meantime, I thought I would share some initial observations.

Installation

To get started I swung over to the Microsoft Insider Program website and signed up. Super easy, especially since my browser was already logged into my account. After accepting the agreement, I had my pick of which installer language I needed. 4GB later, about half an hour, the ISO file was ready to be mounted to a VMware instance. Once that was configured, the install process was no different to the Windows 8 process. I had the choice of upgrading or installing a fresh copy. Since it was a VM, I went with a fresh copy. I have my VM’s running on my local Samsung EVO SSD drive, so the installation was done in just under 10 minutes.  From booting the ISO image to logging into Windows within 10 minutes!!! It wasn’t that long ago with Windows 7 where you would easily be waiting nearly an hour to get the operating system installed. Once I gave the install my Microsoft credentials, it asked me which PC I wanted to copy my settings from, or if I wanted to create an independent computer. That isn’t something I’ve seen with Windows 8, and to be honest, it’s a welcome addition. I wonder if there is a setting somewhere to retrospectively ‘detach’ the PC from your group of sync’d devices.

Windows 10 PC Sync SetupFrom there, Windows does it’s usual setting up routine, then within a few minutes I’m in. I have to say, it was the easiest operating system install I have ever experienced.

Naturally I started poking about, so what’s different? At this early stage, I can only hope to discover some visual changes and areas of the system I use regularly. Let’s get cracking.

Start Menu

Context Menu

The first thing I did was check the power user context menu on the Start Menu button was still in place. Thankfully it is. That in my opinion is reason enough for people to upgrade to Windows 8.1 from 7, so I really didn’t want to lose that. If you aren’t using it already, direct access to useful tools such as; running the Command Prompt as Administrator, Programs and Features, and the Run command mean you are missing out big time. Get in there.

Search

Windows 10 Start Menu SearchStart Menu based search in Windows Vista and Windows 7 is woefully underutilized by the vast majority of PC users. In my opinion it was that skill / habit gap which made the Windows 8 user experience so many pundits refer to as ‘Jarring’. The reality was, if you were half decent at typing, pressing the Windows key on your keyboard, then starting to type what you wanted is a far more productive way to work. The Windows team knew this and enhanced search brilliantly in Windows 8.1. The Start Menu, yes, a Start Menu, because that’s exactly what the Windows 8 start screen is, has now become a one stop shop to acquire whatever you need at any time from any where within the Windows operating system. Windows 10 brings this functionality to the forefront by placing a Search button smack bang on the taskbar, right next to the much loved Windows icon. I can only hope this encourages more users to take advantage of the excellent search tools within Windows. I’ve already noticed the search results favoring recently used files, which is handy indeed.

The ‘New’ old Start Menu

It’s baaack, but frankly I don’t care, I’ll still be pressing the Windows key and typing the same way I did with Windows 7.Windows 10 Start Menu All Apps I am glad they have updated it though, and it does look pretty swanky. Tacked onto the side of it, is a hark back to the Windows 8 Start Menu, with a Live Tile section. This can be fully customized by pinning anything you turn up in the left side of the Start Menu or via a Start Menu search. At this stage, you can’t pin any results via the aforementioned Search button on the task bar, personally I will be turning that off if I can. Admittedly, I am happy to see a folder based hierarchy return, just for when I need to rummage for Apps of the same name, but different release years. For Autodesk Inventor users, that will be things like Task Scheduler and the Styles Manager.

Going back to the Live Tile section of the Start Menu, you can move the tiles around and choose from four different sizes. Some people don’t like the constant movement of Live Tiles, so Microsoft have provided the ability to turn that functionality off on a tile by tile basis. As you add pin more tiles, the width of the Start Menu grows. I haven’t tried to overflow the menu yet, but I will eventually. If need be, you can increase the height of the Start Menu in the same way you can with a normal window. So essentially you could almost create a full screen ‘New’ old Start Menu which.. at which point you may as well revert to the Windows 8.1 Start Menu, which can be done within the Taskbar and Start Menu Properties dialog. Accessed from the taskbar context menu.

Snaps & Apps

Alt + TAB

It works the same way it always did. Except now it has to consider the Virtual Desktop feature. As a result all the open apps and applications currently running within the operating system are displayed when you press this age old key combination. Personally I barely use it, but I know others love it, so it’s good to see Microsoft have preserved its behavior.

Virtual Desktops / Task View

Windows 10 Task View - Virtual DesktopsThis is a biggy. At first I thought, meh, I kind of wanted it to allow me to have work and play desktop layouts. But I quickly realized it had precious little to do with the desktop itself, rather it’s all about grouping open applications together. One of the reasons I didn’t like using Alt + TAB in the past was for when I had applications snapped side by side. As soon as I Alt tabbed, I would lose my layout and find a need to keep mashing my TAB key until I got back to it. With this, I can just switch between organized app groups. I will share some CAD related productivity thoughts on this in a later post.

However, I’m not a fan of one feature here. All running apps still appear along the taskbar, only the ones available in the active Virtual Desktop appear to be running. The rest just look like they have been pinned to the taskbar. Upon closer inspection you will notice, the ‘running’ version of the icon is hiding just off screen, with its edge just poking up. I think this makes the taskbar look a tad messy, but at this point I can’t think of a better way of handling that, other than removing it entirely. Having them, does mean you can quickly switch to its Virtual Desktop just by clicking on that edge, instead of having to click on the Task View button just to the right of that handy new Search button.

Snaps

Windows 10 Snap AssistI’ve always liked using the Windows Key + Directional arrows to evenly dock windows around my screen. With Windows 10 that has become enhanced. You can now dock / snap windows into the corner of your screen as well, meaning you can have four apps evenly docked on your screen, perfect if you have a mahoosive monitor dominating your workspace. There has been talk of Snap Assist suggesting apps to fill in the spaces, but in my testing that only seems to be the case when you snap a window full height to the right or left of the screen. It doesn’t appear to be working for the four corner snap yet, hopefully that is on the way.

Charm Bar

Windows 10 App Charm BarIf you have a keyboard and mouse, and an ‘old skool’ sticky finger free monitor, like my Gen 1 HP ZBook 15, then mousing over the right side of the screen won’t reveal the Charm Bar. The little flyouts in the top corners and bottom left corner of the screen are no where to be seen either. However, the Windows + C Keyboard shortcut will force the Charm Bar to reveal itself within some installations, as it did mine. One aspect I do like, is if you have a modern app window open, and you press Windows + C a mini charm menu appears in the top left corner of the window. You can also access this by clicking the ellipsis button found up there. This is handy because you get access to a few other commands, Play, Print and Project… now project is nice to see. I can’t wait to get a WiDi Miracast enabled TV for my lounge (living room).

Command Prompt

Windows 10 Command Prompt Experimental SettingsAutodesk power users will be very familiar with Windows Command Prompt, they will also know how dated it is. Surprisingly, even in the presence of the much vaunted Windows PowerShell, the lowly old Command Prompt has received some attention. I didn’t even realize this until today, but you can access the Command Prompt Properties dialog from the Title bar context menu. In there Windows 10 has an Experimental tab containing a host of new goodies. As you can see in the image above, we can now control the opacity of the window, which is rather swanky. But the big win is the ability to highlight text like a normal person and when you hit Ctrl + V on your keyboard, you aren’t greeted with ^V. THANK YOU Microsoft!

Verdict

Yes please! I liked the progression of Windows 8 from 7 and I really like this update as well. At this stage it feels a lot more like Windows 8.2, but there is nearly a year of further development here. There will be a lot more going on in the background here with respect to harmonization across devices and being more sympathetic to enterprise admins and users. I’m pretty stoked to see Microsoft are being sensible here and I can’t wait to see how Windows Phone 10 shapes up.

In the meantime, keep an eye out for a couple more Windows 10 posts from me over the next week. Cheers for taking the time and I hope you have found this useful, have a good day.