With the Windows 10 event last week, Microsoft has released a wave of new information available about Microsoft’s upcoming operating system. This includes the newest build available for Windows Insiders, build 9926. I started running Windows 10 during the first public build and I am excited to see how quickly the product has evolved. This is the first build that I have been really excited about since October because I see some of the consumer features, such as Cortana, arrive in the OS. This article will tell you everything to expect when running 9926 on your Surface Pro 3 so you can decide if Windows 10 is ready for you and if you are ready for Windows 10.
If you have never installed Windows 10 before, you first need to join the Windows Insider Program. Joining is quick and easy. Once you join, you can download the installer to get started upgrading your Windows 8.1, Windows 8 or Windows 7 PC. You should be able to upgrade from a previous version of Windows and your programs and files should be in tact after the upgrade. Of course, you should backup your files before proceeding. Be sure and read the Before you install FAQ so you know exactly what to expect.
If you are running a previous build of Windows 10, upgrading is easy. Simply go to PC Settings -> Update and Recovery -> Preview Builds, and click Check Now. The installation will begin and you should be up and running in less than half an hour. This is a full build of Windows 10 so that means you will have a slightly longer wait when you login as it has to reprovision your account.
With any new operating system, the exciting thing is always the new features that it brings.
In the last build, 9879, the Start menu was a jumbled mess; this build makes some nice improvements. You’ll first notice your picture inside a rounded circle. Clicking on this will let you log out or switch users just like before. On the left, you’ll see groupings for Places, Most Used and Recently Added apps. I find that the Most Used list did a good job keeping track of the applications I have been using lately.
Click All apps (above the Windows icon) to see an alphabetized list of all of the apps you have installed. This looks very similar to the way it did in Windows XP and even shows folders of applications such as Office 2013.
Microsoft has replaced the Windows 8.1-style Start screen with a new expanded Start menu icon (represented by the four arrows in the top right corner). Click it to expand the Start menu to take up the full screen. When you click the Start menu in the future, it will stay in full screen mode until you click the icon again to return to the default mode. Microsoft removed the setting to re-enable the Start screen from the Taskbar properties dialog.
The tiles in the Start menu got a nice overhaul as well. In build 9879, there seemed to be no order to how Windows displayed tiles nor were there any groups. Now, Windows starts off clean with only a tile for Search. You can pin items to the Start menu just like you could in Windows 8. As you pin more items, the list will now scroll vertically instead of expanding horizontally. I find this makes for a much better experience. You can create groups as well, which I found easier to do using a mouse. I had trouble mastering the technique using just touch. It wasn’t intuitive to me at all.
Since Cortana arrived on Windows Phone, I have wanted to see the experience on my Windows tablet as well. Now the waiting is over. When you login with your Windows Live account, Cortana brings the same information over that is on your phone.
You can activate Cortana by clicking on the Circle icon, typing something in search, or by pressing the microphone button to give a command verbally. When you first do this, you’ll get a few tips and Cortana will ask you what your name is, just like on Windows Phone. She’ll then greet you by name whenever you activate her.
If you have set your interests on a Windows Phone device, Cortana will have them ready to go for you. She’ll show you articles you care about, sports scores, flight information, nearby places to eat and more. The interface works great with your touch screen and you can scroll it up and down.
Click the menu icon (the three horizontal lines) at the top to configure Cortana’s Notebook, Reminders, Places and Settings. On the Settings menu you can configure how Cortana works.
This is where you can opt in to Cortana to track info on flights, packages and more by looking at your email. You can also enable the passive microphone feature, “Hey, Cortana.” With this feature enabled, Cortana will listen to your microphone passively to take your next command. However, I was unable to get it to work on my Surface Pro 3. The “Hey, Cortana” feature was disabled by default so I suspect this feature may not work yet.
When it comes to using the microphone on the Surface Pro 3 with Cortana, I found that my experience varied quite a bit. Cortana uses whichever audio device is set as your default communications device in the Recording tab of the Sound control panel. I found that even with turning the internal mic up, Cortana didn’t always recognize me speaking. When I used my headset, Cortana worked quite a bit better. Comparing this to the Windows Phone experience, I found that the speech recognition didn’t work quite as well as on Windows Phone. Cortana got things wrong fairly often and it would end up executing random Bing searches as a result. I’ll chalk up most of these problems to this being a Preview and I assume things will get better as we get closer to release.
When it comes to searching with Cortana, you can speak your query or type your query into the “Ask me anything” field. Cortana will search your apps and files, as well as give you a few suggested Bing searches. One thing I like is that Cortana tells you whether the app is a modern app or a desktop app. This gives you an idea of what to expect when you launch the application.
Windows 10 added the ability to run modern applications (formerly known as Metro and Windows Store apps) without being in full screen mode. We’ve seen different flavors of this in every build and the experience has really varied. In previous builds, the experience has been quite buggy but it is getting better with each build. Modern apps used to crash a lot. I’ve only had one or two issues on this build so far.
Modern apps also have a new touch-friendly toolbar with new icons. The icons are widely spaced to make it easy to touch them using your fingers.
The menu icon (three horizontal lines) brings up the app commands menu with the options that were previously under the charms menu. On the right side, the first icon minimizes the windows and the next one maximizes it. The double-arrow icon puts the app back in full screen mode. The X icon will close the app.
When I first used the early builds of Windows 10, I was a bit concerned about how my Surface Pro 3 functions as a tablet. Many of the touch-friendly features from Windows 8.1 just weren’t there anymore. Luckily, Tablet mode (formerly known as “Continuum”) saves the day. When you disconnect your keyboard (or fold it backward), Windows 10 detects this and prompts you to enter Tablet mode. When you enter Tablet mode, your apps are automatically put into full screen mode (even desktop apps). This includes the removal of the toolbar. For those familiar with gestures from Windows 8.1, you can swipe down to bring up the context menu in this mode. You can also drag the app down off the screen to close it.
You can still snap apps side by side. I think snapping windows looks visually better in this build of Windows 10. While in Tablet mode, you’ll notice that the apps don’t have the toolbar at the top. Your Start menu and task bar are also still present at the bottom of the screen.
When you leave Tablet mode and go back into Desktop mode, the toolbars come back for easy use with your mouse.
You can switch between Tablet mode and Desktop mode manually as well with the new Action Center menu. To activate this menu, you can swipe from the right of the screen or simply click the icon next to your clock in the taskbar.
Activating the Action Center will show you any notifications that you might have as well as give you the button to activate Tablet mode.
On the subject of notifications, you’ll notice they appear in the bottom right corner now. They have since build 9989. However, the look has changed in this build and they have a white background. I suspect this will change more as we see new builds.
New Display Connection menu
The new Display Connection menu is slick. You can activate it by pressing Windows+P. Here it will show you all of the displays that you are physically connected to and gives you the option to switch from extending and duplicating your display. It also automatically picks up any Miracast displays on your network. For example, it shows the Roku devices on my network that I can project to. This is convenient when I am using my Surface Pro 3 to broadcast to remote displays at home or in the office.
There are also a few other new features such as the new Photos, Maps and Xbox apps, but I’ll cover them in future articles.
Any time you run a preview operating system, you know that you might face some issues. That’s just part of the risk you take. After running the build for a few days, I have only run into a few issues. For the first day I ran the new build, my CPU tended to be heavily utilized and I could hear the fan running. This was tied to a sync process on my system. Eventually it stopped, but it took a good part of the day.
After you install the build, you will want to check Windows Update immediately to make sure you have the latest drivers and firmware for your Surface Pro 3. There have been some reported issues around video performance that are resolved by updating.
Microsoft has already warned that Connected Standby does not work right in Windows 10. It was an issue with the last build as well. As a result, you will see diminished battery life. Surface Pro 3 is a Connected Standby device so that affects you if you have that device. From my experience with the last build, you should be careful when you simply hit the power button or close the keyboard to put the device to sleep. More than likely you will take your Surface Pro 3 out of your bag and it will still be running. If you need to make sure you have battery life when you are about to set out, I recommend shutting the device off. Power management issues are typically common in preview operating systems so I suspect this to be an issue for a while.
Display scaling still continues to be an issue. This is especially noticeable in Internet Explorer and Lync. A typical Lync chat Window will take up a third of the screen on a high-definition resolution monitor.
I’ve also noticed an issue where notifications get “stuck.” For example, new notifications won’t be displayed for a while. Then after a new one comes in (usually from Outlook), it triggers all of the stuck notifications to be shown. This isn’t a huge issue, but it’s something to be aware of.
Should you install build 9926 on your Surface Pro 3?
This is by far the best build to date. It’s more feature complete than ever and there aren’t as many significant bugs that I have discovered so far. The Connected Standby issue could be a deal breaker for many. You just have to decide if you are willing to put up with it or not. Ultimately, the decision (and the risk) is up to you.
New operating systems have always excited me. I’ve been running pre-release versions of operating systems since Windows 95. I think Windows 10 is one of the most exciting releases for Microsoft to date. While there is always a risk, I think it’s worth it. I recognize it’s not for everyone. If downtime is simply not an option for you, I recommend waiting for a release candidate or the final RTM version.