Hands On With The Bits – Windows 10 January 2015 Technical Preview

Posted on January 25, 2015 by Alan Walsh

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On Friday, Microsoft released the January 2015 Technical Preview (JTP) to Windows Insiders. The January build contains some of the new features and improvements that Microsoft demonstrated at their Windows 10 Media Briefing last Wednesday including Cortana on the desktop, the Xbox App for Windows 10 and a new Start Menu. Let’s take a look inside this build.

Firstly is the new Xbox App for Windows 10 which will be of huge interested to gamers, both Xbox One and PC gamers. It’s kind of a reminder of the old Games for Windows Live client back years ago that never really took off at all. The App features three main columns, your Achievement progression, Activity Feed and Friends. The Friends column is arranged by having online favourites first and then the rest. The version of the App we’ve been given is an early build so not all announced features like game streaming or cross-platform party chat is included and what’s mostly there you could already do on SmartGlass. However, one new neat feature is friends suggestions which recommends people to add based on being friends with someone you’re friends, by having played with them recently or a good few times or if their VIP’s for certain games like popular streamers and content creators. Like on SmartGlass, you can like, comment and share items on the Activity Feed, view Achievement progression, read and send messages and so forth. The Store option currently loads the Windows 8.1 version of the store which allows you to see current Xbox-enabled games in the Store. This option will soon take you to the new Windows 10 Store where you can check out AAA games like Fable Legends on Windows 10. You can also watch Game DVR clips from within the App but the ability to record and edit together clips will be coming soon.

The App actually has the option for sending party invites to your Xbox One friends, however when you try using it, it prompts you that it’s “Coming Soon”. In the image below, I tried inviting Tyler to a party from my Windows 10 laptop which resulted in the “Coming Soon” image. I’ve a feeling we’ll be getting this feature before game streaming. Microsoft’s Phil Spenecer recently said to keep the App inline with the Xbox One System, it will be receiving updates every month, including right up to launch and after launch.

Another App added to this build was the addition of the ‘Store Beta’, the brand new re-designed universal store for Windows 10 devices. As far as I know, every App that was in the Windows 8.1 Store is in the Windows 10 Store Beta and I’m hearing Music, Videos and AAA Games such as Fable Legends will be added in the future. In my opinion, the new Store has a much cleaner interface and is quicker to browse than the older store. It feels optimized for keyboard, mouse and touch devices.

The display page for an App has also been made much cleaner this time around making it easier to find App screenshots, description and reviews. Take a look at our Rectify Gaming App page below for Windows 10.

In the second build released to users on the Windows Technical Preview, Microsoft added the new Notifications (Action) Centre that could be added to the taskbar. For this build, the team has re-designed this area by making it more organized and feel very similar to the Action Centre on Windows Phone by adding quick toggles. These list of toggles can be expanded so you can see more then the default ones shown. It doesn’t seem like they can be re-organized yet, however this could be something they add soon.

One of the biggest additions in this update is Cortana on the desktop. However, this feature is US only for now but there is a way to work around this if you live outside the US. Firstly, go to the Settings App (either find it in the Start menu or search for it in the search bar). Once you’re in Settings, click ‘Time & Language’, then ‘Region & Language’ and you must change both Country/Region and Language to English (United States). Now, you’re done! Now bring up the Search area, click the little hamburger icon in the top left corner of Cortana, click Settings and then “Turn Cortana on”. From this area you should also turn on “Hey Cortana!” so you can speak to Cortana to wake her up. Note, changing your Language will change your keyboard layout, I managed to change it back to English UK without it switching off Cortana.

Cortana on the desktop has pretty much every feature that its Windows Phone counter-part has and is indeed voiced by Jen Taylor. She can respond to various questions, search the web, track flights and packages, display map locations and more. It seems to revert to Search more than it would on Windows Phone, however they probably they don’t have the interface finalized yet. She is your personal assistant by showing you relevant information such as news, weather and sports but can also be used for work. For example, earlier I asked her to get my latest review for Rectify Gaming and she searches OneDrive and gets me my document. Neat! This is probably my favourite Cortana feature because it can search my PC and OneDrive for folders and files and get presentations, notes, documents and so on, items I may need for meetings or posting online and it’s just really useful.

The new Start Menu has been updated but this time, it’s no longer re-sizeable, nor do tiles go horizontally, instead they go up vertical which I feel is much nicer. Scrolling up/down is much easier in my opinion that scrolling left/right. It doesn’t seem you can pin apps to the left side of the Start Menu anymore which is something I see being re-added in the future. The top right corner of the start menu includes an option to make it full screen, allowing you to have a Windows 8-touch like experience that’s been optimized for keyboard and mouse with the toolbar being visible to you can see your current open Apps and use Cortana.

The full screen Start Menu is optimized for touch but also easy when using keyboard and mouse. You can set this to display every time you open Start each time or you can easily toggle the full screen button in the top corner to return to the Desktop-oriented Start Menu. It’s neat, quick and a much better setup than what was on Windows 8.1.

Multiple of Microsoft’s built in OS Apps have also received updates such as Alarms, Calculator, Maps and Settings to make them easier for desktop use. Maps definitely feels like a huge improvement with its new side bar for getting directions, finding places and so forth. Alarms is now more neatly organized to fit in with its Windows Phone counterpart and thank goodness the cumbersome PC Settings App has been replaced with a new Modern Settings App that has everything organized with logos and not a long list of options. Windows Phone’s Settings App will also be getting this update with Windows 10, thankfully. I thought that list would go on forever. It’s also worth pointing out that Modern Apps now feature a new Windows bar on top with a hamburger button on far left for options and on the right you have minimize, maximize and full screen to hide the taskbar, then finally the option to close the App. I also like the new grey colour scheme used (which will probably become customizable, if not already) and everything just fits in with each other.

This build also contains access to one of the touch-first Office Apps which is the updated OneNote App. The design is very different looking more like its desktop counterpart and the spiral-like menu from the Windows 8.1 version is gone. The ribbon is now used instead for accessing typing, pen and highlighting inputs as well as bolding and test formatting. You can also easily insert files and images into this version and it’s definitely easier to use with keyboard and mouse. My only concern with this is that keyboard and mouse users who have Office 365 will probably stick to the OneNote desktop client, however this is a free App that will look and feel like its Windows Phone counter-part.

Windows 10 is shaping up to be the best Operating System every built. Each change is for the better (except selective sync on OneDrive that was introduced in the November build, removing placeholder files) and the OS is very usable, even in its current state. This build feels much more stable than the last built and sometimes Apps such as Store Beta will crash or the Xbox App will take a long time to load and sync, but overall, the results are excellent and I’m thankful to Joe Belfiore, Terry Myerson and their team for building such a great OS and having stable builds for testers. Also, shoutout to Gabe Aul who runs all the Windows Insider stuff, he’s a legend! Until the next time, peace!

Don’t forget to sign up for the Windows Insider Program here.

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