What’s new with windows 10 (p.1)

Windows 1.0 could run applications in windows! That’s why it was named ‘Windows’ and yet a COOL NEW FEATURE in Windows 10 was the ability to run Modern UI applications in a window rather than just full screen.

Can you believe the absurdity of this? There is a lot that deserves praise in Windows 10, but the start menu isn’t one. Nor is the ability to run applications in a window. Windows has been running apps in windows for three decades and has had a start menu for two. This isn’t to say that interfaces should not evolve, it’s just that Windows 8 evolved in the wrong direction. The new Windows 8 apps were kind of an odd bargain for developers.

It was a new way for developers to write, package and distribute applications. In essence Microsoft’s proposition was: hey why don’t you use this new technology that lets you develop applications that are less capable, take up the whole screen, run only on the newest version of Windows, and can be sold only though this one store where we take a cut of your earnings.

Oh and this store only sells these new kinds of apps. The new Universal Windows Applications (UWA) that Windows 10 brings are based on the same Windows RT technology that Windows 8 introduced, however with many of its restrictions removed.

On Windows 10 such an app will just blend in, you don’t need to know or care whether an app is a new Windows 10 modern app or a traditional classic Win32 app because they only differ in the technology used to create them. Where Windows 8 apps felt restricted to one version of one OS, and one store and one kind of interface, UWA can run on everything form the Raspberry Pi to the Surface Hub.

Of course all this is great and will encourage new kinds of apps and experiences, but really, what do you get right now when you unwrap your 2500-floppy box set of Windows 10 and install it on your computer device? Let’s get right to that.

Window Management

Fun fact, Windows 1.0 could only tile windows, it did not support overlap- ping windows, but could show multiple windows side-by-side, or one above the other. In other words, it had better window-management support than Windows 8 did for its Modern UI applications. Thankfully Windows 10 makes up for a lot of Windows 8’s blunders by making great improvements to window-management, and finally beginning to live up to its name. In Windows 7 Microsoft introduced a new window management feature, windows snapping.

You could move any window to the left or right edge of the screen and the window would would maximise to that side of the screen. Move a window to the top-edge of the screen, and it would maximise. Move it to the bottom, and, well… nothing would happen other than the window being inaccessible behind the taskbar, so yeah, don’t do that. While Windows 8 didn’t add much to this, Windows 10 adds quite a whole lot.

Better Snapping

First of all, in Windows 10 if you move a window to an edge of the screen near a corner, it will take up that quarter of the screen. So for instance if you move a window to the top-left corner of the screen, it will take up a quarter of the screen space in that corner rather than snapping to the left-half like it would previously. It’s also possible to do this with shortcuts. Just like before, [Start + Left] and [Start + Right] will snap windows to the left or right side of the screen respectively. [Start + up] will maximise an unmaximised or unsnapped window.

What’s new now is that after snapping a window to the left or right, you can then snap them to a corner using [Start + up] or [Start + Down]. So to move a window to the top-left corner like in the above example, you would need to first press [Start + left] and then [Start + up]. For those using multiple monitors, you needed to get comfortable with keyboard shortcuts since it wasn’t possible to snap a window to right edge of the left monitor, or the left edge of the right monitor.

Basically if the mouse could move through the edge and go to another monitor, you could not snap a window there. Windows 10 fixes this by using the speed of mouse movement to decide whether you want to snap a window, or just move it to another monitor. If you move slowly towards the edge, Windows will snap the window to the edge or corner, while if you move the mouse quickly across the screen border, it will just move across.

Smarter Snapping

The window snapping is also a lot smarter now, and doesn’t force windows to take exactly half of the screen. Try this: snap a window to the left side of the screen, and then resize it horizontally so it takes more than its half of the screen.

Now when you try to snap a window next to it, it will take up the remaining empty portion of the screen. In previous Windows versions it would still snap to its half, overlapping the existing window. This works for corner snapping as well, and allows you to better make use of your screen space. This is only made better with the addition of another feature, snap assist.

Snap Assist

Snap assist is a useful new feature that tries to help you rearrange your windows to make best use of your screen space. When you snap a window to the left or right side of the screen, chances are it is so you can snap another window next to it so you can use them both at once. This is when snap assist kicks in, and shows you other application windows that you have opened that can be snapped in this space. This works even if you have one window (or two) snapped to one side of the screen, and another snapped in a corner. If this isn’t enough to organise your windows, you now also have virtual desktops in Windows 10.

Virtual desktops

The idea of virtual desktops has been around for decades. While desktop environments for Linux immediately warmed to the idea, and Mac OS X too added support for virtual desktops, Microsoft has waited till now to include it in Windows. Third party tools to add virtual desktops to Windows have been around since the Windows 95 era, and even Microsoft created an addon called the ‘Virtual Desktop PowerToy’ for Windows XP.

For later versions there is ‘Desktops’ which while great, does have some severe limitations. All this talk about Virtual Desktops, and we haven’t considered the pos- sibility that the concept itself is new to some readers. So here is what Virtual Desktops are in a nutshell: They are a way to organise the applications running on your computer, such that only one related set of applications are visible at any given time. A virtual desktop is a collection of related windows, and you can have multiple such virtual desktops for different tasks.

The task view makes it easy to get an overview
of open windows even if you’re only using a
single desktop.

For instance, you could have a virtual desktop with work stuff, a browser window with your work email open, Excel, maybe your documents folder. Another virtual desktop could have a game of chess that you dabble in occasionally, and a third one could be one where you have your personal email open in the browser, and your photos folder open to upload some of them to Facebook. Now, organising windows like this is not something that is mandated by the OS.

You could keep all your browser windows in one desktop and all your explorer windows in another. Or whatever organisation scheme tickles your fancy, or none at all if that’s what you prefer. When you are using the “work” virtual desktop, then the only visible windows are the ones in that virtual desktop, while the others continue running invisibly. On the task bar you only see windows from the current desktop, and when you use Alt-tab, only windows from the current virtual desktop show up. In Windows 10, this is somewhat configurable though.

You can have all windows regardless of which desktop they are on show up in Alt-tab and on the taskbar if you want. All of this is accessed and managed through a new button on the taskbar that toggles the ‘Task View’. You’ll find that Task View quite similar to the Alt-Tab UI except that it stays open till dismissed. It’s also accessible via [Start+Tab]. Even if you don’t care for virtual desktops, this view lays out all open windows in a grid, so you have a better look at all your running applications. You can switch to a window by clicking it or close it by clicking on the ‘X’ that appears above each window when you hover over it.

This is a great way to quickly dock multiple windows without needing to switch to each individually. In this view you will also see a button called `New desktop` that does what you’d expect. On clicking this button, a new bar with all open desktops will appear below the grid of windows.

From here you can switch between different desktops.  Moving windows between desktops as a matter of dragging a window and dropping it on the grid. By hovering over a desktop, you can switch to that desktop and see its windows in the grid without dismissing the Task View. This way you can quickly organise windows between desktops. You can move a window to the ‘New desktop’ button to move it to a newly created desktop. Virtual desktops in Windows 10 are ephemeral, and so is their num- bering.

There is no fixed set of virtual desktops, you create them dynamically and then discard them when no longer needed. For this purpose you have new shortcuts: Ctrl+Start+D creates a new blank desktop Ctrl+Start+Right moves to the next desktop Ctrl+Start+Left moves to the previous desktop Ctrl+Start+F4 closes the current desktop There are currently no shortcuts to move windows between desktops. When you close a virtual desktop, the windows in it are not closed, they just move to the active desktop to their left.

This also renumbers the desktops. So if you have ‘Desktop 1’, ‘Desktop 2’, and ‘Desktop 3’ open, and then you close ‘Desktop 2’, ‘Desktop 3’ will be renamed to ‘Desktop 2’. Virtual desktops are a powerful feature once you get used to them. Combined with the improved window management features we just discussed they make for a much better experience when handling a large number of open windows.


Continuum is where Microsoft has applied a lot of the lessons that it learnt from Windows 8. In Windows 8 there was a hard boundary between tablet mode and desktop mode, and they rarely spoke to each other. Desktop apps didn’t show up when in tablet mode, and tablet apps didn’t show up in desktop mode. They both had different ways to switch between tasks, Alt-Tab for the desktop and Start+Tab for the modern UI apps. Of course they fixed a lot in Windows 8.1 but the experience was still jarring. Windows 10 features a new mode cleverly named ‘Tablet mode’ that is accessible via a button in the notifications sidebar.

Clicking on this button switches you to this ‘Tablet mode’ an experience that is optimised for being operated via touch. When put in tablet mode Windows will automatically make a few changes.

First, the currently active window is put to full screen mode. The taskbar will now stop displaying open window icons, and the system tray will only show important icons and remove the rest – although this can be configured. If you were using multiple desk- tops, that feature is now disabled, and all your windows are in one desktop. The Task View button is still accessible though, since that is a great touch-friendly way to switch between applications.

The start menu, if you click on it in this mode, will now display in full screen rather than as a menu. If you have two windows snapped next to each other they will remain snapped. You will now see a divider between the windows that can be moved to change the ratio in which the screen is divided. Windows can only be maximised, minimised or snapped to a side of the screen in this mode. There is no support for over- lapping windows, or more complex layouts. It’s supposed to be used on a touch screen after all. It does support some gestures for window management.

For instance, you can move a window to the left or right edge of the screen to snap it there, or swipe it down to close it. Best of all, this feature is not restricted to Modern UI apps, or new Windows 10 apps, it works with all Windows apps! If you are using a Windows 10 application, it’s titlebar will disappear in this mode, giving preference to the content area, and it might adapt better to the new situation, but traditional apps will remain completely usable.

Over time developers can add support for this feature and make adjust- ment to their UIs to better function in this mode. For people using convertibles, or devices with detachable keyboard, such as Microsoft Surface, Windows can detect when the keyboard is removed / attached, or when the device itself switches between laptop and tablet modes and it can notify the user to swtich to the more appropriate mode. Note that you can play around with Tablet mode even if you don’t have a tablet, however if you have multiple monitors this mode might will not be accessible, you will need to turn off all but one of your screens to enable this feature.

Behind this smooth switching between different modes is a new technology by Microsoft called Continuum – a name you might have heard before. Continuum adapts the interface of Windows to suit different ways of working. It isn’t just limited to adapting between a tablet UI and a desktop UI as we’ve looked at above. Microsoft has demonstrated Continuum for mobile phones running Windows 10. Connect such a phone to a large monitor using an HDMI cable, and what you will see on the monitor isn’t just a mobile UI displayed on a large screen, but a Windows desktop-like interface. Applications that are Continuum-aware, such as Microsoft’s own apps, can adapt their UI to the desktop form factor.

For instance, you will be able to run applications in windows, and use the task bar etc. The idea of an adaptable interface that changes based on the device you use, is something that is being actively worked on in the open source world as well. The KDE community introduced a netbook-specific UI for their desktop environment many years back and have since then created tablet and mobile editions as well – although the netbook edition is no longer available.

Likewise, Canonical has also been working on, and has even demonstrated, the ability to power an entire Unity desktop experience from a phone. With the performance gap between laptops, tablets and phones steadily decreasing, this simply seems to be an idea whose time has arrived.

To Upgrade or Not Upgrade

For most Indians, upgrading to the latest version of Windows has always been a task filled with trepidation. Besides the obvious concerns of potential compatibility issues – hardware- and software-related – the biggest source of hesitation is the price. Not many are excited with the idea of having to pay thousands of rupees for software, which in the case of Windows, has ranged anywhere between a starting price of `6,000 (for OEM/Home Editions with a student dis- count) rising up to exorbitant rates of even `18,000 (for Professional and Ultimate Editions).

Fortunately, the tech gods have blessed us with some excellent news. For the first time in history, Microsoft is providing users running an activated copy of Windows 7, 8, or 8.1 with the option to upgrade to Windows 10 via a digital download for FREE. That’s right. Windows 10 will not cost you a single rupee (unless you factor in the bandwidth cost of downloading a 3 GB file).

Excited? Of course you are! Skeptical? Well you should be; especially since this is the same company that just a few years ago charged its users $199 to upgrade to a Professional Edition of Windows 7.

Furthermore, Microsoft has stated that this version of Windows will be the “last”. While it goes without saying that users will continue to receive updates for optimizations and bug fixes, the general interface and feature list may remain largely the same.

To help alleviate your fears of upgrading to this latest and (in all probability) final retail version of Windows, we have taken the trouble of answering some common questions you might have before you click that “Upgrade Now” button.

Why has Microsoft taken such a philanthropic turn? Surely there must be some catch as to why this upgrade is “free”.

Surprisingly, no. And for this, there are a number of reasons. According to some analysts, offering a free upgrade is bound to spur consumer adoption, which in turn will ultimately benefit Microsoft. Furthermore, the faster Windows 10 expands its active user base, the more non-Windows users will be encouraged to purchase a copy of Windows. Further, as more users shift to Windows 10, the number of Windows 7/8/8.1 users will gradually reduce.

Yes, it really is free. And no, there is no subscription model

As a result, these versions will receive fewer updates as Microsoft shifts their focus to improving the overall user experience of Windows 10. This will eventually force users to upgrade their systems to an operating that will undoubtedly be better supported. As we discussed in the first chapter from a fiscal point of view, the decision to allow existing users to upgrade for free might not hurt Microsoft as much as people think. Microsoft will still continue to make money from the sales of new PCs that will come preloaded with a copy of Windows 10.

In fact, most home users will be running an OEM version of Windows 7/8/8.1, which unfortunately cannot be reinstalled on a new/upgraded system. In essence, OEM licenses are tied to the system/motherboard on which they are installed. So users buying an upgraded system with Windows 10 will invariably be paying for the new OEM copy they are receiving.

How we missed you, Start Menu

The tides of technology are slowly turning. The rise of the smartphone has seen users pining for an integrated ecosystem where they can get a unified experience across all their devices. Apple is trying to answer this call with iOS and OSX catering to all iPhone, iPad, iMac and MacBook users. Similarly, Google has delivered an extremely popular and versatile smartphone platform with Android.

However, they are still miles behind Microsoft when it comes to providing a productive desktop-based OS (Chromium just doesn’t cut it). Enter Microsoft and their master plan of mobilizing its user base to a single, unified platform. This unification will translate to reduced efforts toward maintaining software compatibility across multiples operating systems while providing easier deployment of security fixes.

For users, this means a more seamless multi-device experience. Imagine working on a presentation at home on your desktop, adding the finishing touches on your phone while on the way to the meeting, and using your Surface tablet to control the slide show. It is easy to foresee users purchasing Windows devices if they are promised such an integrated, hassle-free multi-device experience.

Are there any exceptions as to who can receive this upgrade for free?

Yes. The upgrade is only valid for Home and Pro editions of Windows 7/8/8.1 (OEM included). So entrepreneurs or business owners who plan to upgrade their organization’s systems to the Windows 10 ecosystem will have to negotiate for a renewed Enterprise license deal. Similarly, home users running a copy of Windows XP or older will have to shell out full price for the upgrade.

As it stands, Microsoft has no plans to offer any discounts to those using licensed copies of legacy versions.

How do I know if my PC qualifies? First, there’s the question of minimum system requirements.

Fortunately, you are spared the need to upgrade your system’s configuration if it was already capable of running Windows 7 and above as Windows 10 has the exact same requirements. On the other hand, if you plan on installing it on a system running Windows XP or older, do ensure your system meets the following requirements:

  • Š 1 GHz (or faster) processor or SoC
  • 1 GB RAM (for 32-bit) or 2 GB RAM (for 64-bit)
  • Š Free hard drive space of 16 GB (for 32-bit) or 20 GB (for 64-bit OS) Š
  • DirectX 9 (or later) graphics card with WDDM 1.0 driver
  • Š Display with a resolution of 800×600 (or greater)

I am comfortable using my current version of Windows. Since the upgrade is free, can I wait a few years before upgrading?

Well, if you want the upgrade for free, then NO. Microsoft has categorically stated that all Windows users eligible for the free upgrade should claim it within one year of Windows 10’s release date. So ensure you upgrade before July 29, 2016 or be ready to pay full price.

I am on the fence regarding whether I should opt for the upgrade. What features do you think will sway me towards upgrading?

1.Revamped Start menu and Action Centre

After the debacle that was the Metro UI introduced in Windows 8, Micro- soft has thankfully decided to go back to basics by reintroducing the Start Menu, albeit with a few added features. Users can choose between a no-frills Start Menu, reminiscent of that in Windows 7, and a more modern looking one that adds a condensed tile inter- face for quick access to apps and services.

In addition, the new Action Centre provides a seamless interface for viewing notifications (which are also synced across any other Windows devices that you own).

2.Better Desktop and Window Management

Something that users had been crying out for was better multitasking support, with the number one requested feature being multiple virtual desktops.

Microsoft has answered the call, and Windows 10 comes with seamless virtual desktop support and improved window-snap management. Expect higher productivity and a more intuitive interface.

3.Microsoft Edge

When news broke that Microsoft was aiming for a complete overhaul of Internet Explorer (a browser so hated, it was almost hipster to use it), many a head turned in anticipation.

Microsoft Edge promises faster and safer browsing without the need to down- load a third party application. However, it will take consid- erable time and effort (as well as a few good plugins) before it replaces Chrome and Firefox as most people’s default browser.

As a Windows 7 or Windows 8 user, are there any removed features that I might miss after the upgrade?

1.Desktop Gadgets

Bye bye, beloved widgets

Users who upgraded from Windows XP to Windows 8 will have missed the useful desktop gadgets introduced in Windows 7.

The built-in ones allowed you to check the weather, get updated stock quotes, monitor system resources, and even control your media player. Windows discon- tinued this in Windows 8 and it does not look like they have any plans of bringing them back in Windows 10. There is a third-party application called 8Gadgetpack that does provide gadget support for Windows 8/8.1 (and possibly even for Windows 10) but if you’re a purist, then sticking to Windows 7 is your best bet.

2.Windows Media Center

Released in 2002, Window Media Center was Microsoft’s solution for a uni- fied media consumption utility. Unfortunately, the painful setup procedure, outdated interface, and competition from other software like XBMC (now Kodi) and NextPVR is what led Microsoft to eventually discontinue sup- port for it. If you are part of the very niche group still using Media Center, consider switching to an alternate, especially if you plan on upgrading to Windows 10.

3.Solitaire, Hearts, and Minesweeper

Windows 8 users have already been heartbroken by the absence of these iconic time wasters, and it seems Microsoft still sees no need to add preloaded games to Windows 10. However, you can still the official version of Solitaire and Minesweeper from the app store. Just be ready to deal with annoying ads, which for some bizarre reason, can be removed by paying $1.49 a month. Good luck making money with that tactic, Microsoft.

That’s all nice, but this is Windows we’re talking about. Surely there are some reasons why I should not upgrade.

1.You don’t want to be a software guinea pig

Despite its long development cycle, Windows 10 is still a relatively untested operating system. And like any software, it is always best to wait a while till after it has been tested on multiple systems with different hardware– software combinations.

Before upgrading, make a list of all the applications you use and check if they are compatible with Windows 10. If not, it would be best to wait till the developers push out a compatible versions or till a Windows updates fixes it.

Though as you have learnt from the previous chapter, most software won’t have any issues with compatibility.

2.You own old peripheral hardware

Chances are that if you own decades-old peripherals like printers and scanners, you may have already given this a thought. Windows is infamous for not ensuring the compatibility of present day drivers with vintage devices, mainly because the trade-off between effort taken to ensure compatibility and number of users that actually use old hardware is not very profitable.

So before you hit the upgrade button, do some research as to whether that old printer has drivers compatible with Windows 10. If you’re out of luck, your options would be to either to upgrade Windows and switching to new hardware or staving off the upgrade so you can squeeze out a few more years out of your peripherals. Of course, there’s always the possibility that the manufacturer decides to release compatible drivers within the free upgrade window.

You own a preassembled system/laptop with hardware that is notorious for its poor driver support

Not all laptops and systems are built with premium hardware and peripherals.

If you own a device manufactured by a relatively unknown company, then chances are you are familiar with the experience of hardware being broken after a driver update. In the same vein, many laptop owners have complained about basic Windows features being broken on day 1 of the update’s release.

For example, some Lenovo users have complained about reduced audio levels and broken Dolby audio. Others are reporting frequent Wi-Fi disconnections, poor Bluetooth connectivity, and the list goes on. To ensure you are not among the poor saps tempted to smash their laptops on the wall, Google your laptop model number and check if other users are facing similar problems.

I think I am ready to upgrade my system. Is there anything else I should keep in mind before going for it?

Well there is one small caveat introduced in Windows 10 that Microsoft is hoping will be more pros and less cons: Users will not have the option of restricting automatic Windows updates.

You heard correct. Provided you are connected to the internet, Windows will automatically download and install updates in the back- ground, which will be applied after a system restart (for which you will be notified). Windows 10 Pro and Enterprise users will at least have an option to schedule these updates, similar to how it works T in current versions.

However, they too will not able to permanently delay the update, unless (ironically) Microsoft decides to add such a feature in a future update. Unsurprisingly, this decision has been met with serious derision from the tech community, in particular, app developers.

Some may argue that by ensuring all systems are updated, developers can ensure their apps will remain compatible for all users. The other side of this coin is that updates can also cause certain apps to break. Developers can no longer rest with the knowledge of creating an app that will not fail as a result of factors out of their control. Upgrade only if you are willing to live the constant risk of an essential app breaking functionality, and waiting till (hopefully) a fix is released.

No support for SecuROM and SafeDisc DRM

This is sure to ruffle some feathers

Microsoft has stated that games using old, unsupported DRMs such as SecuROM and SafeDisc will not be supported on Windows 10. These DRMs have not been supported for years and their drivers have consequently been left unupdated.

These drivers pose a “possible loophole for computer viruses” according to Microsoft’s German Marketing Manager, Boris Schneider-Johne, and hence any software requiring the use of these drivers will not work. These DRMs were well known for the sheer inconvenience they caused in the name of keeping games free from piracy.

For example, SecuROM restricted the number of times you could reinstall a game while also forcing occasional online authenticity checks. In actuality, these did very little to actually prevent piracy; instead, even gamers who owned legitimate copies of these games would use a crack or noCD patch to override the DRM. If some of your old favourites use these DRMs, you can still play them on Windows 10, provided you avoid the DRM.

Some developers have rereleased DRM-free versions of their games on sites like GOG.com. Of course, you could always download a crack or noCD patch that circumvents the DRM. If you’re not comfortable downloading cracks/patches (considering the malware risk it carries), a legal and relatively safer option would be test-signing the DRM software’s drivers yourself.

You can refer to Microsoft’s DIY tutorial or use a third-party software to do it with a few clicks.This process does leave a Windows watermark, though there are tutorials to help you remove that as well.

A New Ecosystem

As you probably read in the previous chapter, Windows 7 and Windows 8 were both largely based on, and compatible with Windows Vista. As we also discussed internally the version of Windows Vista was NT 6.0 while that of Windows 7, Windows 8, and Windows 8.1 were 6.1, 6.2 and 6.3 respectively. In fact, even Windows 10 was initially given a version of NT 6.4 before Microsoft decided to number it 10.0 instead.

However, this isn’t because the core kernel of Windows has changed immensely. However different they might have been in appearance, behaviour and performance, Windows 7, 8, and 8.1 internally represented themselves as minor point updates to Windows Vista (6.0) to signal to apps that the OS was compatible with Vista.

Microsoft knew that Windows 7 and 8 were fully capable of running Windows Vista applications, so they in a way lied to these applications so these applications would run despite being written at a time when these new OSs were not even released. So does Windows 10 signal a break in compatibility? Not really.

Evolution and Compatibility

Compatibility with previous versions of Windows is a very important aspect of Windows. Over time Windows has added and removed features, but has always tried to keep compatibility wherever possible and feasible. For instance, 32-bit versions of Windows 10 still support applications developed for 16bit versions of Windows and DOS! 64-bit versions of Windows meanwhile haven’t been able to support 16-bit applications since as far back as XP.

You can right click and set compatibility settings for any application.

If those applications (written for the Windows 3.1 era) are compiled into a 32-bit version, they will still run on Windows 10! The main reason for this is that Windows has become quite good at lying about its version number to suit the app running on it. For a long time Windows has had the capability of rep- resenting itself as an older version for compatibility with old applications.

Windows mostly tried to be good at detecting if an application is written for a previous version of Windows, and then running it in compatibility mode. If you encounter an app that worked on a previous version of Windows, but no longer works in the latest release, you can right click it and select compatibility settings.

This includes not only lying about the Windows version to trick the application into thinking it is running on a compatible version of Windows, but also reducing the colour mode and resolution to make it work.

Since Windows already has a framework in place to do behave like older versions of Windows and lie about its version number to run older apps, does it really matter what the correct number is? Might as well go for something that makes more sense. So in Windows 10, compatible applications will get Windows 10 as the version number while older apps will get the version number that they are most comfortable working under. Windows 10 will keep changing over its lifetime and as such Microsoft has given developers tools to detect what features it supports, rather than guessing that from the version number.

The Microsoft Excel for phones is a UWA that can run on mobile and desktop.

     Thanks to the continuous efforts in not breaking compatibility, each version of Windows expands its ecosystem, and Windows 10 actually does this a lot more than previous versions. To make this possible though, Windows has gone through many architectural changes.

Architectural Changes

The earliest versions of Windows were essentially applications running on top of DOS rather than being full operating systems. It was Windows NT 3.1 that first got away from a DOS core and switched to the NT kernel that is still used today.

It introduced the Win32 API that still powers most Windows applications. Unfortunately, when Windows NT 3.1 was originally released it had unu- sually high system requirements, such as a recommended 16MB of RAM,! Shocking, we know. This among other reasons meant that Windows NT didn’t become viable for consumer versions of Windows until the release of Windows XP in 2001.

Windows also includes a compatibility troubleshooter that walks you through running an old program on the latest Windows release

That is when the consumer and workstation / server versions of Windows merged into a single family of operating systems. Another such historic merging came with Windows 8.

While we focused on desktop versions of Windows in the previous chapter, there were other operating systems that Microsoft created. Windows CE for instance was Microsoft’s OS for handheld devices and other consumer electronics. It is what powered mobile versions of Windows, such as Windows Mobile and later Windows Phone. Another historic merging came with Windows 8 and Windows Phone 8, which both used the same Windows NT core.

With Windows 8.1 they got even closer. Another device that joined the Windows family was the Xbox One, which now runs a Windows NT kernel. Microsoft earlier was using different OS core for Xbox 360, another for their Mobile devices and another for their desktops. Now all their devices are part of the Windows family and the Windows ecosystem. With Windows 10 Microsoft has converged the Windows 10 family even tighter.

As the Windows ecosystem expands to include new kinds of devices such as the Xbox One, the Raspberry Pi 2, and soon the HoloLens, the common bits of code that Windows is running on these devices has now expanded. Microsoft has identified the core bits of functionality that any device running Windows should have and has made them part of what it calls the Windows Core.

This is more than just the NT kernel, it includes common functionality such as support for input and output devices, that is common for all platforms.

The Universal Windows Platform

This is what Microsoft calls its Universal Windows Platform. It is the core functionality that developers can expect to find on any Windows device. This is something developers can rely on when making Windows apps.

An app that just uses the functionality presented by the Universal Windows Platform can run on all Windows 10 devices, even those that haven’t been invented yet. On top of this core Microsoft can extend the Windows experience based on the ‘device family’.

Microsoft intends to share the same core OS across as many hardware platforms as possible so that developers have an easier target.

For instance, embedded devices such as Raspberry Pi need bare minimum functionality, then come Mobile devices that need support for bluetooth, NFC etc. Then you have the PC family that includes tablets and convertibles that run the traditional Windows desktop UI experience and provide the traditional Win32 API as well. You also have the Surface Hub, Microsoft’s large 55-inch and above multi-touch interactive whiteboard solution for enterprises, that has its own set of features that developers can use.

Also soon you will have the HoloLens, which too will run Windows 10 while providing a completely different experience. This allows application developers to create applications that can run on any Windows device while using the same codebase, and in some cases even the same binary.

If an application uses only the features available in the Windows Core, then it will simply run on all devices since they all include the Windows Core. If it uses features present only in one platform, it can detect those features at runtime and adapt its functionality and interface accordingly.

Even for the UI, Microsoft has some support for adaptive interfaces which will let developers create interfaces that can run on all devices, from a 5-inch mobile to a 55-inch surface hub. Let’s look at some of these new entrants to the Windows ecosystem.

Windows 10 for IoT

For those hardware tinkerers with Raspberry Pis and other similar devices, Microsoft has released a new edition of Windows that can run on those devices. What’s more, Microsoft has made this edition available for free to play around with.

This edition of Windows is probably closest to the Windows 10 core, as it features no desktop mode, or even a CLI. You can however write applica- tions using the free Visual Studio Community edition and push them to a Raspberry Pi 2 running Windows 10 IoT. While the IoT edition doesn’t include many key features, it does include stuff like the speech recognition and synthesis technology behind Cortana (though not Cortana itself).

This means you can use applications on the Pi 2 that can recognise speech commands, and speak out text on the Raspberry Pi 2 device. The IoT versions also include support for other kinds of input, for instance you can connect a keyboard, mouse or even a touchscreen and use that on your device. It also includes the handwriting recognition capabilities that ship with Windows.

Windows Holographic

Windows IoT running a demo application on a Raspberry Pi 2.

Microsoft has touted its new holographic technologies a lot, but are as yet not commercially available. However, the holographic version of Windows is once again just Windows 10 at the core with all the functionality that would be required for a holographic device layered on top of it. This device will be able to run the same Windows apps as any other Windows device, but with the added holographic support. This is some-thing Windows apps will be able to detect and accordingly adapt their UI to. There isn’t too much known about Windows Holographic yet, but given that it is Windows 10, we can assume that it will have all the features of Windows Core.

Windows as a Service

Another major change to the Windows ecosystem is that eventually it will consist only of Windows 10. Currently the only Windows version of importance is Windows 7. Win- dows XP is declining and it won’t be too long before it entirely disappears. Windows Vista is already a blip in the statistics. Even now Windows 8 and 8.1 make up only around 15% of OS installs; not much more than XP.

Windows 8 was considered a flop and with Windows 10 out, it is unlikely that people will go out of their way to purchase it. What this leaves us with are two operating systems, Windows 7, and Windows 10. If Microsoft’s free upgrade ploy works well, at least some of the current Windows 7 users will move to Windows 10.

Even otherwise mainstream support for Windows 7 has already ended, and extended sup- port will end in another 5 years. Windows 10 of course will still be around then, and it will still be the latest release of Windows available. Eventually, Windows 10 will be all that is left giving developers a single platform to base their applications on. The Windows 10 core will upgrade over time, and include new features that will reach all supported Windows platforms.

Windows’ design is more modular now, so these updates can be asynchronous. What this means is that unlike before, where the release of Internet Explorer, or heck even something as trivial as Notepad was tied to the release of a new Windows version, now Windows apps can keep updating like regular third-party apps via the Windows Store. The version of Edge doesn’t even matter now (its 20.10240 as of this writing) as it will keep updating, and all you will notice occasionally is that it has new features. Just like any other browser.

This is where Microsoft’s version of a Windows-as-a-service comes in. It’s not a traditional service model where you pay monthly or yearly for a service, but one where you pay a one-time fee for a ‘lifetime’ of updates. Like anyone offering a lifetime subscription, it’s important to read the fine print. In this case it boils down to the following: 1. Updates are mandatory 2. Upgrades are mandatory 3. Devices that don’t upgrade wont be supported 4.

Upgrades are cumulative 5. If an upgrade isn’t supported by the hardware it wont be installed Let’s explore what these really mean and how they can interact with each other in ways you might not like. First of all, mandatory updates are a GOOD thing. Here by updates we mean security patches and bug fixes.

These fixes make Windows more secure and that has an effect on not only individual devices, but the entire ecosystem. In the field of immunology there is a concept called “herd immunity”. If a person vaccinates themselves against a disease, they are safer against it. However, sometimes some vaccines don’t work on some people. Other people might be allergic to a vaccine, and as such unable to get a shot. So not everyone can be vaccinated, and not everyone who is vaccinated is immune to the disease. However, if enough people get vaccinated, then the chances of the disease spreading are greatly reduced.

This has the effect of protecting even those people for whom the vaccine didn’t work, or those who couldn’t take it. Software patches, especially security patches are quite similar. A patch might not work for eve- ryone, everyone might not install it, and for some people it might actually cause problems. However, if enough people install the patch the overall security of the Windows ecosystem improves, and the chances of malware spreading are reduced. So yes, updates are good, mandatory updates are good, even if in a few cases they might cause people problems.

These kind of updates are mandatory for all users, even those using Windows 10 Pro. Then come upgrades. Windows 10 will occasionally release updates that bring new features and functionality to Windows. While this is great for people who want it, it isn’t generally what people expect from their OS. If people bought Windows 7, and were one day pushed a build of Windows 8, because that’s the direction Microsoft wanted to go in, then they would be rightly upset.

They would be even more upset if they had no control over this decision. Of course Microsoft has put systems in place that prevent such a thing from happening. They have something called the Insider track which we shall talk about shortly. A lot has been said about how only Windows 10 Home users are forced to install upgrades, but this isn’t entirely accurate. Windows 10 Pro users can choose to delay upgrades, but eventually, in a few months they will be forced to upgrade Windows. Of course there will be tools available to block updates and upgrades.

To make sure that there is a better sync between Microsoft and its customer base, Microsoft now has as constant pool of beta testers who have access to upcoming features before release. Microsoft calls this their Insider program, and we’ll talk about it in more detail shortly. However here is where the kicker comes in, blocking updates makes your OS unsupported, and that might not be a desirable option for everybody. As we mentioned upgrades are also cumulative.

This might be obvious, but each upgrade will build on the previous one, which means you cannot install a newer upgrade without installing the previous one. Again this is quite obvious, but it has a negative effect as will become clear. The final point is that when Microsoft says that Windows 10 upgrades will be free for the lifetime of a device, it’s really important to understand what they mean by lifetime.

If you install Windows 10 on a device, and over the course of a few years Microsoft releases an upgrade that brings changes to Windows that increase its system requirements, or changes that conflict with your hardware, then your system cannot upgrade. Since updates are cumulative, you might be locked out of not only future upgrades to Windows, but also future security patches. At this point of time your device has reached the end of its ‘lifetime’ of support.

Windows Insider

With new upgrades to Windows coming out constantly Microsoft needs some way to get user feedback and real-world data about upcoming builds of Windows before they are delivered to the general audience. For this purpose, they have the Windows Insider program. Microsoft has always had some kind of beta program for people to test out its upcoming operating systems.

Delaying upgrades is just that, delaying the inevitable, unless you are fine with an unsupported, unpatched Windows.

Even with the very first release of Windows NT 3.1 Microsoft had beta versions of its OS available for select audiences. Over time this audience has expanded significantly, to the point that now the only requirement to be a Windows beta tester is that you want to be one. Anyone can sign up to be a Windows Insider, and in Windows 10 you can turn switch on beta updates with a few clicks.

What Microsoft is doing with Windows 10 upgrades is similar to what has been happing with browsers for a while now. Firefox and Chrome both have multiple builds available. You have Firefox Nightly and Chrome Canary that both release unstable, minimally tested builds very regularly (nightly in Firefox’s case). Then you have a better tested, but still quite frequently updated track: Firefox Aurora / Developer Edition and Chrome Developer.

Then both browsers have a Beta track, and finally you have a release track. For enterprise users, both browsers also have editions that are updated less frequently. The Windows 10 insider sign up process is quite simple. All they want to know is if you are really sure about using untested builds that might blow your computer to bits. In Windows 10, an option is to join the Insider program, and then select the ‘Fast’ option for how often you want upgrades.

Then you have the ‘Slow’ option, which still delivers beta builds but less frequently, after they are more tested. Then you have the regular release track that Windows 10 Home users are locked into, unless they want to get even faster updates in the Insider track. Windows 10 Pro and Enterprise users can use an option to defer updates, which keeps security updates coming, but delays Windows 10 upgrades a few months till they have already been tested by Insiders, and regular customers who can’t or haven’t delayed upgrades.

Windows 10 is a historic release for Microsoft

If you’ve been following the news surrounding Windows 10, then here is a sample of the kinds of headlines you have probably been reading over the past year:
“Windows 10 will be the next Windows Release After Windows 8”
“Windows 10 will be a Free Upgrade for Windows 7 and 8 Customers”
“Windows 10 will be the last Version of Windows”
“All Future Upgrades to Windows 10 will be Free”
“All Updates to Windows 10 will be Mandatory”
“Windows 10 Available for Raspberry Pi 2”
“Windows 10 Shares your Wi-Fi keys with all your Friends”
“Candy Crush Saga will come Pre-installed on Windows 10”
“Solitaire in Windows 10 is a Free-to-Play app with Subscription”
“Faulty Update puts Windows 10 in Reboot Loop”

Just a few years ago, any or all of the above would have been the kind of headlines that would have made for nice April Fool’s Day prank articles. As of today they have all been realised. In the end though, they are mere headlines, the reality behind them is a whole lot more nuanced than can be captured in a few words.

Hopefully that nuance should become more apparent as you read further into thisFast Track.There are some things that immediately stand out when it comes to Windows 10. First of all, what’s with Windows 10 being free? Also what happened to Windows 9, and why is everyone saying that Windows 10 will be the last version of Windows?

Why Free

On first thought giving away Windows 10 for free seems like a huge loss of money for Microsoft, why would they do it? Why the sudden charity ? What’s next an open source Windows!First of all, this is a new Microsoft, one that has been warming up to open source, to the extent that despite an open source version of Windows is still an impossibility at this point, it no longer feels like that will never happen.

Operating systems market share

Even so, giving Windows 10 away isn’t an act of charity, it simply makes sense for Microsoft given their goals. Their goal being to unify the Windows platform such that all Windows devices run the same core OS.

Imagine instead if Microsoft had announced a huge marketing budget of billions of dollars for their next OS, few people would bat an eyelid. What better way to get people to adopt a product than to give it away for free? Also, let ‘s see where exactly Microsoft stands to lose this money.

Consider this fact, despite being around for a couple of years, Windows 8 only managed to achieve a meagre lead over Windows XP. Why ?The current batch of Windows users is made up of three kinds of users: The first who purchased a new device and either got Windows 8 with it, or bought a retail copy separately and got Windows 8 / 8.1. The second batch of users are those who purchased a Windows 8 upgrade for Windows7 or 8.

The basic apps that ship with Windows 10 can be installed and updated from the Windows Store.

And of course, as the good old saying goes, nothing is certain butdeath, taxes and piracy; the third group of users are those who pirated Windows 8. So the potential adopters of Windows 10 are also likewise of three kinds, those purchasing a new device, those running an older versions of Windowson their device, and finally those who’ll pirate the OS.

Windows 7 is the most popular version of Windows

The pirates always get Windows for free and don’t give Microsoft any money, nothing newthere, so we’ll leave them out. Now, Microsoft hasn’t made Windows 10 entirely free.

If you buy a new computer with Windows 10 on it, or you are building a new computer andyou want to get a copy of Windows 10, you still pay for it. Microsoft is still making money from new customers and new devices, and new licenses. No loss for Microsoft there.Then there are those running older versions of Windows. Amongst this group, not all would have been interested in purchasing an upgrade.

After all there are still many people running Windows 7, XP and Vista (yes there are some people still using Vista).

These people weren’t going to give Microsoft any more money anyway so what does Microsoft lose by giving them Windows 10? Just a little bandwidth, which those users use up any way with Windows updates.

Finally we have those who are running older versions of Windows, and who would be the kind to fork out money for an upgrade. This is not a very large audience to begin with. After all Windows 7 kept gaining a share despite the release of Windows 8 and 8.1, meaning that a majority of the growth of Windows 8.x came at the expense of XP, from new purchases.

While there are definite similarities between the OS X of today, and Mac OS X when it launched, it’s still come a very long way.

By giving away Windows 10 for free Microsoft is sacrificing the money it would get from those who would pay for upgrades, but in return they are converting Windows 7, 8 and 8.1 users into the unified base of Windows 10. Their best case scenario is that all users running Windows 7, 8, and 8.1move to Windows 10.

Those running XP and Vista probably don’t have computers capable of running newer OSes or they just want to stick with what they know. Besides, if those users really want to upgrade, they still can, for a price.

Of course not everyone is going to upgrade to Windows 10, despite it being free, but Microsoft is likely to get a whole lot more people upgrading than usual, thanks to the free offer.

Why 10

Windows 10 makes perfect sense as the name for the successor to Windows 8, in the sense that Microsoft’s naming conventions have never made sense. Let’s take a brief look at the history of Windows releases to see Microsoft’s unentangleable mess of Windows versioning. After a tepid response to Windows 1.0 and Windows 2.0, Microsofthit it big with Windows 3 and 3.1.

So popular were they that Microsoft made another somewhat incompatible version of Windows that they called Windows NT 3.1. At this point the Windows line essentially split in two. On one hand you had Windows 3.x that was targeted towards consumers, which was succeeded by Windows 95, and on the other hand you had Windows NT 3.1that was succeeded by Windows NT 4.0 that was targeted towards servers and workstations.

Windows 95 led to the popular Windows 98, while for inexplicable reasons Windows NT 4.0 led to Windows 2000, which was internally labelled as Windows NT 5.0. With the dates now used for their workstation and server offerings, Microsoft started getting creative with their branding. The successor to Window 98 was Windows ME, or Millennium Edition, named for how long it would take to accomplish anything on the crash-happy OS. Those who consider Vista a disaster might sing a different tune if they encountered Windows ME.

Windows 95 introduced a UI paradigm that has been used by all versions of Windows since, with some deviations in Windows 8 / 8.1

Quick on the heels of Win-dows ME came Windows XP,that despite its age and obso-lesce still runs on a significantnumber of computers. Internally Windows XP was basedon Windows 2000 and wasversioned as Windows NT 5.1.

At this point the old lin-eage of DOS-based Windows versions was over as Windows XP merged Microsoft’s two lines of products, theDOS-based ones for home users, and the NT-based ones for servers and workstations into a single NT-based OS family – something they wanted to do since NT was first introduced.

Then came another OS that most people would like to forget, but one that lay a lot of important groundwork for what Windows is today, and that is Windows Vista. Internally Windows Vista and Windows Server 2008 featured Windows NT 6.0 and this is somewhat significant for reasons that will become clear soon.

When Windows 7 came out, the name made sense given that Microsoft wanted to go back to version numbers, and that the previous version was internally Windows NT 6.0. However Windows 7 wasn’t very different at it score, and was mostly compatible with Vista.

Since the kernel was mostly the same internally, Windows 7 only updated the Windows version to NT 6.1. So when Microsoft finally updated its branding to reflect the version of Windows beneath it, well the version of Windows beneath it no longer followed the same numbering scheme!

Windows 8 bumped this ver-sion to 6.2 and then Windows 8.1 brought this up to 6.3.Windows 7 is the mostpopular version of Windows ever released, but it was basi-cally Windows Vista. 1 Now we come to Windows 10, and you probably feel comfortable betting that Windows 10 will internally be Windows NT 6.4.

One of these is Windows NT 3.1 and the other is Windows 3.11 guess which is which (there is a hint in the image)

You are wrong, and we are most happy to rub this in your face. Windows10 is in fact Windows NT 10.0 as well.

To be fair to you though, early builds of Windows 10 actually represented themselves as Windows NT 6.4 and Microsoft might have stuck with that. So to all those asking, what happened to Windows 9, we only ask in return, what happened to Windows 5 and 6? Heck what happened to Windows kernel versions 7, 8 and 9.

Also Windows NT started at version 3, so what happened to Windows NT 1 and 2? If you count regular consumer versions of Windows, then Windows 7 is the 9th release (1.0, 2.0, 3.0, 95,98, ME, XP, Vista and then 7).

If you look at kernel versions then it is 6.1,what it isn’t is 7 in any way other than in name. Let’s just say version numbers are arbitrary and misleading, and like the ‘XP’ in ‘Windows XP’ or the ‘Vista’ in ‘Windows Vista’, the ‘10’ in‘Windows 10’ is just branding, a pure marketing tool.

After all, 10 is a‘cool’ number, it’s the number nails most people have growing on their hands, that’s probably where that comes from, it’s as reasonable a theory as any alternative.

Why the ‘Last’

Is Windows 10 the last version of Windows?

The idea of no more Windows versions seems odd. It depends on how you look at version numbers though. As we just explained, Windows 10 is now simply the brand name for Windows.

If Windows were a game franchise, then Windows 10 would be likethat reboot that drops all sub-titles and numbers. Windows is now simply ‘Windows 10’ and it is that product that will receive constant upgrades. There is a comparison to be made with Apple’s Mac OS. Before Mac OSX, there once was ‘Mac OS 9’.

Ever since the release of Mac OS X though, Apple has been releasing major new operating system releases under the OS X name. In fact with the release of OS X Mountain Lion or 10.7 Apple dropped the ‘Mac’ and called it simply ‘OS X’. Much like the OS X of today is wildly different from the initial Mac OSX release nearly 14 years ago. Windows 10 might easily still be called Win-dows 10 in another 14 years, but it will likely be a completely different OS.

Windows XP was the first consumer version of Windows to use the Windows NT kernel.

Where Microsoft’s approach differs from that of Apple is that Microsoftis also changing its release strategy. In previous versions of Windows, updates would generally only fix things, bugs, security, performance etc. Once there were enough updates they would be bundled together as a Service Pack. This was supposed to be devoid of any new features, but Windows XP SP2 famously bucked this trend. Likewise Windows 8.1 toobrought significant changes.

With Windows 10, Microsoft no longer differentiates between updates that fix ths OS and those that add new features (and possibly new bugs). In Windows 8 we saw some of this in the form of apps that Microsoft shipped with the OS getting updated with new features through the Windows store separate from the OS. Now the entire OS will work the same way.

Microsoft will keep releasing updates to its core apps though the Win-dows 10 store, and will keep updating the core Windows 10 experiencethrough new builds delivered via Windows Update.

People were understandably confused when Microsoft made a Windows upgrade free, and then started talking of Windows-as-a-Service and ofconstant new upgrades. The first thought everyone had was that after the first free year of the upgrade, Microsoft would start charging for upgrades.

This notion was probably a fundamental misunderstanding of what Microsoft is trying to accomplish brought on by their own poor communication.

To clarify then, when you buy Windows 10, or upgrade to it for free from Windows 7, 8 or 8.1 you get a license to Windows 10 that includes all upgrades to the OS for free. It is a service, but the kind that has a one-time payment that is included in the price of the device you purchase, or the retail license for Windows 10 that you purchase.

Perhaps what is more interesting today is not that the Windows 10 upgrade is free, and that it is the last version of Windows, or that it nowuses a Software-as-a-Service model, but that all of these things make sense(to an extent) given the eco system of devices today.