Microsoft Releases New Windows 10 Test Build With Cortana
Microsoft's latest Windows 10 preview test release is arriving today via the Windows Update service.
Build 9926 will install automatically for participants in Microsoft's Windows Insider program, or it can be manually installed for those who want it now, as described in Microsoft's announcement. The Windows 10 preview is also available in ISO form at this page.
Microsoft is releasing this build to both its fast-ring and slow-ring pool of testers. Fast-ring testers typically get the less stable builds, but they get them quicker. About 90 percent of Windows 10 testers are in the slow test ring, according to Gabriel Aul, a data and fundamentals team lead for Microsoft's Operating Systems Group. His explanation for sending build 9926 to both test groups simultaneously is just that it's been some time since Microsoft's last Windows 10 release.
This build is arriving early. Microsoft officials had suggested during a Wednesday Redmond, Wash. Windows 10 press event that the new build would arrive next week. While Microsoft showed off emerging new features in the Windows 10 operating system during that event, such as an integrated Cortana personal assistant and a new Web browser code-named "Spartan," some of the features that were demonstrated during the event won't appear in this release.
No Spartan Browser
For instance, this release does not include the Spartan browser. Joe Belfiore, corporate vice president of the Operating Systems Group, had mentioned it wouldn't arrive in the next build during the Redmond event. He did say that the Spartan browser eventually will be coming to Windows Phone and Aul suggested in today's announcement that the Windows 10 preview for smartphones would arrive next month. So likely we'll see Windows 10 for smartphones sometime in February, possibly with the Spartan browser.
Microsoft is being a bit cagey about whether smartphones currently running the Windows Phone OS will be capable of upgrading to Windows 10. It announced this week that some Lumia devices will be capable of running Windows 10, without elaborating much on the details.
Windows 10 testers will see Cortana for desktop PCs, which is making its first appearance in this release (it previously just was available for smartphones). Aul cautioned that "Cortana is new" for desktop PCs and "things might not work as expected." Microsoft's personal assistant application currently just responds in English for now, although the search function works for all supported languages. Cortana for the Windows 10 preview currently has some known issues. You can't edit reminders in Cortana, and reminders currently don't move into the history page in the Cortana notebook. The notebook is the place where users can customize what Cortana responds to and tracks.
This build includes Microsoft's new Photos app, as well as its Maps app. Belfiore demonstrated the Photos app during the Redmond event, and while he noted that it has the capability of automatically creating photo albums, that capability isn't enabled in this build. Microsoft is also including its new Xbox app, which streams games from an Xbox One game console to a Windows 10 PC or laptop. It also pushes down game stats and messages to Windows 10 devices, as described in this Microsoft blog post.
The new Windows Store is accessible via a gray tile in the new Windows 10 preview, alongside a green tile for the current store. Some features in the new store don't work. It can get confusing. For instance, Aul notes that "you can purchase apps on a device running Windows 8.1 and use those apps in this build of Windows 10 but not vice versa."
Two changes to the Start Menu are appearing in this release. The menu can be run in full-screen mode now and its color can be customized. Aul noted that Microsoft has started work on rebuilding the Start Menu using XAML code. In the future it will have features such as "transparency," "drag and drop" and "Jump Lists," according to Aul, although those features aren't available with this release.
The Settings app in this Windows 10 preview build has a few new aspects. Users can tailor how fast new builds will arrive using it. The Settings app also has design changes that make it look more like the familiar Control Panel.
The Action Center now facilitates connections to wireless technologies such as Bluetooth and Miracast in this build of the Windows 10 preview. Microsoft is promising a "click to connect" kind of experience for establishing such connections via a Connect button in the Action Center. The Action Center feature combines the old System Tray kind of messaging about software updates with other kinds of notifications.
Fixes and Problems
Microsoft included some requested fixes in this Windows 10 build, based on user feedback. Language support was expanded. Users can now set the default file folder to open with File Explorer. It's easier now to make apps appear in full-screen mode since Microsoft added a control to that effect in the app title bar. The Settings app now includes a progress bar to show the state of preview downloads. The ALT + TAB key combination now displays icons much like the Task View feature. Microsoft also fixed a keyboard illumination flaw.
Known problems in the build include the Cortana issues mentioned above, plus a few others. For instance, some users may see a boot selection menu each time they reboot their PCs. Remote Desktop has pixilation display issues. Surface Pro 3 users may get a shorter battery lifespans. The Start Menu shows app names that are truncated. The Music app can disappear "if minimized within 16 seconds of launch." Problems could be seen in launching Xbox Live games if those games require a sign-in process.
Kurt Mackie is senior news producer for 1105 Media's Converge360 group.