Good news Windows 8.1 fans: It looks like you can completely forgo the new Start menu app experience with Windows 10 and stick with the tablet-friendly Start screen instead. This should be welcomed news, especially for those using the Dell Venue 8 Pro, Toshiba Encore, or any other 8-inch Windows 8.1 Intel device; because using the desktop on such a tiny screen, even with the new Windows 10 app support and features, is an exercise in frustration.
Bad news Windows 8.1 fans: Despite this option, it appears as though app behavior and navigation have completely been altered to favor desktop users.
Early but Operational
This conclusion is based on time spent testing the Windows 10 technical preview on the Dell Venue 8 Pro, which doesn’t include the much ballyhooed Continuum feature that dynamically changes the OS from tablet-friendly to notebook-centric, as of publication.
In fact, the Windows 10 technical preview doesn’t include a lot of things, like Bluetooth support for this Dell Venue 8 Pro test device. It’s a pre-beta build, and a trip through the various threads in our Windows 10 forum reveals all sorts of issues, like missing touchscreen support and frequent crashes.
So all that aside, it’s remarkably operational for such an early build (anyone remember the early days of Windows 8?), and provides a great look at what Windows 10 is all about – winning over Windows XP and Windows 7 holdouts.
Taskbar and Start Menu Properties
For Windows 8.1 tablet fans, the good news comes in the form of an obscure menu option called “Taskbar and Start Menu Properties.” Users can easily find it by searching for “navigation properties.” In it, users will see a “Start Menu” tab, with an option to “Use the Start menu instead of the Start screen.” Once it’s unchecked, the Start screen becomes the default, and clicking the Windows icon in the lower-left corner or pressing the Windows key brings it up.
Without it unchecked, Windows 10 resembles Windows 7, with Start screen apps in the menu tray, with room for user defined live tiles and shortcuts to the right. All former Start screen apps launch on the desktop and can be resized, maximized, and minimized, just like any old desktop app or program. Apps can be moved around and snapped next to one another, and Windows 10 adds the ability to create new and distinct desktops.
For notebook users, this is great. But it’s a lousy set up on the Dell Venue 8 Pro, and any small-screen Windows 8.1 device – even the first- and second-generation Surface and Surface Pro models. The desktop is just too small for this type of navigation, even with a mouse.
Everything on the Desktop
On the other hand, the Start screen in this early Windows 10 build exactly resembles the Window 8.1 Start screen and supports the convenient universal search. Simply start typing anywhere, and Windows 10 begins searching everywhere … files, the system, Bing, etc.
Unfortunately, that’s about it. The change is just about limited to navigation. The apps don’t launch in the Start screen. They launch on the desktop, just as they do with the Start menu selected. That means they behave just like the desktop apps described above. By default, the omnipresent Windows taskbar remains. There is a “full screen” option hidden in the top-left menu, but it’s small and hardly touch friendly. That also means that the familiar Windows 8.1 swipe navigation features are all missing, at least in this early build.
In Windows 8.1, a swipe from the bottom or top of the display while in an app, brings up the app commands menu. In Windows 10, these swipes aren’t recognized, and the only ways to bring up the menu are right clicking or tapping a tiny three-dot icon on the bottom right corner above the taskbar.
In Windows 8.1, a swipe from the left to the right of the display cycles through the open apps. In Windows 10, it brings up the desktop select screen, where users can manage multiple desktops, as well as view, access, close, and assign any open apps. In Window 8.1, a controlled swipe and hold from the top of the display close an app. In Windows 10, it does nothing.
Not only all that, but the desktop virtual keyboard issues that users encountered with Windows 8.1 are still present. Open an app from either the Start menu or screen, with or without a keyboard attached, and the virtual keyboard still has to be called up manually from the taskbar. It seems there isn’t an automatic option anywhere, at least in this preview.
Hope for Smaller Tablets
Of course, all this whining should be taken with a grain of salt. This is a pre-beta build, one targeted at enterprise customers who favor laptops and stuck with Windows 7 when 8 came out. On top of that, Windows 10 for smartphones will undoubtedly forgo the desktop for a Start screen experience, and Windows Phone 8.1 can scale up to 7-inch devices.
That may leave the 8-inch Intel tablet just big enough for full Windows 10. The Continuum feature may address some of these concerns. But, looking at the preview videos from the unveiling, it seems that apps still launch on the desktop and that the Start screen is just present for navigation even with Continuum. As fans and owners of low-cost 8-inch Windows tablets, that makes many of the TabletPCReview team just a bit anxious.