Just like a website that scales to the size of the screen, Windows 10 will be a responsive operating system. It’s one OS being built for all devices, ranging from the new 84-inch Surface Hub, to the smallest Lumia smartphone. It will dynamically change with its dimensions, while retaining complete functionality. That means Microsoft will have to account for the different usage and navigation patterns of smartphone, tablet, and laptop users.
That’s good news, as earlier Windows 10 builds had us worried. It was clear then that Microsoft was consciously courting the enterprise crowd still clinging to Windows 7, and still very reliant on notebooks. The Windows 10 beta unveiled late last year clearly moved away from the brash Start screen, modern apps, and touch/swipe-friendly navigation of Windows 8, back to the familiar and mouse-friendly confines of the desktop.
Even though Continuum, Microsoft’s new system for dealing with dockable tablets, was teased, there was little present in that early build to suggest that Windows 10 would retain the tablet-centricity of Windows 8 and 8.1.
Testing the Early Build
After testing the latest Win 10 beta build, complete with Continuum, we’re a bit less concerned. The responsive approach certainly brings a more touch-friendly scheme to Windows 10, but it also muddles what was ultimately a very simple and effective setup in Windows 8 for tablet users.
The caveat here is that we tested a very early version of Windows 10 with Continuum. It is incomplete and infested with bugs. The latest update also includes Cortana integration, a new Xbox app, new maps and photo apps, and a redesigned Windows store. But because those are all incomplete (and in the case of Cortana, barely functional), we’ll refrain from commenting further.
What we can comment on is the workflow and navigation scheme for tablet users. That seems unlikely to change much at this point when the full OS launches later this year, and these practical considerations are probably the most consequential anyhow.
Windows 8 and 8.1 are both simple when you think of them this way: The Start screen replaced the old Start menu. It ran apps and enabled users to access basic settings, but the old Desktop was there just in case, mainly for old legacy programs and the deeper settings options. It was all built with tablets and touch in mind, and the swipe-based navigation proved especially swift and convenient once mastered.
Windows 10 is different. It just about eliminates the desktop in “tablet mode,” launching legacy software as if it were Modern-style apps, and providing easier access to the deeper settings options.
We say “just about” because the desktop is still present. First, let’s back it up. Tablet mode is toggled through the new Notifications bar that takes the place of the Windows 8 Charms menu. It’s accessible via a left swipe from the right side of the display. In addition to notifications, it also allows access to general settings like airplane mode, rotation lock, and Wi-Fi.
In demos, Surface Pros toggle tablet mode when users detach the keyboard, though the Dell Venue 8 Pro we tested Windows 10 on did not do the same when detached from a Bluetooth keyboard.
While in tablet mode, a blank desktop appears dimmed. The recycle bin, as well as shortcuts and folders disappear. The taskbar remains, along with the Windows key, Cortana (search), multiple desktop toggle option, virtual keyboard, power status, connectivity, time/calendar and other common info (left to right). Any app or program shortcuts in the taskbar also disappear.
Apps launch in full screen from the Start screen, even legacy programs. As with Windows 8, multiple apps can remain open at the same time, with open apps icons revealed via a rightward swipe from the left side. A simple tap opens them back up.
This differs from Windows 8 and 8.1, where the same swipes opened an app rather than a shortcut to all open apps. From the open app icon page, Windows 10 also allows for additional desktops, which are ultimately just allow for different collections of open apps.
The familiar downward swipe from the top bezel to close an app remains, stack an app (for side-by-side multitasking), and access the app options remains, thankfully.
Unfortunately, the taskbar also remains. It’s omnipresent on the bottom of all apps, preventing them from going fullscreen. Some apps, like Microsoft’s own News and Sports, have a maximize option in the top right corner (revealed from the downward swipe), that eliminates the taskbar. Here’s hoping that rolls out to all apps in the final build.
New Start Screen
Microsoft also changed the Start screen. The resizable live tiles remain unchanged from Windows 8 and 8.1 but the taskbar retains its omnipresence. About a quarter of the left screen real estate is occupied by a series of shortcuts for “Places,” “Most Used,” and an “All Apps” option. The lateral navigation of Windows 8 and 8.1 has also been replaced by a horizontal scheme.
All in all it works for tablet users, but it is a significant step backward from Windows 8. The “All Apps” shortcuts are tiny and hard to access. Start screen space is wasted, making it feel unnecessarily cramped on our 8-inch Dell.
Some additions are very welcome. Much but not all of the Control Panel, which was tucked away in the desktop in Windows 8, has been given a modern upgrade in Windows 10. It’s much more easily accessible. And the jarring transition from the Start screen to the desktop in Windows 8 has been eliminated.
In that sense, it’s a more cohesive experience. But ultimately, it’s a tablet-friendly OS, rather than a tablet-focused OS. As with the first Windows 10 build, it’s still clear Microsoft is aiming at notebooks and 2-in-1s – productivity machines favored by business users and the enterprise — at the expense of tablets.
We’ll see what Microsoft’s responsive approach brings to Windows 10 for smartphones and small tablets. It could very well unveil new navigation schemes that make their way to the larger versions. Or maybe enough Windows Insiders will complain about the new Start screen that Microsoft brings the old one back, or at least tweaks to design to make it more functional.
We’ve already done just that.