Where Windows 10 stands right now

With Windows 10 out and betas careening off the edges, here’s what you can get and what you should expect

Where Windows 10 stands right now

A Microsoft Surface Phone, running Windows 10, is unlikely to be seen at Mobile World Congress in late February, but the phone may be out later this year. 

Credit: Thinkstock

Windows 10 build 10240 hit the streets on July 29. I still call it the “RTM” build, but you can adapt whatever terminology you prefer. Since then, we’ve seen three Fast Ring beta builds, the latest being build 10547, which hit on Sept 18.

Reliable rumors place the next version of Windows 10 -- known formally as “Threshold 2,” or TH2 -- in November. It’s likely that TH2 is the version of Windows originally envisioned for Windows 10 and Win10 was pushed out the door rather suddenly in order to meet back-to-school demands from hardware manufacturers ... which is rather funny because none of the Win10 machines released lately have hardware support for key new Windows 10 capabilities, such as Windows Hello cameras.

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We've been assured that Windows 10 updates will roll out continuously, and there will no longer be any Service Packs or new point-level releases. (Remember, this is the team that gave us Windows 8.1 Update 1 -- not Service Pack 1.) That said, the TH2 November update sure sounds to me like a Service Pack 1, and the next planned round of releases, code-named Redstone 2016, compares to a point-level bump. Your lexicon may vary.

Here’s an overview of Windows 10 as it sits right now, incorporating what we found in build 10240, what’s been updated since then, what we’ve seen in the beta builds, and the confusion that still surrounds so many problems, including update licensing, snooping, and forced updates. If you don't have the time -- or the interest -- to keep up with the details, this report will keep you posted on how things stand ... like, right now. We'll update it as Microsoft fleshes out more of Windows 10.

Build 10240 isn’t as stable as I would hope, the built-in apps are woefully underpowered, and upgrading can be a monumental pain, especially if you don’t follow Microsoft’s largely unwritten rules about transferring licenses. Rolling back to a previous version of Windows -- an option for 30 days -- usually goes well, but for some, all sorts of odd problems appear.

If you have a Windows 7 or 8.1 system, and it’s trying to put Windows 10 on your machine -- in some cases, it may take control of Windows Update -- there’s a way to remove the problems, using GWX Control Panel.

The Start menu

The build 10547 Windows 10 Start menu lets you switch between the old three-tiles-across and new four-tiles-across sizes.

Start Menu: Windows 10 Build 10547

Windows 10 build 10547 Start menu tile blocks can now hold four columns of medium-size tile.

Where the Start menu stands

The main layout of the Start menu hasn’t changed from RTM: Sorta-Windows-7 style links on the left, sorta-Windows-8.1 style tiles on the right. You can resize individual tiles, click and drag, group and ungroup the tiles, and rename the groups. Right-click on a program and choose Pin to Start to put it among the tiles on the right. Or you can drag and drop programs or folders to add them to the tiles.

You can resize the Start menu. You can adjust it vertically in small increments, but trying to drag things the other way is limited to big swaths of tiles. By default, the groups of tiles have three columns, but you can tell Windows to allow for four, as you can see in the screenshot. You can drag tiles from the right side of the Start screen onto the desktop for easy access.

You can add common locations chosen from a predefined set (Documents, Downloads, Music, Pictures, Homegroup, and so on) to the left side of the Start menu. The All Apps list also has an alphabetic index matrix, to make navigation faster.

While it's possible to manually remove all the tiles on the right (right-click each, then choose Unpin from Start), the big area for tiles doesn't shrink beyond one column.

Transparency on the Start menu and task bar are On/Off settings, with a bit of fuzziness (reminiscent of Aero Glass) when it’s on. You can stick with a black background on the Start menu, as shown, or opt to have Windows pull a color from your desktop.

The old bug that limited Win10 RTM’s All apps list to 512 apps -- a problem first described by Peter Bright at Ars Technica -- has been increased to 2,048 apps.

What we'd like to see

Power users would benefit greatly by seeing at least some of the extensive customization available in the Windows 7 Start menu appear in the next version of Windows 10. Win10's Start menu doesn't have the moxie of Win7's because it has been rewritten in XAML, and the bells and whistles fell off in the process.

At a minimum, Win10's Start menu should have a hierarchy on the left, with customizable menus. The All Apps list should also be customizable with easily defined folders and entries. If you want that kind of flexibility today, look at Start10 or Classic Shell.

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