It was obvious from the earliest preview Microsoft built Windows 10 for notebooks. Microsoft’s move away from the brash Start screen to a more desktop-focused UI lends itself to an operating system that may be called Windows 10, but functionally straddles the line right between Windows 7 and Windows 8.
And it’s as well it should, at least by market standards. Microsoft developed Windows 8 at time it needed a viable tablet strategy, a time when notebook sales were tanking and tablet sales were taking off. That has since changed, with notebook sales potentially rebounding in 2015 according to Gartner, buoyed by high-end 2-in-1s like the Surface Pro 3. Meanwhile strict tablets declined in Q4 2014 by 3.2%, according to IDC. It’s the first time that’s happened since 2010.
With its latest Windows 10 update, Microsoft looked to assuage tablet users that its next OS will in fact be suitable for tablets through a previously-mentioned featured dubbed Continuum that adapted Windows 10 for touch. In previewing the update for TabletPCReview, it’s clear that Windows 10 will be a tablet-friendly OS, rather than a tablet-focused OS, like Windows 8 and Windows 8.1.
Even with Continuum and devices set to “tablet mode,” the taskbar with its mouse-friendly shortcuts, remains omnipresent unless otherwise set to “auto hide” (and even then this early build of Windows 10 has issues keeping the taskbar down), or in the handful of apps that support a true full-screen mode.
The Start screen itself has also been redesigned away from the swipe friendly UI and lateral navigation, to a vertical scheme, with a good third of the display occupied by small “Places” and “Most used” shortcuts. Sure, it still works well with touch, but not nearly as well as Windows 8.1. The entire scheme requires more precision than Windows 8 and 8.1, and is much better with a mouse, especially on the 8-inch tablet we used to test Windows 10. The vertical layout seems purpose-built with a scroll wheel in mind.
For Getting Stuff Done
In defending against iOS and Android, Windows fans often labeled it the OS for getting stuff done. Windows and notebooks are for content creators, while Android, iOS, and their respective tablet devices are for content consumers.
The recent launches of a slick, touch-friendly and near fully-functional Office for Android and iOS put a slight dent in the argument, especially considering Microsoft neglected to launch the same apps on Windows 8, which had to rely on the old desktop Office programs.
Good news Windows fans, those apps are now available for Windows 10. In fact, the Word, PowerPoint, Excel, and OneNote apps for Windows 10 are nearly identical to their Android and iOS counterparts.
That means they are lightweight, equally mouse and touch-friendly, and very easy to use. The apps aren’t nearly as feature-rich as the desktop alternatives, but for most users that just need the basics for home budgeting, light word processing, and simple work presentations, the new Office apps will surely suffice.
Just like the mobile versions, some of the most useful functionality is locked away and available only to Office 365 subscribers, features like pivot tables for Excel, and track changes in Word. These Windows 10 versions are also a work in progress. Only after launching were the apps updated for print functionality. OneDrive support is baked in, and while the Windows Store listing page touts DropBox integration, it’s nowhere to be found in the early builds despite its presence in the Android and iOS versions.
Chances are that these Office apps will launch alongside Windows 10, and Microsoft will surely refine and tweak them until then, and maybe even add a few Windows-exclusive features. Inking in Word would be huge for Surface Pro owners, and wouldn’t it be nice if Microsoft enabled track changes for users who don’t subscribe to Office 365?
Until then, perhaps the most salient takeaway is how stable and swift the Office apps run on the Windows 10 preview. In the 5 days we’ve tested them, not one crashed, froze, or even so much as stuttered. They opened and closed promptly, and this was on an underpowered Dell Venue 8 Pro running an Intel Atom processor (Z3740D, 1.33 GHz) with 2 GB of RAM. Overall performance is currently better than the full-release versions we tested on various Android tablets.
Microsoft’s Windows 10 update strategy is extremely bold. Windows 10 will be a free update for all Windows 7, 8, and 8.1 devices in its first year of release. While the exact install base is hard to discern for reasons of piracy and Microsoft’s reluctance to reveal the exact number, Net Analytics estimates that approximately 91% of all PCs run Windows, and of those about 56% run Windows 7, while 10% run Windows 8.1, and 3.8% run Windows 8.
That’s a huge potential market, aided by the fact that Windows 10 promises to be a relatively light OS. Minimum requirements for the Technical Preview when it first launched last year were 1 GHz processor, 1 GB of RAM (for the 32-bit version), and 16 GB of free hard disk drive space.
Of course, the same was true of Windows 8 during its preview period, and Microsoft added minimum display resolution requirements for its Start screen apps that surpassed the spec sheet on many netbooks and older PCs. And the same may apply to some of the niftier features teased at the last Windows 10 demo, like the ability to virtualize and play an Xbox One on the same network.
Still, given the preponderance of Windows 7 devices that are almost certainly not tablets, bringing Windows 10 back to the notebook with intuitive mouse navigation is a smart move. Adding functional touch controls for the high-end 2-in-1s and Surface Pro is also smart move.
With devices like the Surface Pro blurring the lines between tablets and notebooks, Windows 10 promises to be the responsive OS. Just like websites that scale depending on the display size, the OS adjusts according to input method – but deliberately weighted toward mouse and keyboard users, which happen to be the vast majority of Windows users.