As you know by now, Microsoft announced the next version of Windows last night that they’re calling Windows 10. A group of South African journalists were invited to the company’s SA headquarters this morning to hear a bit more about the operating system and its enterprise benefits, as well as Microsoft’s new approach to its development.

MD of Microsoft SA, Zoaib Hoosen told us that the company has fundamentally changed how they’ve been thinking about Windows for this new version, evidenced by the fact that never before had they released a technical preview of an operating system build this early in its development. With around a year to go before even the tentative projected Windows 10 release date of “Fall 2015” (no actual date confirmed just yet), that’s a lot of time to get feedback and make changes where needed.

He said that Microsoft had “…paid some good school fees over the last two years”, meaning they had learned a lot since the release of Windows 8 back in October 2012, and from that they realised they needed to listen more closely to their customers to make sure the products being delivered were what customers wanted and needed.

He then handed over to Anthony Doherty, Microsoft SA’s Windows business group lead, who turned on the corporate charm by saying today isn’t about a product launch, it’s about “starting a journey early with customers”. That journey kicks off with the availability of the Windows 10 Technical Preview today; get it here.

Business-friendliness a must

The entire OS has been designed to be as friendly and useful in an enterprise environment as possible, with new features like enterprise-grade security built right into Windows 10. Microsoft says this is good enough that a third-party security solution won’t be needed anymore, but it’s advisable to take that with a pinch of salt and get one anyway. Well that’s my view, anyway, because I still don’t trust Windows Defender.

Microsoft has also beefed up BitLocker security so that anything you’ve placed into a BitLocker folder will be “containerised”, and thus retain its security and encryption no matter where you move it. Not quite sure how that will work, but it’s an interesting feature to keep an eye on.

Microsoft also reported a number of its big enterprise customers requested that employees no longer require a Microsoft Account in order to access apps on the Windows Store, so Microsoft is removing that requirement for enterprise installations. They’re also adding volume licensing for Store apps that make it easier for companies to de-link them from ex-employees and re-link them to new ones.

The other big request was for more control over the Windows Store’s contents. Microsoft’s solution is to let enterprises create their own Stores, where only the apps they want their staff to have access to will be available.

Doherty’s comment about this being the start of a journey early with customers is symptomatic of New Microsoft, a company learning that 2014’s customers aren’t the same as 1998’s customers, and who are savvy enough to contribute usefully to the software development process. The cynical part of me says they’ve also cottoned on to the product-polishing potential of using the public as beta testers. But even if that’s true (and it probably isn’t) I don’t mind, because I would love a better Windows than I got with version 8, and if this is the means to that end I’m all for it.

Consumer stuff

Once the enterprise-specific stuff was out of the way, they moved on to a live demo of the new OS by Rane Moodley, Microsoft SA’s Windows marketing manager, who showed off some of Windows 10’s newest consumer-centric features.

New Start Menu JPG
Just like Arnie, the Start Menu came back.

My favourite one was the return of the Start Menu, in a form that resembles the one I know and love from Windows 7 but which also has elements of Windows 8’s Start Screen on it. It looks like it might actually work quite well: it has a Windows 7-esque list of searchable installed programs on the left, with a collection of customisable – and resizable – Live Tiles on the right side. I still hate Live Tiles, but at least this way they’ve been incorporated in a way that isn’t the total domination of my screen by way of a Start Screen.

We were also shown how the menu itself can be resized for the first time ever: Moodley simply clicked the edges and dragged the menu into new shapes. It’s fantastic to see this level of customisation on something as iconic as the Start Menu.

More snap-happy apps

Microsoft has also changed how snappable Modern UI apps are – you know, the apps from the Windows Store that have been designed to work in full screen mode for tablets and phones. Those have proved notoriously annoying to snap alongside actually useful programs like the ones that run in Desktop mode, something that even the Windows 8.1 update didn’t quite address, but in Windows 10 they are entirely detachable and can even snap alongside desktop apps. Finally! At least now when I accidentally use a Modern UI app, I’ll be able to dock it on my desktop in more useful ways.

I still hate Modern UI apps but at least I can snap them properly now.
I still hate Modern UI apps but at least I can snap them properly now.

A close second-favourite feature was the demonstration of Windows 10’s ability to run multiple desktops at a time, with a feature Microsoft is calling the “virtual desktop”. We were shown how you can switch between them on the fly, which is great news for someone like me whose current desktop is littered with icons that I’d love to be able to separate, something having access to more than one desktop will help with.

New Microsoft indeed

What struck me the most about the brief event was that Microsoft appeared really, really keen to convey the message that this time around, they’re genuinely listening to their customers… quite unlike what they did with Windows 8. That’s why they’re releasing an enterprise preview of Windows 10 today rather than much closer to the operating system’s release date, as that gives them the necessary time to solicit feedback and change anything that needs changing in order to deliver the Windows 10 that their customers want, and more importantly, will be happy to pay for. They’ve promised to follow that up in “early 2015” with a consumer preview release, but they didn’t provide dates.

Doherty emphasised that the preview build is only meant for tech-savvy power users and IT professionals, and not for the average user. More casual users will be better off waiting for the consumer preview that will roll out in early 2015.

Me, I can’t wait to download and install the Windows 10 preview this evening to see what all the fuss is about for myself.

[Images – Blogs.Windows.com]
Deon got his first taste of PC gaming at the tender age of 11 when his father bought an 8088 XT, ostensibly to "help him with his homework". Instead, it introduced him to Leisure Suit Larry, King Graham, Sonny Bonds and many more, and Deon has been a PC gamer and hardware enthusiast ever since. He landed his first professional writing gig in 2006 at a prestigious local PC magazine, a very happy happenstance as he got to write for a living about things he loves - tech, PCs, gaming, and everything in between. He's been writing about it all ever since, and loves every minute of it.