Windows 10 Technical Preview deep-dive: A promise of better things to come

So far, Microsoft's next-gen operating system is looking good.

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I'm expecting to hear a lot about Universal apps between now and Windows 10's release. They're the next wave of Windows Store apps -- and with the new APIs that are being delivered with Windows 10, look likely to finally offer the same capabilities as the more mature Win32. Microsoft is starting to position Universal apps as a significant differentiation between its development platforms and its competitors' tooling, and with a single store for Universal apps, it has a key way to help developers monetise their apps.

There are certainly a lot more WinRT namespaces in the new release; while Microsoft isn't intending to focus on Windows 10 developers until its next Build event in April 2015, there's plenty here for developers to explore. Many of the new namespaces are focused on productivity and information management scenarios, which points to more shared code in future Windows Phone releases. Apple's Continuity lets information flow from phone to tablet to PC, and from an exploration of the WinRT namespace, it looks as though Windows 10 will be able to offer something similar.

Programmatic access to contacts, to email and to messaging makes a lot of sense in a multi-device world, and giving WinRT the tools to do this goes a long way toward encouraging developers to work with Microsoft's new programming model.

For the enterprise

Microsoft is clearly targeting enterprise users with this latest version of Windows. While many of the underlying enterprise features rely on a new release of both Windows Server and the System Center management suite (and the cloud Intune service), there's a lot that's being done to ensure that enterprise concerns with Windows 8 won't be issues in Windows 10.

One key concern is the use of Microsoft Accounts for the Windows Store. While Microsoft hasn't described how the Windows 10 store will operate, a now-deleted blog post detailed how it would use Azure Active Directory accounts as an alternative authentication model and would also allow IT departments to curate their own store experiences. I'd expect Microsoft to announce how this feature will operate in conjunction with the 2015 release of key Windows management tools, alongside new Azure AD features.

Then there's the separation of personal and business information on devices (especially Windows tablets in BYOD scenarios). I talked to senior Microsoft spokespeople at the Windows 10 event in San Francisco, exploring how a new container model would allow secure partitioning of work and personal data. Work apps would get access to the work container and information in one container can't be copied to another -- even via cut and paste. Some apps, like Office, will be what Microsoft calls "enlightened" -- able to work in both contexts while still keeping information under control.

Conclusion

The Windows 10 Technical Preview is most definitely a very early release, and it's still hard to judge exactly what shape the final product will take. As alpha releases go -- and the Technical Preview is very much an alpha -- it's stable and familiar.

I've now installed it as both an upgrade and VM installs, with no problems. I'm not yet ready to run it as a production OS -- that's likely to wait until the Consumer Preview, when we'll get a better picture of the final OS. Until then, what we've currently got is a Windows 10 that still looks very much like Windows 8.1, with elements of a new UI and a new set of APIs.

Many of the key new features, like the containerised separation of user and corporate data, aren't yet accessible, as they rely on systems management tooling that won't be available until the early part of 2015. That could be a problem for IT departments that want to try out those high profile features, though at this point in the Windows 10 development cycle it's probably best to use the Technical Preview to explore compatibility issues and to understand the effects of tuning the delivery of Windows 10 updates.

There's a lot for Microsoft to do between now and launch, especially around delivering on its user experience promises. But with a timetable that seems to indicate a release in the second half of 2015, there's still plenty of time. Many of the nuts and bolts are in place -- what we're waiting for now are the supporting services and the fit and finish in order to get a better handle on the final shape of the new Windows.

Copyright © 2014 IDG Communications, Inc.

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