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Comparing Windows 10 features with those in earlier OSes

IT got a glimpse of new Windows 10 features in the technical preview and updated build. See how they compare to Windows 7 and Windows 8 features.

The Windows 10 Technical Preview has now been out for a few months, and we can soon expect an updated build of Microsoft's flagship operating system. What can longtime Windows users expect? Let's look at some of the most interesting desktop- and enterprise-oriented Windows 10 features that users coming from Windows 7 and Windows 8.1 will immediately notice and enjoy.

New browser

Alongside an upgrade (similar to a point release) to the venerable Internet Explorer, reports suggest that Windows 10 will include Spartan too. Spartan is a new Web browser that a special design team at Microsoft is putting together and that is now in its third iteration. While the goals of Spartan have not been publicly announced, industry observers expect it to have a couple of really interesting features (which, of course, may or may not make it to the final released builds):

  • Voice commands. When Spartan is loaded and active, users should be able to speak voice commands such as "Back," "Forward," "Make this my home page" and "Add to favorites" without having to reach for the screen or the keyboard. In fact, expect a lot more voice control to be available across the feature set of Windows 10.
  • Embedded sub-browsers. At this point, this Windows 10 feature is still a little unclear, but it appears that Web designers will especially like it because it will allow users to view a page in as many as four different miniature windows, each using a different rendering engine -- so you could see how your page looks in Internet Explorer, Firefox, Chrome and Safari all at the same time, for example.

Meet Cortana

Microsoft's version of Siri is expected to make it into Windows 10, giving users the ability to control their computer, ask questions, conduct Web searches, set appointments and other reminders, and more by simply talking in a natural voice to their machine.

Cortana, named after a character in the Microsoft Xbox 360 game Halo, is decidedly more functional than Siri. It can interact with many applications and has an application programming interface that developers can use to expand functionality. Cortana could well be among users' favorite new Windows 10 features.

Enterprise IT shops will find that line-of-business applications and custom programs can all be modified to use Cortana. This could be a boon for field workers or others who need to multitask.

The Start menu returns in its classic look

Much to knowledge workers' joy, the Start menu returns in Windows 10. It is not currently identical to the Windows 7 start menu, mind you, but it does return a logical, non-full-screen place to launch applications and execute searches.

Perhaps most importantly, users will go to the Start menu to log off and turn off their PCs. This is probably the Windows 10 feature that will make Windows 7 users feel the most comfortable, and it was a key concession from Microsoft to win back enterprise customers and convince them to move off Windows 7.

Unifying the single device experience with Continuum

Windows 10, which Microsoft and pundits agree is likely the last major release of Windows, is being designed from the ground up to be a single operating system that will run on a variety of devices, from phones to tablets to laptops to desktops to servers.

As part of that convergence of platforms onto one OS, the company is designing a mode called at this point Continuum that shifts the user interface based on what type of device the user is currently running.

For example, on a Windows tablet or 2-in-1 laptop, when the user disconnects a keyboard or mouse, the machine will switch into Metro mode and get rid of the taskbar and other mouse and keyboard-oriented accouterments.

When you pop a keyboard back on -- for example, with the Surface or through a USB connection -- the Modern interface slides away and back comes the traditional Windows desktop. If Microsoft can get this right, this will be a sexy addition for the enterprise user -- one computer and experience for work, and the same computer but a different experience for travel, at-home and on-the-go use.

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