Q: We want to upgrade our older computers. Should we wait for the next edition of Windows to ship, and if so, what new features can we expect?
A: The next edition of Windows will be called Windows 10, and it is expected to ship in late 2015. (Keep in mind that launch date delays are common.) More than 1 million beta testers are using Windows 10, but there are no assurances that any features in the beta product will be included in the final product.
PC experts and IT pros are invited to download a free copy of Windows 10 beta at tinyurl.com/p3d8psk. Listed below are some of the noteworthy features included in the latest beta edition.
1. The Start button. Windows 10 beta features a new and improved Start button, which restores the same Start button functionality included in Windows 7, and this Start button also responds to touch control.
2. High-grade voice recognition. Similar to Apple’s Siri and Google’s Now, Windows 10 includes Cortana, Microsoft’s voice-activated interface that listens to and responds to your voice commands and queries. This technology simulates artificial intelligence and enables your operating system to listen to your questions, answer your questions verbally, and launch the applications, setting screens, and files you request verbally.
3. Platform unification. While Windows 8/8.1 requires users to run applications from the Desktop interface and apps from the Modern UI interface (applications are programs written using traditional Windows platform programming tools whereas apps are written using the newer smartphone platform programming tools), a new technology called Continuum allows touchscreen enabled PCs and hybrid-tablet devices to launch both applications and apps from anywhere within the system. In addition, a single startup screen displays both the Desktop and Modern UI interfaces, offering users the ability to position the Modern UI’s Live Tiles off to the side of the Desktop screen.
4. Data file syncing. Microsoft OneDrive has been deployed throughout Windows 10 and makes it easier to automatically sync your OneDrive data files across all of your Windows 10 devices.
5. New browser. Windows 10 replaces Internet Explorer with a new browser design code-named Project Spartan. The new browser features Cortana assistance, a new reading mode, and the ability to write and share notes on webpages using a stylus, among other enhancements.
6. Tighter security. The Windows 10 enterprise version beta includes two-factor authentication (2FA), similar to the stronger authentication currently used by banks and other financial institutions. This means that not only must the password match, but the computer’s internal MAC (media access control) address (which is retrieved automatically during the authentication process) must also match before access is granted. Windows 10 beta also protects user identities by storing user identity tokens in a secure container isolated from the rest of the operating system. Further, a new data loss prevention solution allows users to separate their business and personal identities, as well as business and personal files.
7. Unified search. While Windows 8 searches Files, Settings, and Apps separately, and Windows 8.1 searches these three areas together, Windows 10 beta improves on this by simultaneously searching these three functional areas as well as the internet.
8. New file formats. Windows 10 beta includes support for MKV, FLAC, and HEVC file formats, which pave the way for 4K video and lossless audio. The new 4K Ultra HD standard delivers four times the detail of current HD televisions, which translates to a stunning, near lifelike image on larger screens and much better readability on smaller handheld screens. The new lossless audio standard incorporates better streaming technology for higher-quality and more reliable sound output.
9. Free upgrades to Windows 10. Microsoft will upgrade all Windows 7, Windows 8.1, and Windows Phone 8.1 users to Windows 10 for free. Among other improvements, Windows smartphone and tablet users can expect to see improved notifications (related to emails, Facebook posts, and instant messages) and new touchpad gestures (e.g., swiping three fingers downward would return you to the Desktop view).
10. Snap Assist. This new tool allows you to instantly snap groups of windows into place so that all running applications fit your monitor screen(s).
As for your question, “Should we wait [for Windows 10] before we upgrade our computers/software/equipment?,” I’ve heard similar questions for decades. Waiting for the next round of technology is like waiting until retirement before you start taking vacations—in both cases you are missing out. Address your technology needs now, and keep addressing them as your needs change and as new technologies emerge—doing otherwise may handcuff your productivity.
J. Carlton Collins (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a technology consultant, a CPE instructor, and a JofA contributing editor.
Submit a question
Do you have technology questions for this column? Or, after reading an answer, do you have a better solution? Send them to email@example.com. We regret being unable to individually answer all submitted questions.