Why 2015 will be the year that the cloud comes of age

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It has been reported that by 2018, the global market for cloud equipment will reach $79.1 billion. Having burst onto the tech scene in 2006, the “cloud” — as IT leaders, programmers, and marketers know it today — is almost a decade old. From Google Docs to Dropbox, Web-connected humans are glued to the cloud every minute, of every day.

Take a step back, however, to ask yourself what the cloud is, where it is, and what it does. Now, try to condense those thoughts into a short sentence.  The closest that you might come to a definition is the following explanation from TechTarget:

“Cloud computing enables companies to consume competing resources as a utility — just like electricity — rather than having to build and maintain computing infrastructures in-house.”

As TechTarget elaborates, cloud computing touches upon the following three areas:

  • Self-service provisioning, in which end users can control and customize workloads on demand.
  • Elasticity, which means that users can scale their computing needs to demand.
  • Pay per use, in which users measure and pay for the resources that they’re using.

The short story? The cloud is a lot of things to a lot of different types of companies and consumers. What 2015 means is that the tech community has exceeded a decade of research, development, and innovation. Here are three important ways that the cloud is helping companies evolve.

1 – The cloud levels the playing field between enterprise giants and small ventures

mobile security laptop fingerprint 520x315 Why 2015 will be the year that the cloud comes of age

Not so long ago, the highest performing technology assets were limited to large, complex organizations. With the level of risk and investment involved in adopting new hardware, few organizations could boast access to fast and infinitely scalable computing power.

“Before the cloud, companies implemented new software and technology in a relatively traditional way through structured, company-wide deployments,” explains John Brennan, head of business development at international communications firm BT.

What the cloud brings to the table is versatility that allows end users to invest in the exact resources that they need — no more and no less. Companies can switch over to lightweight, cloud-based deployments that require little in the way of on-premise configuration and management.

“There’s much less investment and risk required to adopt and use new technology, and service agreements can be adapted to a company’s size through flexible pricing models, which has given all companies equal access to the latest and tools and capabilities,” says Brennan.

One of the most basic examples of this idea is cloud hosting provider Amazon Web Services (AWS) — a resource used by companies ranging from bootstrapped solopreneur ventures to fast growing startups and the largest organizations in the world. It’s cost effective for every type of user to access the same basic technology.

2 – The cloud simplifies information exchanges

rain cloud gloomy 520x316 Why 2015 will be the year that the cloud comes of age

Today’s top technologies — and human-to-human communications protocols — are dependent on APIs. Thanks to very simple programming, applications can connect to support the swift and efficient flow of information ranging from product SKUs to media buys, CRM data, and credit card transaction details.

“Cloud based APIs and microservices simplify information exchange,” says Chris Hoover, global vice president of product and marketing strategy at Perforce Software. “It lowers the barrier for new vendors to enter the market.”

The result, according to Hoover, is a trend in which enterprise companies are moving away from a ‘top down’ approach to software and information exchanges. More than ever before, individual departments, teams, and employees have the ability to choose their own software. This versatility will place increased pressure on organizations to become more innovative — and exchange information faster.

“A lower barrier to entry for enterprise software means increased competitive pressure,” says Hoover. “Expectations for faster release cycles mean that development within enterprise software vendors must accelerate, which leads to implications for new processes and automation.”

3 – The cloud allows higher levels of support

CloudDrive 520x199 Why 2015 will be the year that the cloud comes of age

Applications of the cloud are seemingly limitless. Companies have ultimate flexibility to add and remove resources as needed.

“Previously when you bought a server, you were trapped within that box,” explains Dustin Bolander, vice president of technology at IT firm Technology Pointe.

“If the company needed less resources long term, you still had to commit to that capital cost. If you needed more long term solutions, you were stuck making large purchases for more servers. Cloud lets you right size things on a monthly — or shorter — basis.”

This flexibility yields higher demands for customization — which will, in turn, create a need for higher end support packages.

“We are seeing a lot of companies dissatisfied with the level of support offered by many infrastructure as a service (IaaS) providers,” says Bolander.

What’s important to keep in mind, according to Bolander, is that the tech community isn’t looking at the cloud from a cost-savings perspective anymore. Rather, the cloud has evolved into a tactical advantage for businesses looking to scale strategically.

Managed system operations (SysOps) services will include areas of performance monitoring, security audits, system backups, and resource optimization. Rather than managing these initiatives in-house, business of all sizes will be better positioned to focus on their core strengths instead of distracting maintenance operations.

“Multiple support tiers will become the norm,” says Bolander.

Final thoughts

The cloud has created a story that is ‘to be continued,’ with 2015 being a critical year for technologies to mature.  As companies grow accustomed to flexible, scalable infrastructure — and competition for faster, better services increases — the need for stronger support will grow stronger too. Meanwhile, the tech community will figure it all out together.

(Source The Next Web)

This is Google's new Chromebook Pixel

A familiar design comes with even more power and better battery life

After inadvertently teasing the existence of a new Chromebook Pixel last month, Google is today coming clean and announcing the new laptop. The new Chromebook Pixel has asimilar boxy design as its predecessor(including the fancy light-up strip on the lid), but it has upgraded internals, better battery life, and a new price tag. That new price tag is still steep — at $999, it’s by far still the most expensive Chromebook you can buy — but it’s a few hundred dollars less than the Pixel was two years ago. If you really feel the need to splurge, Google is also offering an “LS” (which, yes, stands for Ludicrous Speed) version for $300 more that has even higher-end components.

The standard Chromebook Pixel is no slouch, however. It has a new Intel Core i5 processor, 8GB of RAM, and 32GB of storage. The LS model steps that up to a faster Core i7 chip, 16GB of RAM, and a 64GB SSD. If the LS model didn’t exist, the regular Pixel would easily be the most powerful Chromebook ever made. The original Pixel’s namesake 3:2, 2560 x 1700 pixel touchscreen display remains largely unchanged in the new model, though Google says it has a wider color gamut than before. Oddly, Google doesn’t seem to be offering an LTE version this go around, or at least it’s not talking about it today if it’s planning to.

New Google Chromebook Pixel images

The original Pixel was a fantastic machine save for its middling battery life, but Google says the new model will last for up to 12 hours between charges. Google also says you can get two hours of use from just 15 minutes of charging. The other major new feature is the inclusion of two USB-C ports, which can be used to charge the laptop, transfer data, or connect to an external monitor or TV. You can even recharge the Pixel’s battery with a USB battery through the new ports. Unlike Apple’s new MacBook, however, the two traditional USB ports are still present (now they are USB 3.0), as is a full-size SD card reader and standard headphone jacks. The only thing omitted is a full-size HDMI port, though Google says you can just use an adapter with one of the new USB-C ports to accomplish the same purpose.

Other improvements include a stiffer hinge for less “bounce” when you use the touchscreen, an improved trackpad and keyboard, and a wider-angle camera. Google also says it’s cleaned up the design of the Pixel to hide any visible speaker grilles, fan vents, or screws. If you’re paying nearly a thousand dollars for a machine that does little more than browse the web, that extra attention to detail is appreciated.

TWO USB-C PORTS HANDLE CHARGING, VIDEO OUT, AND MOREBoth versions of the new Chromebook Pixel are available to purchase starting today from Google’s new web store, store.google.com. For more thoughts, impressions, and overall feels on the new Pixel, be sure to check out our full review.

USB Type-C: One cable to connect them all


Editor’s note: The post was originally published on Aug. 22, 2014

Look around your house and chances are you that have a least a few devices equipped with Universal Serial Bus (USB) cables. On average, some 3 billion USB ports are shipped each year, by far the most successful type of peripheral connection.

In years, though, USB is getting competition and it now trails behind the new Thunderbolt standard both in speed and ease of use. This is the gap that the latest in USB development, the USB Type-C,finalized just earlier this month, intends to fill.

Before you can understand USB Type-C, however, you need to know the difference between USB Type-A and Type-B, and tell between the various versions of the USB standard. Generally, version refers to the speed and functionality of the USB cable, while the USB Type refers to the physical shape and the wiring of the ports and plugs.

For the most part, Type-A ends (left of the coin) of the USB cables remains the same across existing USB versions.Dong Ngo/CNET

USB Type-A

Also known as USB Standard-A, USB Type-A is the original design for the USB standard with a flat and rectangular shape.

On a typical USB cable, the Type A connector, aka the A-male connector, is the end that goes into a host, such as a computer. And on a host, the USB port (or receptacle) where the Type A-male goes into, is called an A-female port. Type-A ports are mostly in host devices, including desktop computers,laptops, game consoles, media players and so on. There are very few peripheral devices that use a Type-A port.

Different USB versions including USB 1.1, USB 2.0, USB 3.0 (more on versions below) currently share the same USB Type-A design. That means a Type-A connector is always compatible with a Type-A port event if the device and host use different USB versions. For example, a USB 3.0 external hard drive also works with a USB 2.0 port, and vice versa.

Similarly, small devices such as a mouse, keyboard, or network adapter that have hard-wired USB cables always use Type-A connectors. That’s true also for things without cables, such as a thumb drive.

Though USB 3.0’s connectors and ports have have more pins than those of USB 2.0 versions to deliver faster speed and higher power output, these pins are organized in a way that doesn’t prevent them from physically working with the older version.

Also note that there are smaller Type-A plugs and connectors, including Mini Type-A and Micro Type-A, but there are very few devices that use these designs.

USB Type-B

Typically, the Type-B connector is the other end of a standard USB cable that plugs into peripheral device (such as a printer, a phone, or an external hard drive). It’s also known as Type B-male. On the peripheral device, the USB port is called Type B-female.

Since the peripheral devices vary a great deal in shape and size, the Type-B connector and its respective port also come in many different designs. Up to now there have been five popular designs for the USB Type-B’s plugs and connectors. And since the Type-A end of a USB cable remains the same, the Type-B end is used to determine the name of the cable itself. (Wikipedia has a great USB connector mating matrix that you can consult.)

The original standard (Standard-B): This design was first made for USB 1.1 and is also used in USB 2.0. It’s mostly for connecting large peripheral devices, such as printers or scanners to a computer.

Mini-USB (or Mini-B USB): Significantly smaller, the Mini-USB Type-B ports are found in older portable devices, such as digital cameras, smartphones, and older portable drives. This design is becoming obsolete.

Micro-USB (or Micro-B USB): Slightly smaller than Mini-USB, the Micro-USB Type-B port is currently the most popular USB port design for latest smartphones and tablets.

Micro-USB 3.0 (or Micro-B USB 3.0): This is the widest design and mostly used for USB 3.0 portable drives. Most of the time, the Type-A end of the cable is blue.

Standard-B USB 3.0: This design is very similar to the Standard-B, however, it’s designed to handle USB 3.0 speed. Most of the time, both ends of the cable are blue.

Note that there’s also another, less popular, USB 3.0 Powered-B plug and connector. This design has two additional pins to provide extra power to the peripheral device. Also, there’s relatively a rare Micro Type-AB port that allows the device to work as either a host or a peripheral device.

Proprietary USB

Not all devices use standard USB cables mentioned above. Instead, some of them use a proprietary design in the place of the Type-B plug and connector. The most famous example of these devices are the iPhone and the iPad, where either a 30-pin or lightning connector takes place of the Type-B end. The Type-A end, however, is still the standard size.


Top speed Max power output Power direction Cable configuration Availability
USB 1.1 12Mbps 2.5V, 500mA Host to peripheral Type-A to Type-B 1998
USB 2.0 480Mbps 2.5V, 1.8A Host to peripheral Type-A to Type-B 2000
USB 3.0 5Gbps 5V, 1.8A Host to peripheral Type-A to Type-B 2008
USB 3.1 10Gbps 20V, 5A Bi-directional Type-C both ends, reversible plug orientation 2015

USB versions

USB 1.1: Released in August 1998, this is the first USB version to be widely adopted (the original version 1.0 never made it into consumer products). It has a top speed of 12Mbps (though in many cases only performs at 1.2Mbps). It’s largely obsolete.

USB 2.0: Released in April 2000, it has a max speed of 480Mbps in Hi-Speed mode, or 12Mbps in Full-Speed mode. It currently has the max power out put of 2.5V, 1.8A and is backward-compatible with USB 1.1.

USB 3.0: Released in November 2008, USB 3.0 has the top speed of 5Gbps in SuperSpeed mode. A USB 3.0 port (and connector) is usually colored blue. USB 3.0 is backward-compatible with USB 2.0 but its port can deliver up to 5V, 1.8A of power.

USB 3.1: Released in July 26, 2013, USB 3.1 doubles the speed of USB 3.0 to 10Gbps (now called SuperSpeed+ or SuperSpeed USB 10 Gbps), making it as fast as the original Thunderbolt standard. USB 3.1 is backward-compatible with USB 3.0 and USB 2.0. USB 3.1 has three power profiles (according toUSB Power Delivery Specification), and allows larger devices to draw power from a host: up to 2A at 5V (for a power consumption of up to 10W), and optionally up to 5A at either 12V (60W) or 20V (100W). The first USB 3.1 products are expected to be available next year, and will mostly use USB Type-C design.

USB Type-C (or USB-C)

Physically, the Type-C port and connector is about the same size as that of the Micro-B USB mentioned above. A Type-C port measure just 8.4mm by 2.6mm. This means it’s small enough to work for even the smallest peripheral devices. With Type-C, a USB cable’s both ends will be the same, allowing for reversible plug orientation. You also don’t need to worry about plugging it in upside down.

Set to be widely available starting 2015, Type-C USB will support USB 3.1 with the top speed of 10Gbps and has much high power output of up to 20V(100W) and 5A. Considering most 15-inch notebook computers require just around 60W of power, this means in the future laptop computers can be charged the way tablets and smartphones are now, via their little USB port. In fact the latest 12-inch Macbook is the first notebook that incorporates a Type-C USB as its power port.

Type-C USB also allows for bi-directional power, so apart from charging the peripheral device, when applicable, a peripheral device could also charge a host device. All this means you can do away with an array of proprietary power adapters and USB cables, and move to a single robust and tiny solution that works for all devices. Type-C USB will significantly cut down the a amount of wires currently needed to make devices work.

Backward-compatible but adapters required

Type-C USB and USB 3.1 are backward-compatible with USB 3.0 and USB 2.0. In a pure Type-C USB connection, the Type-A ports and plugs are no longer included. However, for compatibility, you’ll find compatible Type A to Type C cable. On top of that there will be adapters to make Type C hosts and devices work with existing USB devices.

This is the fist time adapters are required with USB, and likely the only time, at least for the the foreseeable future. USB Implementers Forum, the group responsible for the development of USB, says that Type-C USB is designed to be future-proof, meaning the design will be used for future and faster USB versions.

It will take a few years for Type-C become as popular as the current Type-A, but when it does it will simplify the way we work with devices. There will be just one tiny cable needed for any device, for both data and power connections.


Dell's XPS 13 is a look at the future of laptops

The perfect portable computer is something we’ve been chasing for decades. Ideally, it’s an exceptionally light, incredibly thin computer that can fit comfortably on our lap and slip into a shoulder bag. It should easily last all day or more without needing to be plugged in. It needs to be powerful enough to justify carrying it around instead of just getting everything done with an even more portable smartphone or tablet. It really ought to look good, too. Oh, and could you put a flat-out gorgeous 13-inch screen on it too, please, without making it feel big? Thanks. No pressure.

Dell’s new XPS 13 is just the latest laptop that promises to check all those boxes. It’s technically a 13-inch computer thanks to its 13.3-inch display, but it’s the size of a typical 11-inch computer. Dell boasts that it’s the “smallest 13-inch laptop on the planet,” and sure enough, it has a significantly smaller footprint than the 13-inch MacBook Air and other 13-inch computers.

The XPS 13 starts at $799 and comes in two configurations: a standard non-touch model with a 1080p screen and a full-touch version with a 3200 x 1800 pixel panel. Both versions have what Dell is calling an “infinity display,” which really means a screen with very small borders around it, enabling Dell to put a larger display in a smaller package.

I’ve never been a fan of 11-inch computers: while they are certainly more compact and portable than their 13-inch counterparts, the compromises you have to make in terms of screen real-estate and keyboard comfort aren’t usually worth it. But a computer with a 13-inch display and the footprint of an 11-inch model? Count me in. That’s exactly what Dell’s promising with the XPS 13, and for the most part, it pulls it off. I’ve been using the touchscreen model (which is available for a steep $500 premium) for a few weeks, and I’m pretty sure that this is a look at the future of all laptops. But, sadly, only a look.

Dell XPS 13

Jamming a larger display in a smaller frame is such a good idea that it’s hard to understand why it took laptop makers this long to get around to really trying it. It makes the computer easier to carry, easier to balance on your lap or a tight airplane tray table, easier to slip into a normal-sized bag, and just generally makes traveling with the XPS 13 more pleasant than with larger computers. But you don’t lose any screen real-estate compared to Apple’s 13-inch MacBook Air, even though the XPS 13 is 23 percent smaller according to Dell’s measurements. If other laptop makers take anything away from the XPS 13, it should be this.

The actual display itself is very bright — I typically left it at 20-30 percent brightness while working — and has great viewing angles. The touchscreen model is packedwith pixels (3200 x 1800), but even if you don’t fork over the premium for that, the standard 1080p screen is plenty hi-res. Windows 8.1’s default scaling on the Quad HD panel makes icons and screen elements way too big, but adjusting it one step down and will bring more usable real-estate back. It’s really quite a nice display, and Dell should be proud of it.

THE XPS 13 IS AN ALUMINUM LAPTOP THAT DOESN’T LOOK LIKE A MACBOOK AIR RIPOFFWhile there have been countless computers that have mimicked Apple’s MacBook Air design, the XPS 13 manages to incorporate an aluminum finish and a wedge shape without looking like something that rolled out of Cupertino. It’s an attractive computer, its finish is darker than the light silver Apple uses, and it’s complemented by a contrasting black deck for the keyboard and trackpad. The deck has a soft-touch finish, which is more pleasing to rest your hands on than bare metal, and it manages to hide finger grease and smudges better than cheaper plastic materials.

You can split hairs all you want on whether or not the Dell is thinner than other ultrabooks or the MacBook Air, but it’s more than thin enough to be super portable. Its 9mm-thick frame slips into my bag with ease, and that’s really all I care about. The touchscreen model’s 2.8lb weight is also plenty portable.

The only thing that Dell didn’t really sort out with the XPS 13 is where to put the webcam: it’s located in the lower left corner of the display, which makes for unflattering up-the-nose angles during video calls. Additionally, my fingers consistently block the camera whenever I type during a video call, which is annoying to both parties. I would have forgiven Dell if it added a few millimeters to the border at the top of the screen to accommodate the camera in the proper location.

Dell XPS 13

Despite the trimmed-down frame, the XPS 13 still has two USB 3.0 ports, a full-size SD card slot (which Apple frustratingly omits on its 11-inch computers), and a mini Display Port. Make no mistake, the XPS 13 is a real computer, not a stripped-down substitute for one. It also has a convenient button and strip of LED lights to check its battery level without powering the computer on. The only thing I find missing is an HDMI port, though there are many computers in this size range that lack that as well. (Dell is selling an optional adapter that plugs into a USB port on the XPS 13 and adds HDMI, Ethernet, and VGA ports, but it’s significantly larger than a basic Display Port adapter.) The side-mounted speakers are also really impressive; they are louder and fuller sounding than the speakers on the vast majority of other ultrabooks.

Typing on the XPS 13’s shrunken keyboard is a pleasant experience — the backspace key is smaller than normal, but most other keys appear to be normal-sized. Dell also managed to put in backlighting, making it much easier to continue using the XPS 13 once the cabin lights have dimmed on that cross-country red-eye flight. It’s a good keyboard.

Dell XPS 13Unfortunately, I can’t say the same for the XPS 13’s trackpad, which probably won’t surprise anyone. It’s a large, clickable Microsoft Precision trackpad, with a soft finish over glass. But like virtually every other trackpad on Windows laptops, it’s fraught with poor software and drivers. Two-finger scrolling is very unpredictable: sometimes it will work just fine, other times it won’t respond, no matter what I do. The cursor will also jump across the screen at random times while I’m typing, and it’s far too easy to activate clicks while my fingers are on the keys. It’s 2015; I shouldn’t have to plug an external mouse into laptops anymore, but that’s exactly what I did with the XPS 13 after a few frustrating hours with the trackpad.

TRACKPAD PERFORMANCE IS HIT OR MISSFor software, the XPS 13 comes with Windows 8.1 out of the box, and there’s no reason that it won’t be upgradeable to Windows 10 when that’s released. It’s refreshingly devoid of most bloatware — the only really annoying thing on it is a McAfee antivirus trial.

Dell XPS 13

The last components to making a great portable computer are making sure it’s powerful enough to warrant carrying it around and making it last all day without needing to be recharged. The XPS 13 hits on one of these points and fails pretty spectacularly on the other. The Core i5 processor and 8GB of RAM (available in the touchscreen model, the base version comes with 4GB and a slower Core i3 chip) are plenty powerful enough for most tasks you can throw at the XPS 13, save for gaming. Even resource-intensive programs like Chrome and Photoshop don’t have any issues running on the XPS 13, and I was easily able to integrate it into my workflow with few adjustments. Unsurprisingly, none of the internal components are easily upgradeable, but fortunately they are specced well enough that most people won’t be looking for more power.

Battery life, on the other hand, is a different story. Dell claims 15 hours of life from the base model and 11 hours from the touchscreen version. In my experience, the XPS 13 reached nothing of the sort, barely hitting the halfway point on Dell’s estimate. In our battery rundown test, different from Dell’s, the touchscreen model lasted for 6 hours and 40 minutes before giving up the ghost. But more problematic was my everyday experience, where the same touchscreen unit would always need to be charged halfway through my work day. In the weeks I used the XPS 13, never did it exceed six hours without needing to be plugged in. When other computers are easily lasting 11 to 13 hours before needing a charge, the XPS 13’s performance is downright disappointing. Dell will happily sell you an external battery pack for $119.99 that lets you recharge your laptop (or your cellphone, via USB) on the go, but even with that, I couldn’t go a full 10 hours without having to plug back in.

Dell XPS 13

If there’s something to take away from the XPS 13, it’s that the future of ultra portable laptops looks pretty great. There’s no doubt that other laptop makers will likely be swift to incorporate some of the ideas Dell used here, especially the minuscule borders around the display that enable a larger screen in a smaller body. Rumors have it that Apple will release a completely redesigned MacBook Air this year, and it’s hard to believe that Apple won’t pull off similar tricks with its dimensions as this Dell.

As for the XPS 13 itself, its battery life issues and poor trackpad make it tough to recommend over other options, even with its ultra efficient design. Too many other computers do so much better in those respects that I can’t ignore them on the Dell.

But after years of seeing clumsy tablet-laptop hybrids and other ill-conceived designs, we’ve moved into the post-post-PC world now, and it’s clear the PC is back. The XPS 13 is one of the first exciting designs to arrive in this world, but it certainly won’t be the last. Buckle up, the laptop renaissance is just getting started.

Photography by Sean O’Kane

Dell XPS 13 (2015)

  • Trim, efficient design
  • Comfortable keyboard
  • Great display
  • Speedy performance
  • Clumsy trackpad
  • Awkward webcam
  • Poor battery life


More times than not, the Verge score is based on the average of the subscores below. However, since this is a non-weighted average, we reserve the right to tweak the overall score if we feel it doesn’t reflect our overall assessment and price of the product. Read more about how we test and rate products.

  • DESIGN 9
  • HEAT / NOISE 8

Windows 10: a closer look at the future of Microsoft's vision for PCs

By: Tom Warren


Microsoft’s latest Windows 10 preview offers up a good look at what the company is planning for the future of laptops and PCs. While Windows 8 was never received well by consumers or businesses, Windows 10 aims to make things a lot more familiar. We saw the new Start Menu when Microsoft released its first Windows 10 preview back in October, but things are changing rapidly. There’s more built-in apps, user interface changes, and a whole new touch mode designed for 2-in-1 laptops and tablets.

Windows 10 is still a work in progress, but Microsoft is soliciting feedback and changing parts of its operating system before it ships later this year. While the company demonstrated a number of new features and apps during its Windows 10 event last week, not everything is in preview straight away. A number of new apps will debut in the coming months, and Microsoft plans to more rapidly roll out new builds of Windows 10 to testers.

Until then, let’s take a look at what’s new in the second major Windows 10 preview.

Windows 10 Start Menu

A new Start Menu for a new Windows

The look and feel of Windows 10 might be the key to its success or failure. With Windows 8, Microsoft swayed too far to adapting its operating system for tablets. It resulted in software that has largely confused the masses, but Microsoft is clearly fixing those mistakes in early preview versions of Windows 10. It’s still very much a work in progress, but the most noticeable addition is the return of the Start Menu. In the latest Windows 10 preview it’s clear to see what direction Microsoft is taking. Windows 10’s Start Menu mixes legacy desktop applications with the new modern Windows 8 apps by surfacing Live Tiles. You can turn them off if they’re or annoying, or keep them around if you want to quickly glance at the weather, news, or various other information.

While previous previews allowed you to resize the Start Menu freely, Microsoft has added a fullscreen option now which lets you expand the menu to make it look similar to the Start Screen found in Windows 8. The big difference is the presence of the taskbar at all times, which is a welcome improvement to enhance navigation between apps. There are some subtle changes elsewhere that help with app switching. In the past Microsoft has used a flip 3D feature to present a visual view of all applications currently running on a system, and the company is bringing it back, kind of. Swiping in from the left on a large tablet or a 2-in-1 will activate the new apps view, and it’s easy to use a mouse and keyboard or touch to select the app you want. In Windows 8 you had to navigate into the corners and activate a side menu with a mouse, and it was a rather irritating experience the more you used it.

Windows 10 start screen

Those navigation changes extend to the Charms menu in the latest Windows 10 preview. It is gone and has been replaced by a notification center if you swipe from the right. Mousing into the corners on the right does nothing, but you can access the notification center (or Action Center as Microsoft calls it) from the system tray in the lower-right. It’s a bizarre change right now and lacks convenient access to settings like Wi-Fi or display brightness for laptops and tablets. Microsoft is balancing that with quick toggles for settings, but it feels like this particular area of Windows 10 needs some big improvements and is a very early form of what will eventually ship. Either way, the removal of the awkward Charms menu is an improvement, providing its replacement is tweaked heavily to keep some of the convenience of accessing settings and features like broadcasting via Miracast or DLNA.

Design changes hint at the future of Windows 10

Microsoft’s design tweaks in Windows 10 and its built-in apps signal the direction of how this operating system will eventually ship. There’s lots of changes in the latest Windows 10 preview, and it appears that even Microsoft isn’t sure on exactly how Windows 10 will look in its final form. Some built-in apps have a hamburger menu, while the new beta version of the Windows Store has a mysterious back button for navigation. Microsoft is clearly testing the feedback on both, but it’s likely that the hamburger menu method will win out to help app developers easily port their apps from Android and iOS and adapt them for larger displays and form factors.

There’s even some transparency coming to Windows 10. While Windows Vista first introduced Microsoft’s Aero glass interface with see-through windows and a transparent taskbar, Windows 10 appears to be returning to parts of that interface. Microsoft’s official press images for Windows 10 include screenshots of a transparent Windows 10 Start Menu, and Xbox chief Phil Spencer briefly showed the changes in a future build of the OS on stage at a press event last week. The transparent menu isn’t available in this current build — unless someone discovers a way to enable it — but we’re expecting to see it debut in later previews.

windows 10 apps

Similarly, there’s also a new login screen that you can enable from the registry, round profile pictures, and even an improved calendar and clock for the taskbar that’s also available from a registry tweak. Icons have also been tweaked and look a lot more modern, and perhaps a little too colorful at times. Microsoft is also finally combining the control panel and separate settings app into a single app that looks a lot easier to use. The control panel still exists, but Microsoft is clearly pushing people to use the settings app as a replacement.

Apps, apps, and more apps

Apps are the all-important feature of any modern operating system, and the latest preview of Windows 10 doesn’t disappoint. While Microsoft is developing a new universal Outlook mail app for phone, tablets, and PCs running Windows 10, that app isn’t ready for preview just yet. Instead, there’s a new Maps application and a touch-friendly version of OneNote. The OneNote addition gives us the first look at how touch versions of Word, Excel, and PowerPoint will work. It’s all very similar to the iPad version of Office, with a collapsable ribbon and formatting controls that work well with a mouse and keyboard or touch. This looks like a good example of how to build the perfect Windows 10 app. It’s fast, responsive, and resizes well to be a fullscreen app or one that’s windowed, which is something other apps lack right now during the preview.

Getting developers to rework existing Windows 8 apps for Windows 10 might be a challenge. Some apps I tried were clearly designed to run fullscreen and not in a windowed mode, and one even asked me to “unsnap” the app before it would work, which meant running it fullscreen only. Given the lack of developer enthusiasm for Windows 8, this could leave some apps not optimized for Windows 10. However, the fact you can resize apps freely now may convince developers to adopt Microsoft’s new modern apps as an alternative to the aging legacy desktop apps.

Windows 10 xbox appMicrosoft is also previewing its new Xbox app as part of this new Windows 10 build. While SmartGlass exists to interact with Xbox Live and Xbox consoles, this new Xbox app feels a lot more geared toward gamers. In future preview versions and the final app, you’ll be able to stream Xbox One games from a console to a Windows 10 laptop, tablet, or PC and control them using an Xbox One controller connected via a micro USB cable. That’s a pretty powerful feature on its own, but Microsoft is also adding in game DVR capabilities to capture clips from PC games and the ability to chat over Xbox Live. I’ve found the app is particularly useful if you’re trying to matchmake in games like Destiny, as it’s quick to search for gamertags and message players. There’s even an option to invite someone to a party, although that’s not fully functional yet. This Xbox app feels like the star of the Windows 10 show, and it’s a must for Xbox One fans.

Interestingly, Microsoft is replacing calc.exe (the traditional Windows calculator) with a modern calculator. This cements Microsoft’s vision of universal apps as a replacement for desktop-only apps, but it also hints that the company may do this to other system utilities. Perhaps a modern version of MS Paint is on the cards, or even a fresh update to Solitaire. Notepad could also do with some modern love, but it still exists in its usual form right now.

Cortana also makes an appearance in this preview version of Windows 10. The digital assistant sits on the taskbar as part of a search box, but dynamically changes into the Cortana icon based on the number of apps that are open on a system (to make way for more taskbar space). As you’d expect, Cortana works almost identically to its Windows Phone variant. You can ask the same questions or set reminders, and there’s even a “Hey Cortana” option to trigger the assistant and search at any time. I was skeptical of having Cortana on PC, but I’ve found myself using the “Hey Cortana” option a few times to search when I’m not seated directly in front of my laptop and want some quick information like the weather or news. In future builds, Cortana will be closely integrated into the upcoming Spartan browser, a replacement for Internet Explorer.

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Tablets and Continuum

We’ve looked at how Windows 10 runs on 8-inch tablets, and it’s very similar to how it works on a desktop PC, but there’s a key “touch mode” in this latest preview that activates some interesting changes. For 2-in-1 laptops and tablets with removable keyboards, Microsoft is calling this feature “Continuum.” It’s all based on the idea that you can disconnect a keyboard or flip over your laptop screen to turn it into a tablet, and the user interface adapts to be a lot more touch-friendly. There’s a notification that triggers when you disconnect the keyboard on a Surface Pro 3 asking you to enter touch mode. You can dismiss it or click it to enable the mode, and all apps are immediately maximized (for traditional apps) or fullscreen (for modern apps). The usual snapping from Windows 8 is still here, and you can organize apps alongside each other.

I like some aspects of this mode, but, like some other parts of Windows 10, it’s still a work in progress. Exiting out of the mode makes apps windowed, and you often lose the position of your desktop apps. On my laptop I often use apps maximized, but occasionally I’ll float some around and bunch them up. To lose that carefully constructed arrangement is annoying, and Microsoft will have to find a compromise that works better. Either way, it’s a good approach, and there’s even a new fullscreen toggle on the top part of modern apps that makes the taskbar disappear and makes an app truly fullscreen. The implementation feels a little early, but it’s encouraging to see Microsoft adopt fullscreen controls that are easy to understand and activate.

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The future

Future preview versions of Windows 10 should demonstrate an even clearer path towards the final version of Microsoft’s new operating system. An improved Xbox app is on the way, alongside preview versions of Office apps and Microsoft’s upcoming Spartan browser. All these additions should give us a better look at how Windows 10 will work once it ships later this year.

Microsoft is clearly incorporating feedback at every opportunity, and we suspect there will still be some significant design tweaks and changes that make Windows 10 feel a lot more complete. Microsoft appears to have finally got things right here, and Windows 10 makes a lot more sense to those who are used to the days of Windows XP and Windows 7. It’s more familiar and modern, with a focus on improving the ways people actually use Windows today. We’ll keep a close eye on Microsoft’s progress to shipping Windows 10 later this year, so stay tuned to The Verge for continued Windows 10 coverage in the coming months.