Friday’s release of Windows 10 Insider Preview build 14942 has provided us with our first real peek at new features and functionality coming in the next major release of this operating system. It’s due in Spring 2017 and codenamed Redstone 2.
Obviously, there is so much more to come. Microsoft has spoken about its plans to integrate the Windows Holographic shell into mainstream Windows 10 versions, for example, and my sources say that the software giant will publicly discuss major new Redstone 2 features for the first time at its now-scheduled late October Windows 10 event. Too, we get small leaks from time to time, as demonstrated by this video featuring a UWP version of the Paint app.
Microsoft announced several mostly-minor updates and improvements in build 14942, and that alone was notable: Previous Redstone 2-era builds have been light on new features, and have focused vaguely on improving only the “core” underlying parts of the OS.
But let’s read between the lines a bit. In other words, forget about individual features in early builds. Let’s think about direction. Where will Redstone 2 take us?
For example, I find it notable that Microsoft hasn’t shipped Mobile builds of Redstone 2 twice since this program started up in August: According to Microsoft, it shipped 29 pre-release builds of the Anniversary Update—the previous Windows 10 milestone—and fully 28 of them included a Mobile build. So here we are, only two months into an 8-to-9 month development cycle, and Microsoft has already under-performed on Mobile compared to the entire previous release.
Does that mean that Mobile is less important to Microsoft than before? It’s hard to imagine how that could be the case—in fact, I’m not sure why they update it as often as they do—but there’s contrary evidence as well. Consider this week’s leak of that UWP Paint app. If Microsoft moves more and more of the bundled (“in-box”) Windows 10 to UWP, as it should, the result will be an OS that is more stable, more reliable, more easily serviced, and … more acceptable on Mobile. Apps like Paint, Notepad, File Explorer and more are all legacy Win32 programs today. If they become UWP apps, everyone wins. Including fans of Mobile, which suddenly becomes more of a first-class citizen in the Windows 10 family.
This, I think, is in fact a theme of Redstone 2: The continued evolution away from Win32, and the gradual replacement of Win32 apps and experiences in the OS with UWP-based equivalents. You’ll see more changes and additions to the UWP Settings app, and more of a move away from legacy control panels. For example, look this UWP-based “System” interface in Settings in build 14942.
Clearly, Microsoft is working towards replacing the legacy System control panel and even older System Properties window, shown here. It’s not there yet, of course, and all of these interfaces are still available. But it’s a step forward.
These new interfaces are interesting to me on a number of levels. We’ve discussed many times why UWP as an apps platform has thus far failed in the sense that there are literally zero gotta-have-it third party UWP apps in Windows Store. But more generally, UWP is sound, is the right way forward. And by putting more and more UWP apps and experience in Windows 10, Microsoft benefits us all. Plus, there’s something hugely positive about Microsoft doing what it’s telling developers to do. Why should Windows be hobbled by legacy apps and UIs?
It’s hard to argue against UWP: It’s modern, safe and reliable, and its inclusion and expansion benefits everyone who uses Windows 10. More subjectively, perhaps, is the attractive look and feel of the various UWP interfaces. And, more important, more professional looking.
This is not something we said about the Fisher Price user experiences that Microsoft disastrously saddled us with in Windows 8. Whether you’re talking about the Start screen, PC Settings, or the almost universally-terrible in-box Store apps that Microsoft included with that OS, the net effect was always the same. Immature. Crude. Childish.
In Windows 10, those terrible touch-first (gag) UIs have given way to cleaner and more professional interfaces with clear designs and nice iconography. What does more professional mean, you ask? It means “command density,” so that instead of 8 big circular buttons in an app, you can get a ribbon of commands that approaches what’s possible in the desktop versions of the Office applications. It means capability. It means solving problems, not finger painting.
Settings is an interesting example, because it started out as a laughable one-screen interface in Windows 8 and has evolved into perhaps the ultimate example of “command density” in Windows 10 version 1607.
Settings, of course, isn’t exactly a model that most apps can follow. But if you look at the Microsoft Office apps in the Store, you see good examples of command density, both in traditional apps (Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and OneNote) and new app types (Sway). And these apps are perhaps better examples for other apps to follow.
Critics will point out, rightfully, that these apps are not as full-featured or command-dense as their desktop siblings, but I think that is both by design and preferable: Office 2016 is powerful, sure, but it’s arguably too complex and top-heavy, functionally, for most users. The Office apps in the Store scale visually on high-DPI displays, work well on diverse device types, and offer that correct mix of “just enough” functionality for a wider audience. You can call them dumbed down, but I’d argue you’re missing the point entirely.
In any event, what I see so far in build 14942, or I guess in Redstone 2 more generally, is a continued evolution of the platform I care about the most. I really like the way Windows 10 looks and works today. And with Redstone 2, I like where it’s going too.