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Win10 build 10122: Two steps forward, one back


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By Woody Leonhard

May's Win10 build 10122 release is a bit shaky, but many of its new features are coming into sharper focus.

Improvements include a more functional Edge browser, a cleaner start menu, a much-improved Tablet Mode — and even the return of an optional Win7-style backup/restore.

To start, a note on installing May's build. As of this writing, build 10122 is currently unavailable as an ISO download. If you haven't installed Win10 Preview or if you want a completely clean setup, you'll first have to go to the Windows 10 Insider Preview page and download the ISO for April's build 10074. You must then go to Settings/Update & Security/Advanced options and select the Fast option. If you then select Check for updates, you'll find build 10122, which comes from the fbl_impressive branch ("FBL" = "Feature Branch Level").

Also, be sure all updates for build 10074 are installed before upgrading to May's build 10122. Oh, and don't be in a rush to start testing the latest build — the download-and-install process can take an hour or so, especially if you're running Win10 on a virtual machine.

Problems for systems using AMD graphics
Build 10074 is clearly showing some development pains as the operating system approaches its formal release date, reportedly sometime around late July. In fact, this might be the most unstable build we've seen, based on reports from some users who are well acquainted with Win10.

My problems with build 10074 centered on my test system's AMD graphics cards. I had a horrendous experience — until I installed a May 22 AMD-driver update. If your Win10 test system uses AMD graphics (either on the main chip or on a video card), be sure to immediately open Win10's Windows Update and the drivers, along with all other pending patches. If you're not in a hurry, you can leave the system running overnight — and the updates should be installed automatically.

Be sure to read Windows mahaguru Gabe Aul's official announcement for a quick overview of the changes in build 10122. You should also read the "known issues" section at the bottom of the post. It mentions the problem with AMD graphics and also notes that the upgrade to this build fails with an "error 0x80070057 — 0x20007" message.

Aul's Twitter feed should be another stop if you're having difficulty with build 10122. For example, his May 22 tweet notes the release of the AMD drivers. He also mentions a fix for failed build 10122 installs on Surface Pro 3s. In a command window, run the following:

rundll32.exe pnpclean.dll,RunDLL_PnpClean /DRIVERS /MAXCLEAN

Changes to Start, Edge, system backup, and more
If you've been following my series of articles on Win10's unfolding, you know that the new OS's defining feature is the reconsidered start menu, which combines Win7-like elements on the left and Win8/Metro-like elements on the right. You can see part of the new Start in Figure 1.


Figure 1. Build 10122's start menu has key options such as File Explorer, Settings, Power, and All apps grouped together.

Yes, some people have kvetched about build 10122's new start menu — I agree that the Power button is too easy to accidentally click, and Start doesn't include the customization tricks we know from Win7. For example, you can't build a tree of nested folders. But for most of the stuff I do, the new layout generally works well. And I still like to think of the Universal Windows app tiles on the right as useful successors to Win7 gadgets.

I'm happy that the settings' Customization list window (Settings/Personalization/) appears to let you control whether recently opened or downloaded apps show up in Start — or it will sometime in the future; those options are grayed out in build 10122. Two features that are active are "Use full-screen Start when in the desktop" and "Store and display recently opened items in Start and the taskbar."

The "Use full-screen …" option can be a bit confusing at first. When switched on, clicking the Start icon displays only pinned Universal app tiles and a three-bar icon, which you click to display Start's left column.

Microsoft Edge — the future replacement for Internet Explorer — is finally starting to flesh itself out a bit. Surprisingly quick, it replaces both the Universal Windows Reader app and the Universal Reading List app, taking over all Windows PDF–reading responsibilities.

Edge definitely isn't Internet Explorer. ActiveX controls, Silverlight, custom toolbars, and those crappy browser-helper objects simply don't exist anymore. Turning Flash on or off is as easy as flipping a setting. Edge is supposed to support extensions at some point, but we might not see them until Win10 hits RTM.

The latest Edge build adds features you'd expect in any modern browser — for example, private browsing and right-clicking to reopen a closed tab. You can drag tabs around or pin a website to the start menu. If you have several active tabs and one of them starts playing audio, a telltale icon appears on the tab. In other words, Microsoft's browser is slowly catching up to Chrome and Firefox — at least in some respects.

That said, some of Edge's tools are still relatively clunky. The Hub icon, for example, gives extremely basic management tools for favorites, bookmarks (Reading list), history, and downloads. Many expected features are still MIA, including file drag-and-drop, the ability to set a group of tabs as "home," and so on. Microsoft obviously has much to do before Edge is ready for all Windows users.

The browser has some unfortunate "features." For example a new tab shows, by default, a list of sites chosen according to criteria that completely escape me — plus a spot for a big ad at the bottom (see Figure 2). I wonder how long it'll take Microsoft to sell that real estate — just as Firefox might start doing with its suggested tiles, according to a TechCrunch report. Fortunately, Edge lets you turn that behavior off in its settings pane.


Figure 2. Edge's new-tab page oozes with opportunities to sell you something.

There are lots of other browser-UI tweaks still to come. Cortana support, for instance, is barely bolted on at this point. How that will play out is still unknown.

System backup has taken a bit of a U-turn. With Windows 8, Microsoft tossed Win7's familiar backup-and-restore scheme to the wolves — or at least the ability to easily restore Win7 backups. The details are still sketchy, but build 10122's Backup window includes an option to "Restore files you backed up using the Windows 7 Backup and Restore tool." There appear to be hooks into all the old backup-and-restore routines, including system image, system repair disk, and incremental backups — even to network locations.

It's hard to say how much of this will actually work, but at the very least Microsoft seems committed to the ability to restore Win7 backups on Win10 machines. To check it out for yourself, click Start/Settings/Update & security/Backup; under "Restore files from Windows 7," click the "Go to Backup and Restore (Windows 7)" link.


Figure 3. Win10 build 10122 unexpectedly includes the backup-and-restore tool familiar to Win7 users.

It also appears that File Explorer's Win7-style, right-click option "Restore previous versions" is making a comeback. It gives you File History's automatic backup functionality without having to launch a separate applet — a welcome change.

New in build 10122, the Mail app now supports two-factor authentication in Outlook.com. The Calendar app still hooks into my Google Calendar, slick as can be. The Photos app is behaving itself a little better than in previous builds, but it's still riddled with bugs — particularly when constructing Albums. There are new Music and Video apps, each obviously designed to get you to spend money. Neither comes close to VideoLAN's (site) ability to play all kinds of media formats.

Creating a better touch-and-swipe experience
On a tablet — or on a convertible device in tablet mode — you'll find that build 10122 is far more finger-friendly than were the earlier builds. For example, in tablet mode, pressing the Start button pops up the Windows apps tiles but leaves the less-finger-friendly, left-hand start-menu list hidden (see Figure 4). To reveal it, you simply tap the hamburger (three-bar) icon.


Figure 4. Tablet Mode puts back the emphasis on touch-and-swipe navigation.

Other changes include enlarged icons and uniform pull-down window titles with X stop icons. Unfortunately, no matter what you do, the taskbar at the bottom isn't going completely away. You can auto-hide the taskbar, but it'll still appear when you're at the Start screen. (It'll also pop up with a swipe from the bottom or if you hover the mouse pointer.)

Far from perfect, but getting close to "done"
I'm convinced that Microsoft is going to make the expected (leaked) end-of-July release to manufacturing (aka RTM) date — even with all the lapses and frustrations with build 10122. Win10 appears to be nearly feature-complete, and it's fairly stable. (Drivers are a thorny issue for all new operating systems.)

But that release date needs a bit of clarification. "RTM" doesn't have much meaning, now that Microsoft doesn't burn DVDs and stick them into boxes. With Win7, 8, and 8.1, there was a significant time gap between RTM and general availability — time enough for Microsoft to fix the really bad problems after the software "shipped," but before it was widely available. As with Office 2013, expect to see a slew of bug-swatting updates immediately after RTM is signed off on.

Or maybe before RTM. Microsoft has stated that it'll send out Win10 updates as soon as they're available. Unfortunately, the whole Win10 updating process is still largely unknown to all but Microsoft. But it's highly likely that July's Win10 will have changed substantially by the end of the year — and again a year from now.

There are still many other unknowns. We know that "genuine" Win7 and Win8.1 machines will be offered a free upgrade to Win10 during the first year. In his May 20 ZDNet post, Ed Bott has a good overview of what is and isn't known about upgrades. Upgraded machines will continue to get free updates for the rest of their natural lives. (Don't believe any article you might have read stating that you'll have to pay for updates — those reports are just plain wrong.)

Again, we don't have a clue about how Microsoft will send out Win10 patches. It's possible that it will force-feed updates to "free" Windows customers. But there might also be some leeway, along the lines of Windows Update for Business. Mary Jo Foley fills in some details in her May 14 ZDNet post on Windows-as-a-service. Paul Thurrott adds a different perspective in his aptly titled blog, "Windows as a service requires more trust than Microsoft may deserve." If you're curious about Windows 10 updating, both of those columns are must-reads.

Personally, I detest the phrase "Windows as a service" because the OS isn't going to be anything close to the traditional definition of "software as a service." Microsoft is redefining the phrase to suit its marketing purposes — and that's confused the living bejesus out of everybody.

Here's my litmus-test question: Will people with "free" Windows 10 Pro be able to control when they receive patches? Once we get a definitive answer to that question, lots of pieces will fall into place.

The other day, my wife asked me whether Win10 will be the last version of Windows. I choked on my coffee and took a minute to let my blood pressure go back to normal. If you encounter someone who asks that question — which has been so widely touted in the mainstream press — you can assure them that Windows will go on for a very long time — decades.

Whether future versions of Windows will be called Windows 2020 or Windows is meaningless because the names are just marketing. Whether Windows will continue to improve and remain the overwhelmingly dominant desktop and business OS will be another story.

Think of Windows 10 RTM as the "first final" build of Windows 10. There's much more to come.