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Yes, the Start menu is back. Yes, there are virtual desktops. No, the Charms bar hasn't gone away. And no, we don't know when Windows 10 will ship or what it will cost. But we've seen the technical preview of Windows 10 and the word to bear in mind for this release is productivity.
Microsoft's Joe Belfiore repeatedly emphasised that this is a very early build without even all the features that have been announced, and that there might be rough spots. We didn't see any problems in the time we had to try it out at Microsoft's San Francisco event, but what's clear is that there is plenty more to come.
This isn't the place to look for changes in Explorer or the control panel, let alone desktop tools like Paint and Notepad or Store apps like Music and Video. The technical preview is about the core features that are supposed to prove Microsoft can balance touch, mouse and keyboard without making any users feel abandoned.
As expected, the Start menu is the default if you use Windows 10 with a keyboard and mouse, though you can keep the full-screen Start screen if you prefer it. Even on the Start menu, you can pin Live Tiles in multiple sizes on the right, but on the left you also get the familiar list of pinned and recent applications, complete with jump lists for files, the search box that you can also use to run commands and a power button for shutting down or restarting your PC.
The search box has all the Windows 8 features, including results from Bing and the Windows store, and a separate Search menu next to the Start button gives you trending topics directly from Bing, too.
You can resize the Start menu, although oddly you can only drag to change the height; changing the width means picking a setting rather than just dragging with the mouse. This is certainly more familiar for mouse and keyboard users, but it remains to be seen whether the Windows 8 users who actually like touch will find it a step backwards.
Snaps, apps and virtual desktops - Using Alt Tab to move between open windows is a keyboard shortcut that's been around since 1990 and it still gives you a line of windows to choose from. As with Windows 8.1, those now include any modern apps you have running, and those now open as windows on the desktop like any other software you're running, ready to be resized or snapped side by side. The new Task View button on the taskbar is there to introduce the idea of moving between windows to the vast majority of Windows users who've never tried Alt Tab.
Snapping does more than the 'two desktop apps getting half the desktop' layout that you get in Windows 8. If you have one narrow window, the second window can take up all the rest of the space, or you can snap four apps, one in each corner. Windows will even show thumbnails of open windows to help you pick the one you want to snap without rearranging everything.
But you can also get more complicated. The Windows-Tab keyboard shortcut introduced in Windows Vista for the 3D Flip Explorer and reused for the Windows 8 modern task switcher now gives you a view that's almost exactly the same as Alt-Tab except for the button at the bottom for adding a virtual desktop - and the list of any virtual desktops you already have open. Those are live thumbnails and you can use your mouse to pick not just the set of windows you want to put on screen but even the window you want to start using.
Virtual desktops aren't a new idea but they never graduated from utility to main Windows feature because they can be confusing to manage. There's a subtle clue in the taskbar to help you; if an app is open but not in the current desktop, it shows up as underlined rather than outlined in the taskbar - and if you click on its icon you go straight to it, and the rest of that desktop. The question remains whether that's enough to stop a feature designed only for power users from confusing everyone else, but it certainly signals to desktop power users that Windows 10 is supposed to be designed for them.