Newly leaked Windows 10 build 9901 teases with Cortana, other neat features

Microsoft struts its stuff with a grand if flawed Cortana and new apps, including a worthy Photos app and the beginnings of a new Windows Store

fail leaky bucket water drip
Credit: Moodboard

A Russian-language portal site leaked screenshots of the as-yet-unannounced Windows 10 build 9901 on Sunday and shortly after made the bits available for download. I've been poking at it ever since. Here's what I've found that's new and different -- even exciting -- about this first look at what's likely to turn into the January Technical Preview.

In this build Cortana shows up to the right of the Windows icon, in a new Search box -- front and center in the highest-rent district on the desktop. Although you can set Cortana to respond to, "Hey Cortana," in this build Cortana doesn't react. By setting your Cortana Interests (click the Cortana microphone icon, click the bent hamburger settings icon in the upper left corner, choose Notebook), you can get Cortana notifications started, showing you items that match your interests. Ultimately, of course, we're all expecting that Cortana will behave as nicely in Windows 10 as the current Windows Phone Cortana. Maybe better.

The Cortana Search box can be changed to a Search icon or removed from the taskbar entirely, as we saw in build 9879. Where the build 9879 Search icon led to a useless dialog with "trending" results, the new search allows you to easily narrow searches to your machine. Unfortunately, you're only given the opportunity to narrow the search after Windows has gone out to Bing with your search terms -- so Microsoft still collects information on all your searches. Ka-ching.

In what many hope is a sign of changes to come, the Settings charm no longer appears in the Charm bar, and Settings no longer occupy a pane that takes up the full right edge of the screen. Instead, each Metro app is expected to have its own method for bringing up its Settings pane, and the pane appear on the right edge of the app's window. If you try to fool mother nature with the Windows key-I combination -- which used to bring out the Settings pane -- you now go directly to the Metro Settings app.

The Metro Settings app is starting to blossom, although confusingly there are now even more settings you can't get to from Control Panel and can only apply from the Metro Settings app. To see an example of a newly anointed Metro Settings-only setting, go into the Metro Settings app and click Update & Recovery, then Backup. To see how Control Panel is tossing settings over to the Metro app, bring up Control Panel, then Windows Update. You get the message, "This UI is deprecated. To get updates, go to Settings -> Update and recovery -> Windows Update." No doubt there's a slow migration under way, but it's inconceivable (to me) that all of the old Control Panel settings could -- or should -- be migrated to Metro Settings.

In build 9901 there are two versions of the Windows Store. The old Store, accessed from the icon on the taskbar or the tile on the Start menu, hasn't changed much. But the new Metro Store (Beta) app -- which you can see by going through Start, All Programs -- seems to be hooked into a different database. Both music and TV shows are listed right next to apps. Reporting on Twitter, @AngelWZR found evidence of a Windows-phone-only app called Make More Space clearly visible in the Metro Store Beta app. Whether that's simply a mistake or the first sightings of the long-anticipated merging of Phone, desktop, and Metro apps in the Windows Store remains to be seen. The UniStore may be imminent.

There's evidence that you will be able to install apps on removable storage with Windows 10. I have no idea how it will work in the shipping version, but to see the current vestiges, go into the Settings app, choose System, then Storage Sense. There you clearly see there's an option to save new apps (or documents, music, pictures, or videos) to removable storage.

Microsoft has made significant changes to several Metro apps, many of which appear in this build labelled as betas. Alarms now supports a world clock. The new Metro calculator -- which completely replaces calc.exe -- runs rings around the Metro calculator in build 9879. Metro Camera looks like the Lumia camera app. The new Metro Photos app adds enough to features to make it a "real" photo app -- unlike its dead Windows 8.1 analog. The new Xbox app is supposed to represent a major step forward, but at this point I don't see how it's much better than logging on to xbox.com.

Surur at the WMPoweruser site reported new APIs that hint at the possibility that future versions of Windows 10 TP -- not build 9901, but a later one -- will have hand-gesture recognition support, face tracking, voice recognition (independent of Cortana), as well as Oculus Rift-style support.

Will any of that make it into the final build -- or even the next one? Heaven knows.

Two facts we do know for sure, though: First, if you install build 9901 you won't be able to upgrade it to the next build -- you'll have to re-install from an ISO. Second, Microsoft isn't overly concerned about people getting their hands on this latest version. On Sunday, company spokesman Gabe Aul tweeted "How could we be upset about lots of people wanting to try our new stuff? We'd prefer you stick to official builds though."

Cue the conspiracy theorists.

From CIO: 8 Free Online Courses to Grow Your Tech Skills
Notice to our Readers
We're now using social media to take your comments and feedback. Learn more about this here.