Windows 10: What you need to know about the new build 9860

Build 9860, said to encompass 7,000 changes from the original Tech Preview, holds few surprises but offers tantalizing hints about new features

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If you're expecting fireworks and divine revelation, Windows 10 build 9860 won't impress.

Build 9860 arrives a mere three weeks after the original build 9841. While there are some minor changes to the user interface, the major focus is on moving three apps from Windows Phone to Windows 10. Those three apps are little more than stubs at this point, but they point in a decidedly more mobile-friendly direction. Microsoft also left a few tantalizing hints about other new features.

If you have Windows Technical Preview installed, the new build will come rolling out to you -- eventually. Microsoft is pushing build 9860 out to all Windows 10 machines via Automatic Update. Since all Windows 10 machines have Automatic Update turned on, sooner or later you'll get 9860. You can tell which build you're running by looking at the watermark in the lower right corner of the desktop.

If you don't have 9860 yet and are impatient, click Start, PC Settings, Update and recovery, Preview builds. If there's no new preview shown, click the Check now button; then click Install. The installer has to grab between 2.1GB and 2.7GB of data, and the upgrade process takes a long time. If you're on a fast machine with a fast line, figure on an hour. If you're running a virtual machine, don't be surprised if it takes twice that long. No, Microsoft is not making an ISO available -- at this point, your only option is to upgrade online.

While you're waiting, you can read the official introduction to build 9860, posted by Gabe Aul on the Blogging Windows site.

If you're looking for the significant changes and hints at future directions, forget the official guide (keyboard shortcuts for moving apps? C'mon) and take a look at these hotspots:

Click the icon on the left edge of the system tray, the one that looks like a stunted document. Up springs the new Notifications Center. Microsoft calls it the "Action Center," but if you've used Windows 7 or 8's Action Center, this Notifications Center doesn't resemble its progenitor in the least. Instead, you'll find a simple list of all the recent notifications -- you know, the ones that float by in Windows 8 and disappear, never to be seen again. Although it's apparent that Microsoft will build some smarts into the Notifications Center, right now it's just a repository.

The second mobile-inspired new feature, called Data Sense, looks like a first port of the feature with the same name in Windows Phone. To see its vestiges, click Start, PC Settings, Data Sense. The app monitors the volume of data going into and out of your computer, keeping separate tabs on Wi-Fi and Cellular links. The intent is to warn you when you're about to hit your mobile data cap, but how useful it'll be in practice remains to be seen, particularly with the prevalence of multiple-line ("family plan") data caps.

The third mobile app, Battery Saver, also harkens from Windows Phone. To see it, click Start, PC Settings, and choose Battery Saver from the bottom of the list. Details on its function in Windows 10 are a little sparse, but if it works anything like Windows Phone's analogous app, the setting here will kick in automatically as your battery goes down, throttling back power-hungry settings on your hardware, disabling background data transfers, and the like, when it's necessary to save the battery. Right now, your only choices are On and Off.

There are lots of new, little changes outside the mobile realm. Yes, build 9860 seems faster overall, at least on my test machines. Yes, the windows now animate and "pop" in an appearance. Yes, you can opt in for "fast" track test builds -- Aul describes the mechanism in Blogging Windows -- by clicking Start, PC Settings, Update and recovery, Preview builds, and setting the drop-down box to Fast. Heaven only knows how that will differentiate from "slow" in the near future.

Poke around a bit and you'll find a few tantalizing clues about features yet to come.

For example, the All Apps list includes an app called DockingController that does absolutely nothing at this point. You might imagine that, some day, it will help manage connections to a dock.

The All Apps list also includes zPC Settings. Those of you who followed early leaked builds will remember the prefix "z" as signifying a different approach to an existing feature, and in this case it's no different. zPC Settings brings up an alternate PC Settings universe, with such intriguing entries as Pending or Deprecated, and OEM. Poke around and if you see something interesting, post it in the comments. I thought the Corners and Edges settings under Pending or Deprecated were mildly interesting.

The Charms are still in build 9860, although Microsoft's obviously working to get rid of them. For example, the Network app, which was once a pane that overlays the Charms, is now a separate entry in PC Settings.

All in all, build 9860 is a remarkably stable three-week signpost on the way to Windows 10.

Bring it on ...