After Aerogate, Vista’s Aero partially returns for Windows 10

Windows 10 build 10125, featuring touches of the dark Windows Vista Aero glass on the Start menu and the notification center.
Windows 10 build 10125, featuring touches of the dark Windows Vista Aero Glass on the Start menu and the notification center.

When Vista debuted, one of the first things people noticed was the beautiful user interface, assuming they had a graphics adapter capable of rendering it. Glass windows, a frosted glass Start menu and taskbar, insanely huge and detailed icons, Flip 3D, and several other enhancements. All of these made the move to Windows 7, sans the black Start menu and taskbar, which changed to a basic glass style.

However, Windows 8, which retained the technology behind this UI, dumped the glassy windows but kept the icons and taskbar, presenting a jarring mixture of 2006 and 2012. The UI was largely flattened, while retaining many Vista elements on the desktop. This was the beginning of what I call Aerogate, with users of the new OS upset that it didn’t look like Windows 7.

With Windows 10, beta testers and tech media have been clamoring for Aero Glass to fully return, with Windows 7 often cited as the prefered appearance, and Microsoft has taken note. But rather than looking to Windows 7, Microsoft has reached back to Windows Vista for the color of the taskbar, Start menu, and the notification center.

Several of the new icons which had originally been seen in early builds have now been replaced with updated Windows Vista icons, with a few notable exceptions. Ironically, the current Recycle Bin icon debuted on Earth Day to much fanfare. The faux outrage over the icons which arrived in early Windows 10 builds was what I refer to as Icongate, which has now been largely resolved.

Even with these concessions, I think it is safe to assume that Aero Glass will not resurrected in full, and I’d even argue that Aero Glass would look awful alongside the Metro Design Language. Kudos to Microsoft for finding the middle ground.

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After Aerogate, Vista’s Aero partially returns for Windows 10

Screenshots from the latest Windows 10 Tech Preview build for phones.

I briefly installed the latest Windows 10 Technical Preview for phones on my Lumia 1520 today, but has to revert to 8.1 because the OS has no MMS settings yet, rendering my handset useless. Here are a ton of screenshots I snapped before blasting the OS off my phone. Keep in mind, this is more of an alpha than a beta, and much work remains to be done. A few universal apps make an appearance, but NFC payments (zNFCPayments) is missing from this build.
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Screenshots from the latest Windows 10 Tech Preview build for phones.

Spartan arrives in latest Windows 10 build, with Cortana hitching a ride.

Cortana leaps forth on Project Spartan.
Cortana leaps forth on Project Spartan.

A new Windows 10 build has landed for Windows Insiders who are in the Fast ring, keeping Microsoft’s promise of a much more rapid build release cycle. Not much has changed, but there have been bug fixes, a revamped Calculator, and a new browser.

A new Calculator app is included in the latest build, and it keeps a history of your calculations.
A new Calculator app is included in the latest build, and it keeps a history of your calculations.

The new browser is currently called Project Spartan, continuing Microsoft’s trend of using Halo codenames for new products, such as Threshold, and Cortana. An official name for the browser has not yet been decided, but it will have “Microsoft” somewhere in the name.

This version of Project Spartan is far from complete, with many features still missing or only partially implemented, but I took it for a spin anyway, on a tablet and on a desktop too.

The UI is minimalist, with the tabs residing on the application bar rather than below it, which provides a larger viewing area over existing browsers. The browser is a Windows App (e.g. Metro or Modern), enabling more flexibility for the UI than traditional Win32 apps. Windows Apps are being updated to support drag and drop and other more traditional features, so any awkwardness which was present in Windows 8 should be ironed out by RTM.

Cortana is present as well. Typing search phrases into the address bar invokes Cortana and she will provide an answer without needing to venture out to a search engine or another site.

Reading view in Project Spartan, with the Actions menu invoked.
Reading view in Project Spartan, with the Actions menu invoked.

Reading mode is a nice touch, something which Chrome lacks, and provides more options than Internet Explorer does on Windows 8.x. The Actions menu is to the point, with no confusing or pointless options crowding it.

Google Chrome and Microsoft's Project Spartan displaying results on the HTML5 test.
Google Chrome and Microsoft’s Project Spartan displaying results on the HTML5 test.

Performance of the app over all is a little sluggish, but that’s understandable, as this is more of an alpha than a beta. On touch, it lagged a lot, but such lag was not as noticeable with a mouse and keyboard.

I have not encountered any broken websites with Spartan, but rendering takes a little longer than on Chrome, likely because I have an ad blocker installed on Chrome, which helps with loading times.

On the HTML5 test, Chrome scores 523, while Spartan comes in with 375. Not show stopping, but definitely something Microsoft will continue to work on.

Over all, I feel it’s a solid start, and I look forward to seeing further builds of Project Spartan.

Spartan arrives in latest Windows 10 build, with Cortana hitching a ride.

Could Cortana come to CyanogenMod?

Cortana reminds me to not burn a pizza in the oven.
Cortana thoughtfully reminds me to not burn the pizza in the oven.

News broke earlier this month that CyanogenMod has met with Microsoft, seeking an investment to further their vision of an Android totally devoid of Google services, installed by OEM on devices. $70 million is the figure I’ve seen reported. But, with Microsoft itself developing a plethora of Android apps, including a lockscreen, why wouldn’t they attach a rider to their investment, insisting that their apps and services be on the platform? It makes a lot of sense.

So, let’s say Office, Outlook, OneDrive, and Skype are installed by default, or maybe they are placed prominently in the app store. I know, it’s not as exciting now as it would have been in 2013, so, let’s hit pause.

When Microsoft unveiled Cortana while showing off Windows Phone 8.1, they hinted that she might arrive on other platforms too. And arrive she has. She made her PC debut in January, on the Windows 10 Technical Preview. We can safely assume she will also touchdown on the Xbox One later this year, perhaps in October or November. Sony has nothing like Cortana in its stable, so this will serve to further differentiate the two consoles.

Microsoft has also never precluded iOS or Android. iOS wouldn’t make much sense, because she would be a second class citizen; an app to be launched, a better Bing app. Android would allow her to be almost a first class citizen however. If Google allowed a Cortana app to be included in the Play Store however, she likely wouldn’t be able to totally replace Google Now, thus she’d have a quasi-Cortana experience. She could toggle your wifi, send an email, set reminders, and maybe even add and remove things from Google Calendar, but you won’t be invoking her by saying “Hey, Cortana” nor will she integrate fully with the OS. She also won’t be automatically reminding you to pick up the dry cleaning next time you are near the laundry service.

Okay, unpause that CyanogenMod story now, because this is where both threads cross; Microsoft could build a Cortana experience which replicates the experience on its own platforms for CyanogenMod.

Google Now could be completely replaced by Cortana in CyanogenMod, because the goal of the CyanogenMod team is to make a better Android. An Android which has rid itself of Google’s multiple apps and services. Microsoft has already shown that it’s more than willing to build apps for Android, so this really is not far fetched. And with Cyanogen holding out the hat, Microsoft can probably get away with insisting that Bing is the default search engine, Outlook the default mail app, and Cortana be baked into the OS, ready to be enabled by the user, as it is on Windows Phone. I could even see a small team at Microsoft being devoted to just that.

So, when do I think this could materialize? I would guess that after Windows 10 is a year old, Microsoft would feel comfortable bringing Cortana to third-party platforms like CyanogenMod, which pose no real threat to their handset business for now. Perhaps we will hear news of this sooner, but I don’t think Microsoft wants to announce that Cortana is on CyanogenMod before the first Windows 10 commercials hit the airwaves.

Could Cortana come to CyanogenMod?