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

No, there will not be a Windows 10 flagship phone launching in May.

I decided to burst some bubbles, because I noticed some stories popping up on the interwebs today claiming Microsoft will launch a new flagship Lumia phone running Windows 10, either in March or May. No, calm down, it’s not true.

The OS is just being geared up for a Technical Preview launch, which is supposed to happen this month, and I am hopeful that Lumia Denim ships from American carriers before that date. Given that the OS is not even available to public testers, and that all other versions of Windows 10 remain unfinished, it’s safe to say that someone is either just craving page hits, or is conflating reports of a new Lumia flagship with the new OS.

Various outlets and blogs have already reported that the next Lumia flagship will be rocking a Snapdragon 810 SoC, which is a wise choice since existing phones cannot support DirectX 12 unless Microsoft is able to implement a Feature Level of the new API on DirectX 9 class hardware. This new SoC will feature eight 64 bit cores, passive listening support for Shazam and other music/television identification apps, 4k support, an Adreno 430 GPU, and other enhancements over existing hardware.

Yes, it’s entirely possible that Microsoft will put a 64 bit OS on phones which support them, but they have not said so themselves.

So, before I veer too far from the subject at hand, will Microsoft will launching a flagship Lumia this spring? I doubt it. Microsoft has confirmed that they will indeed be launching flagship phones this year, and I certainly hope they have some standout features, but I don’t think they will debut such a device before July, based on past devices. Also, if said device features special hardware, such as a fingerprint scanner, the current phone OS from Microsoft doesn’t support them, so why show off the hardware so far ahead of the RTM of Windows 10?

No, there will not be a Windows 10 flagship phone launching in May.

Windows 10 Preview Hitting Phones Next Week? Maybe.

Microsoft's Joe Belfiore demonstrates the upcoming Windows 10 on a Lumia 1520.
Microsoft’s Joe Belfiore demonstrates the upcoming Windows 10 on a Lumia 1520. (photo source: PC Advisor)

UPDATE: Microsoft released Office for Windows 10 on Wednesday, and indicated that Windows 10 for phones is not going to be released this week.

The Windows Insider app on Windows Phone has received a few updates, a rebranding, and a small UX overhaul since it was published publicly in the Windows Phone Store. As far as anyone can tell, the app is still not usable by anyone outside of Microsoft. Just try to log in with your Microsoft account; the app begins to loop you through its landing and login pages.

So, why does the title of this post imply that the preview is being unleashed in the first week of February? The early launch of Windows 10 Technical Preview Build 9926 makes up part of the tea leaves I am examining. The other part is this string of updates which we’ve seen of the Windows Insider app on the Windows Phone OS. Lastly, Microsoft has said, and still says, that the phone version of Windows 10 will enter the preview stage in February.

There will be minimum hardware requirements for installing the preview, but whatever these are remain unpublished for now. It will not be surprising to see Microsoft initially restrict the Preview to devices with 1GB of RAM or more, or even to specific devices, such as the Lumia 1520 and HTC One M8.

Don’t get mad, I’m sure additional phones will be added as new builds are released and these unknown requirements scale downward. Also, Microsoft has made it clear that even the lowly Lumia 520 will get the final bits when Windows 10 goes gold, assuming the carriers wish to deliver the update. By that point, the Lumia 520 will be around two years old, whilst the Lumia 920 will be almost three years old. Name an Android phone which is getting official updates at that age. No, please do, I’d like to hear about it.

As I previously said, there will be features which will not hit every phone. This is already the case with Windows Phone 8 and 8.1, and all are related to hardware. If your phone lacks NFC for example, the OS will not expose the NFC settings to the user. On Lumia phones, if you have a low end device, EQ settings are not available because of CPU limitations. And, as I said previously, existing phones will not support DirectX 12 unless Microsoft chooses to  implement a Feature Level on existing mobile GPUs. Nothing has been said about hardware support for DirectX 12 on mobile, but I won’t hold my breath.

So, with these factors in mind, I expect a somewhat limited debut of Windows 10 Technical Preview next week. Of course, I could be completely wrong, but the tea leaves I’m reading indicate an imminent launch.

Windows 10 Preview Hitting Phones Next Week? Maybe.

Existing phones may hamper DirectX 12 implementation in Windows 10 apps.

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DirectX 12 is incoming. Microsoft didn’t name any hardware, but nVidia has said Fermi and newer GPUs will be able to run it, as will all AMD 79xx and newer GPUs. Intel has also said recent GPUs they made will also support DX12. That covers most recent PCs and x86 tablets.

Promised features of DirectX 12 include up to a 50% reduction in power usage and up to a 50% boost in CPU performance compared to DirectX 11.2 along with hardware access to the GPU and CPU by developers, enabling game console level performance. For example, if you tossed Windows 8.1 onto a PS4 or Xbox One, game performance would drop quite a bit due to overhead, but if you put Windows 10 on those devices, which is of course not possible, game performance might actually increase a little compared to the OS which ships on those devices.

Nice, but what about existing phones and ARM tablets? The Lumia 920? No. HTC 8X? Definitely not. In fact, many early Windows Phone 8 devices will be SOL when it comes to DirectX 12 games and apps, unless Microsoft has worked some magic. Why is this? It comes down to the SoC which was implemented in these devices.

The Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 MSM8960 uses an Adreno 225 GPU, which only supports DirectX 9.0c. The Lumia 1020, 928, 925, 920, 810, 820, and 822 all use the Adreno 225 GPU. Newer Lumia phones use a SoC which has Adreno 3xx GPUs on die. The 920T, 2520, 1520, 1320, Icon, and the x3x series (devices which shipped with 8.1) may be able to support the new DirectX version, but these GPUs are restricted to a DirectX 9.3 feature level, which is basically a way to enable some features of DirectX 11.1 on 9.3 class chips. DirectX 12 may also be able to utilize some advanced features of these chips, but without further information I wouldn’t hold my breath.

Indeed, all existing Windows Phone devices, and RT tablets, even those made by Blu and HTC, use either Adreno 3xx or 2xx, which may lead to them either being left out when DirectX 12 games begin to arrive in the Windows Store, or holding back development which utilizes the newer DirectX 12, thus hobbling universal games out of the gate. I don’t think any sane developer would want to exclude such a large, existing pool of devices, nor would they want to take the time to develop two separate versions of their games, one using DirectX 12 and another using DirectX 9.

With all this in mind, be prepared to see a slow implementation of DirectX 12 in games which are “Modern” app as opposed to Win32. On the Win32 side, I’m sure we’ll see games and applications using DirectX 12 and DirectCompute begin to arrive within months of the new OS reaching RTM.

Existing phones may hamper DirectX 12 implementation in Windows 10 apps.