Microsoft abruptly made good on its overdue promise to roll out a new public preview build

Yesterday afternoon Microsoft Corp. (MSFT) rolled out a new Preview Build of Windows 10 for personal computers (including tablets and hybrids).  Available to Insiders, Build 10041 is currently available for testers who opted into the Fast Ring.  Testers in the Slow Ring should see the build roll in as an update in the next week or so.

I. Ready to Roll

This is the first new release since mid-January.  Many had hoped for a February preview, based on comments from Windows engineering manager Gabriel Aul (@GabeAul)

I grabbed Build 10041 and have been working with it since yesterday and combing over the differences. Many of the aesthetic changes will look familiar with those following the leaks in recent weeks.  One prominent change is the appearance of Microsoft's new Modern UI-meets-Aero Glass transparent pane, which I refer to by the informal term "Modern Glass".  Also changed the new icons and other appearance tweaks to the UI that we saw in the Build 10022 and 10036 (leaked by Russia's Wzor) mostly survived to the Build 10041 release.

Downloading Build 10041's update files did not take very long on a high speed connection.  The waiting game begins, though, when you reboot.  You'll notice that as opposed to the black screen with blue Windows logo that was used in past releases, there's a new installation screen which appears to be running in some sort of compatibility display mode.


Windows 10 Build

The new Build Preview roughly 20 minutes to install on my computer, a hint that this is the biggest update in a while.  For several minutes it was stuck at 3% leading me to think that the install was stalled.

If you're an Insider and you experience similar symptoms, do not panic and reboot.  More than likely it's just the inherent slowness of this installation.  It takes time.

Once I got Windows 10 installed, the first thing I noticed was the new login screen, which features some small tweaks to the style.  To take screenshots on the login screen, I used the PsExec.exe program from the Sysinternals toolkit, hosted by Microsoft on TechNet.  To screenshot:
  1. Copy your PsExec.exe to your %WINDIR%/System32 folder (requires administrator permission).
  2. Open a Command Prompt (%WINDIR%/System32/Cmd.exe) as an administrator.
  3. Type: PsExec.exe -sx Cmd.exe
  4. A hidden terminal is now running on lock screens.  To access it, press Alt+Tab and use the arrows to select the terminal.
  5. In the terminal type "snippingtool" to bring up the Snipping Tool utility.
  6. Choose the full screen capture option and then Edit > Copy in the Snipping Tool.  You won't be able to directly save, but an image of the lock screen will now be in your clipboard!

Windows 10

A couple things are apparent here.  This login screen was hiding in Build 9926.  The small chess piece next to the time indicates whether you're signed in (head up == signed in; head down/flipped == signed out).

Some things have changed from the Build 9926 version, though:
  • The font size is better adjusted for high resolution displays, such as my 2012 15-inch MacBook Pro Retina edition from Apple, Inc. (AAPL) (2,880 x 1,440 pixel display QXGA+ display).
  • Accessibility and power settings are shuffled to password input screen
  • Wireless logo on resting lock screen is shrunk, reappears slightly larger in the password input screen.
  • The bar now changes colors when you click it to type your passsword.
Windows 10 -- login

Firing up the good old RegEdit.exe I noticed the new flattened security shield logo on the good old User Account Control (UAC).  This new icon also appears pretty much anywhere else where you need administrator permission to click through to carry out an action (e.g. to copy protected files).  People misunderstand the UAC, thinking it's about security, but its purposes is more to remind you that the action you're about to do or app you're about to use is potentially dangerous.  The click through gives you time to think, preventing serious mistakes at times,


With the Registry Editor open, I found my build string in:

HKEY_Local_Machine --> SOFTWARE --> Microsoft --> Windows NT --> CurrentVersion

The "BuildLab" string gives the most detailed information on the full title inside Microsoft that the current Build was derived from.  Mine is "10041.fbl_impressive.150313-1821."  I include a screenshot of the same registry entries from my previous test build (Build 9926), which I took prior to the update.
Registry Windows 10 Build 9926 vs. 10041

So I'm definitely on Windows 10 Build 10041. And yes it's [the build string is] over 9,000!

II. NVIDIA: The Way It's Meant to be Crashing?

But let's take another peak just to see what we're dealing with.  I open the DXDiag utility to get another confirmation of the version.

And here's my GPU information from the current build for good measure.

Build 10041

Note Microsoft's API level is at DirectX 12 (DX12), and NVIDIA Corp.'s (NVDA) experimental video driver for DX12, GeForce Driver 349.65 is onboard.  In Build 9926 this driver was the source of incessant crashes, prompting me to roll back to GeForce Driver 349.48 WQHL.

So did NVIDIA fix its issues?  Sadly, not entirely.

Thus far the Build 10041 I've had less frequent crashes, but still some crashes distinctly attributable to the GPU.  The good news it that unlike before where the crashes were ubiquitous and common even when not running GPU accelerated apps, the crashes are now confined mostly to large operations on GPU-accelerated apps like Adobe Systems Inc.'s  (ADBE) Photoshop Creative Cloud.  

OpenGL error

Sometimes the GPU driver has the grace to quit with an error message about OpenGL errors, which directs to a relatively useless NVIDIA help page.  NVIDIA's advice is that you might have an inappropriate driver.  Thanks for that genius suggestion NVIDIA.  Never mind there's the small fact that you gave Microsoft this driver to give to me.

I digress.

Sometimes, however, the driver's bugs manifest in a far more insidious way, leading to hard freezes.  In this regard the driver has in some ways gotten worse since Build 9926 as at least before you Windows spit out some vague error message, that might eventually point you to the GPU as the culprit.

I'm on the verge of rolling back the driver a second time.  It really is that bad.  Hopefully Microsoft will ratchet up the pressure on NVIDIA to work out these catastrophic bugs.  This is test software, after all, but with Windows 10 launching in just a few months ("this summer"), the clock is ticking.

III. Icon Sets is Shaping up Nicely

Moving on, let's take a look at the new desktop and icons in closing.

Here's the Build 9926 Desktop vs. the Build 10041 Desktop.

Build 9926 vs. 10041 -- Desktop

Looking at the two, we see that the biggest change is the introduction of new User, Recycle Bin, and Control Panel icons, in the flat/Modern UI style.  These are the same icons we saw in leaks.  Here's a closeup:

Windows  10 icons -- Build 9926 vs. Build 10041

The Recycle Bin icon when I first saw it in leaks struck me as horrifyingly ugly.  But in some fluke of the human mind, I now don't find it quite as offensive.  I think part of what's to play is that while the icon itself is a bit bizarre in its proportions, the consistent look of the icon set ultimately leads you to forgive these idiosyncracies and move on with your life.  Sure it looks like a cubist's vision of a trash can drawn in MSPaint.  But beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

Navigating to %HOMEPATH% (your home directory) in Windows Explorer, we see that Microsoft is at last close to finishing its core icons set.  I've compared the two builds below with their icon sets blown up to "Extra Large" for your viewing pleasure.

Build 9926 vs. 10041 -- icons

There's new Modern UI folder icons for:
  • Contacts
  • Favorites
  • Links
  • Saved Games
  • Searches
The Music folder icon has also been tweaked from its previous flattened form.

Overall I think the new icons look pretty nice.  The style is consistent.  And while it may be too minimalist for some, it at least has found a way to coexist with the traditional featureset of Windows (i.e. a "Desktop", "Start Menu", etc.).

Another thing working to Microsoft's advantage is that most major software makers appear to be following along, trending towards minimalism.  Both Google Inc. (GOOG) and Apple, Inc. (AAPL) have flattened and otherwise made more minimalist their iconset and other UI flourishes in recent operating system launches.  Each OS maker takes a bit different approach, but their is commonality in terms of industry direction.

That means that Microsoft's icons blend in quite nicely with third party icons (the Peazip icon, in particular is a beautiful example of the minimalist style done right).

Windows 10041

The good news is that's just a little less than half the changes to the UI.  In the next piece I'll share pictures and analysis of:
  • Start Menu (major changes!)
  • Wireless Networks pane (major changes!)
  • Settings app (minor changes)
  • Cortana (revised)
  • Multi-Desktop/Task Switcher (revised)
  • Taskbar (minor changes)
  • This PC/Recent Folders Locations in Windows Explorer (new icons and more)
  • Task Manager (comparison)
  • Internet Explorer (new build!)
In the meantime, I encourage you to join Microsoft's Windows Insider program and take Build 10041 for a spin yourself.  Just watch out for those video drivers.

Source: Windows [official blog]

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