Some four months after it unveiled the first build of the Windows 10 Technical Preview, Microsoft has now kicked off the early access program for its smartphone OS, known as ... Windows 10 Technical Preview.
The naming is in keeping with Redmond's insistence that Windows 10 will be a single operating system for all screens great and small – even though in reality, users will see significant UI variations between different classes of devices.
"Since we're building Windows 10 to be the same core platform for PCs, tablets and phones, it should be no surprise that participating in the program for phones will work pretty much the same way it has been working for PCs," Microsoft's Gabe Aul blogged on Thursday.
The idea is that Preview users will be helping Microsoft refine its OS, so by signing up for the program you'll be agreeing to ship all sorts of information back to Redmond. In the case of the phone OS, this includes "phone call and SMS data," although Microsoft says it doesn't collect "numeric sequences such as phone numbers."
The Preview will also collect what Microsoft calls "Experience Data," which includes such information as how long it takes you to complete tasks with the OS and ... well, "information about all aspects of the Program software and services, such as device performance, user interface interactions, and feature and application usage, including third party applications." So don't say you didn't know.
'Some rough edges'
What you'll get for your trouble will be an OS that Microsoft describes as "the earliest publicly available preview we've ever done for Windows on phones." Your humble Reg hack is loath to suggest it was rushed out the door, but the pressure must surely be on in Redmond to close the release gap between the phone and desktop versions of Windows 10.
"You're going to see some rough edges," Aul wrote. "You will encounter bugs. You will see experiences that are clearly just not done yet, and UX that lacks polish at this point."
According to Aul, much of the work on the phone side has involved developing the underpinnings of the OS, including the common core OS and app platform that CEO Satya Nadella keeps harping on. That means other aspects of the system have been given short shrift so far, including "the completeness of the UI," as Aul put it.
Aul recommends this first build mainly for Windows Phone users who like to get the jump on everybody else, or for developers who plan to build apps for the platform. Anyone else should be aware that they're getting a build that "normally would have only been available to Microsoft engineers in the past."
To give you an idea what to expect, the bottom of Aul's blog post includes a hefty list of known issues with the build, including such glitches as "Wi-Fi settings don't roam" and "VPN not available."
On the plus side, Microsoft has added some new capabilities in Windows 10 for phones. Perhaps most notably, OS's speech-to-text capability has been "significantly enhanced," such that you can now use voice input for virtually any data field you want.
On the minus side, the voice-enabled Cortana virtual assistant only works in the US in this build and it has been limited to English-only input. Some features that are available for Cortana in Windows Phone 8.1 are also missing, but Aul says they will be restored before the final version ships.
Fortunately, you can roll back your phone to your old OS at any time if the Preview becomes too much of a headache.
Screw it, I'm in
If you're ready to take the plunge despite the Preview's shortcomings, you'll first need to register your phone to receive preview builds over the air – and not every Windows Phone device is supported.
For this first Preview, the only phones that are eligible are the Lumia 630, 635, 636, 638, 730, and 830. Other phones aren't supported – including some newer, more sophisticate devices – because they lack sufficient storage space to complete the upgrade. This will be rectified in a future preview build, though, once Microsoft introduces a space-squeezing feature called "partition stitching."
Customers around the world are free to participate – as long as they speak Arabic, Catalan, Chinese (Simplified or Traditional), Czech, Dutch, English, Finnish, French, German, Hindi, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Polish, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish, Swedish, Thai, Turkish, or Vietnamese.
There's one catch, though: You can't play if you're located within China itself, because Chinese mobile operators don't work with the Windows Insider program yet (although they may soon).
New preview builds will be pushed to participating devices automatically over the air, all the way up to the final build that will ship with new phones.
For now, though, don't expect to be able to do much with them. For example, although the new Office Apps for Windows 10 are supposed to be "universal apps" that run on any flavor of the OS, they're not yet included with Windows 10 on phones (though Aul says they soon will be).
The bundled Feedback app, on the other hand, is a universal app that runs on both desktops and phones – so once you get the Windows 10 Technical Preview up and running on your Lumia, be sure to let Redmond know what you think of it. ®