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Windows 10 is here (really)

Earlier this week, Microsoft (MSFT) revealed key details about the next major update to its flagship operating system. And while many people continue to scratch their heads at the software maker's perplexing naming convention -- this time skipping 9 entirely in favor of Windows 10 -- one thing is for sure -- it's shaping up to be the Windows that Microsoft should have released two years ago.

While Windows 10 is still about a year away from general release, you can try it out today. To do that, you need to sign up for Microsoft's new Windows Insider Program, which earns you the right to install the latest preview builds as soon as they are available. (In return, Microsoft expects you to provide feedback, such as reporting bugs.) Then download the Windows Technical Preview.

The usual caveats apply. This is an early build of Windows 10, and it's going to be full of bugs, incomplete features, and undocumented behaviors. Don't install it on your only PC, and don't install it on a business-critical computer that you can't live without. But if you are willing to accept such compromises, you'll experience a vastly improved Windows that reflects the strong feedback Microsoft has gotten regarding its platform.

First and foremost, the Start Menu is back. For desktop users, at least, the full-screen modern Start Screen is history. But the best bits were incorporated into the superbly configurable, highly customizable Start menu that features live tiles chock full of real-time information.

Modern apps now run in windows on the desktop and are resizable, like traditional apps. Indeed, after Microsoft seemed to go insane for a couple of years and forget that the core conceit of their Windows operating system is actually windows, windowed apps -- both classic and modern -- are back in full force.

Virtual desktops, at long last, are officially a part of Windows. Third-party utilities have enabled this for decades, but now Microsoft has elegantly implemented the ability to create multiple desktops, each running their own apps, and switch among them at will.

The Command Prompt has been enhanced. That leftover artifact from the day of DOS, into which you sometimes need to type arcane text commands, has finally joined the 21st Century. You can now copy and paste text in the Command Prompt in the same way as any other Windows app, for example, and it's finally resizable.

Windows 10 is easier to use than Windows 8. Microsoft seems to finally respect desktop users and has made a number of important accommodations to mouse and keyboard users -- the awkward Charms Bar, for example, while still available to touch users, is now essentially extinct for desktop users. You can now easily shut down your PC from the Start Menu, more or less the same way you could do so in Windows 7. And you can search from the Start Menu again as well (though now you get Web search results along with search results from on your PC).

Windows 10 looks promising already, and this preview of the platform isn't even geared to consumers -- it's aimed at businesses. But don't let that stop you. If you have a spare PC and want to get a taste of 2015, install Windows 10 now.

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