Windows 10: What's in the January preview release?

In the next few days, Microsoft will deliver the latest preview release of Windows 10. But don't expect to see everything that the company showed off in this week's live demo. Here's what you'll see and what's still missing.

In a rapid-fire live demo in Redmond yesterday, Microsoft's Joe Belfiore showed off the latest features of Windows 10 to a room full of press and analysts and an online audience.

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The January consumer preview release will be delivered as an automatic update to members of the Windows 10 Insiders program "in the next week," Microsoft executives said, with a preview of Windows 10 for phones coming in February.

But don't expect the impending preview to include all the Windows 10 features that were highlighted in Belfiore's live demo. During his presentation, Belfiore repeatedly cautioned that these new features will roll out "over the next three, four, five months."

So what will be in the next preview and what's still missing? I spent some hands-on time with this build on some demo machines after the event with an eye to looking at what's in and what's still missing.

Cortana is fully integrated into current builds, and it's not a gimmick.

You can use the "Hey Cortana" trigger to find files, set reminders, or look something up on the Web.

Take away the cheerful voice and Cortana still works fine using a conventional search box with input from a keyboard. Type a question or a few keywords and the results are a smart list that aggregates results from local and network files, the Web, and cloud services.

Likewise, the Continuum changes that give Windows 10 a dedicated "tablet mode" are also available in this build. When you switch to tablet mode the Start menu changes to a Start screen and windowed apps switch to a full-screen arrangement with the ability to switch between apps by swiping in from the left edge.

What's missing?

In particular, the new Project Spartan browser won't be included, and it might not make its debut next month, either. That means there'll be no touch-friendly way to browse the Web in this preview, nor is there a way to easily share content from Web pages or save links to the built-in Reading List.

The new, unified sync engine for OneDrive and OneDrive for Business is also missing in this build, with no indication of when it will arrive.

Additionally, the user experience of the new universal apps included as part of Windows 10 is still in flux, with some design elements still subject to change. The navigation controls for the revamped Outlook Mail client are likely to change, I was told. And if you try to create an album in the new Photos app, you'll be greeted with a "Coming soon" page.

That "three, four, five months" timeline takes Windows 10 into summer before it's ready to be released to OEM partners and upgrades, with a commercial release likely in the fall. What happens then?

If you own a PC running a properly licensed copy of Windows 7 or Windows 8.1, you qualify for a free upgrade to Windows 10 after it's officially released.

That free-upgrade offer is good for one full year after the release of Windows 10 -- a detail that confused some observers. What happens after that year ends?

One thing's for certain: you won't have to pay Microsoft an additional license fee. Microsoft's business model isn't changing. The upgrade is a perpetual license that's good for the supported life of the PC, and there's no plan at this time to offer Windows as a subscription.

It's possible, but unlikely, that Microsoft will charge for upgrades after the first year. That decision hasn't been made yet, and likely won't be any time soon.

For enterprise customers with Volume License agreements that include Software Assurance, the free upgrade is a moot point, as those agreements already include the right to install any version of Windows, including upgrades and downgrades.

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