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Operating Systems

Windows 10 tries transparency for Start menu flair

The latest prerelease version reveals more improvements and visual style over the previous one as Microsoft preps Windows 10 for a summer release.

The Windows 10 Start screen in the latest build is now transparent. screenshot by Lance Whitney/CNET

Microsoft has rolled out a new build of its Windows 10 Developer Edition with new features, fixes and enhancements.

Launched on Wednesday, Windows 10 Build 10041 adds some tweaks to the Start menu/Start screen, as detailed in a blog post by Gabe Aul, a Microsoft program manager. The full Start screen is now transparent so that the menu icons and tiles float on top of your desktop background. The effect adds a neat visual flair to the traditional Start screen.

Beyond that, the All Apps button is now easier to use with a touch of your finger. Pinning apps from the All Apps list or from the most-used apps list to the Start menu is also now much smoother. Aul said that item was a top request from Windows Insiders, users who opt to test each new Windows 10 build -- think of builds as rough drafts en route to a polished, finished product -- and provide feedback to Microsoft.

Stung by criticism over Windows 8, which turned off many PC users, Microsoft has made a concerted effort to get lots of people looking at preview versions of Windows 10, which is intended to run across a wide range of devices, from desktops to laptops to smartphones and even to devices like ATMs and ultrasound machines. The aim of the builds and the Windows Insider program is to elicit comments, questions and complaints from Windows users to help Microsoft fashion a Windows 10 that will hopefully avoid the mistakes of its predecessor.

And time is getting short to get everything in order. Microsoft announced Tuesday that the new OS will launch this summer across 190 countries.

Via the latest build, Microsoft has also improved the Windows 10 Virtual Desktop feature, which lets you open and switch among multiple desktops, each displaying a different set of apps and windows. You can now drag a window from one virtual desktop to another, whereas in the past you had to right-click the window and run a command from a pop-up menu. And you can drag a window to the New Desktop icon to move it to a new desktop in one fell swoop.

Meanwhile, the voice-driven virtual assistant Cortana, which is expanding from Windows Phone handsets to all Windows 10 devices, has moved into more countries. Beyond the US, Cortana is now available in Windows 10 for users in the UK, China, France, Italy, Germany and Spain. Using Cortana, you can ask questions, search for files and apps, and find information via the Web. Since Cortana is new to the Windows desktop, Microsoft is still aiming to add new features and fix certain bugs, Aul said.

You can also now access your network settings more quickly. Clicking the Network icon in the Windows System Tray displays a fly-out menu with a list of all nearby Wi-Fi networks and wireless settings. The Windows Photo tile has also been enhanced so it will now display photos from your OneDrive online storage as well as from your PC. The Photo app now supports RAW files directly from your camera.

One feature not in the latest build is Microsoft's new Spartan Web browser. Designed to move users away from Internet Explorer, Spartan is slated to pop up in the next Windows 10 build, according to a tweet from the Internet Explorer Developer Relations team.

Microsoft has also fixed some issues in the new build, including ones that prevented Start from launching and another that kept the Search box from working if the task bar was on the top or side of your screen. Of course, since Windows 10 is a work in progress, Aul warned of some new bugs, such as one in which the username and password boxes do not appear and another in which certain apps may not install due to "licensing" issues.

There are two tracks, or rings, for Windows 10 testers. The Fast ring rolls out builds at a faster pace but with potentially more bugs. The Slow ring pushes builds at a slower pace but typically with greater stability. Build 10041 is available only to those who choose the Fast Ring.

You can choose either ring by moving to the Settings screen and selecting the icon for Update & Recover. From there, click the link for Advanced Options, and you'll see a option for "Choose how preview builds are installed" that lets you switch between Fast and Slow.

Overall, the latest Windows 10 build shows more polish over the previous build, so Microsoft seems to be moving in the right direction. But the the clock is ticking quickly toward launch time.