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Microsoft continues tinkering with Windows 10 preview

The company is working on its next preview releases of Windows 10 for desktops, mobile devices and servers. Here's the latest from tipsters about what to expect when.

Windows 10 will include an updated Start layout. Nick Statt/CNET

Microsoft says it won't deliver any more substantial updates to the Windows 10 Technical Preview until the new year, but that doesn't mean nothing's happening at the moment.

On Tuesday, Microsoft made available a few fixes and updates to the November Windows 10 Technical Preview build (9879), including one meant to fix Explorer-specific crashes. And it sounds like more fixes will be coming for Build 9879 before this year is out.

An interim partner build of Windows 10 -- one not meant for "public" preview consumption (Build 9888) also leaked this week. That build is the first of the Windows 10 ones where Microsoft has changed the kernel version number from 6.4 to 10.0.

Beyond that, what's next?

As some of us Microsoft watchers have been hearing for months, Microsoft is planning to take the wraps off the so-called "consumer preview" of Windows 10 in January 2015.

The latest word from my sources with good track records on internal Windows information is that this is still the plan. But the next update to the Technical Preview will be known as the January Technical Preview (JTP), rather than the consumer preview, sources say. It will be followed by a February Tech Preview, a March Tech Preview, etc., my sources claim.

The coming JTP is expected to include support for Continuum, a feature that will allow users with two-in-one devices with two-in-one devices to more easily transition modes when connecting and disconnecting keyboards. It also may be the first build where Microsoft turns on Cortana integration in Windows 10.

What about the "other" Windows 10 client SKU? The mobile one that is supposedly going to work on both Windows phones and smaller Windows tablets?

My sources say that we will see and hear information about this in January -- most likely around January 20 to 21 -- when Microsoft is expected to show off its Windows 10 progress to invited press and analysts during an event in Redmond, Wash.

It's less clear when the Windows 10 mobile SKU preview bits will be available to external testers. I'm hearing that Microsoft is still testing the mobile SKU on a very limited basis within the Operating Systems Group at this point. I would think the mobile SKU might need to be dogfooded internally at Microsoft more widely before Microsoft releases it to external testers. But once Microsoft does deliver the Windows 10 mobile bits to testers, ongoing and regular updates will be coming at least monthly, according to sources.

By the way, I also am hearing that this mobile SKU will work not just on ARM-based phones and tablets, but also on smaller and less powerful Intel-based ones, too. Microsoft officials hinted this might be the case during Tech Ed Europe, but it indeed does sound like the plan, my sources say.

January 2015 is also when Microsoft is expected to drop the second test build of Windows Server Next (the one based on the same core as Windows 10 client). Microsoft made an initial test build of that server code available on October 1 but hasn't released to external testers a server update since then, officials have confirmed. Built-in Docker containerization support is coming to Windows Server next, but Microsoft officials haven't said when testers will see this in test builds.

As has been reported widely, there's a new leaked build of Windows 10 available on file-sharing sites, but Microsoft isn't encouraging testers to download/install it. That build, 9888, wasn't designated by Microsoft as being stable enough for its Windows Insider testers. It supposedly doesn't include much new, feature-wise (mostly some fairly minor adjustments to context menus and animations), plus the change to the Windows 10.0 kernel naming convention.

A quick recap for those trying to keep track of Windows 10 schedules: Microsoft is allowing Windows 10 testers to choose whether to receive Technical Preview updates more quickly or more slowly. Currently, only 10 percent of testers are opting to be on the fast track. (The slow track is the default.) I'm not sure if Microsoft will offer similar choices to testers of the coming Windows 10 mobile SKU, but I'd imagine so.