New generations of Windows are hotly reported and of interest to a massive base of installed users so when Microsoft last year announced that the next Windows would be Windows 10 and would be more like windows 7 than 8 it was met with general relief.
This announcement and the subsequent alpha that has been available have been aimed very much at the enterprise and large scale users but today Microsoft held a second event aimed at consumers.
So what did we learn? The Windows insider program started last year has had over 1.7 million adopters and over 3 million installs that has shaped the way Windows 10 has been evolving. The program will keep running right until 10 launches and at that point all Windows 7 and 8.1, Windows Phone 8.1 customers will get a free upgrade to Window 10.
Windows will have integration over all devices – phone, tablet, laptop, desktop and IOT with the same store. They announced a service called continuum designed to let you work more efficiently over multiple systems. “It should be easy to put one device down… pick another up and continue where you left off”. This integration over multiple form factors also means that Microsoft is pushing many way to interact – specifically mentioning keyboard, mouse, touch, gestures, voice and eye control – great for accessibility.
The Start Menu has been a contentious part of Windows 8 and 10’s menu looks more like Windows 7 version with a large and small version. The default will be the small menu on systems with a keyboard. The new menu will also have notifications and quick settings built into it. It also has Microsoft’s voice control assistant Cortana built directly into it and the desktop. Cortana is both voice control in the classic sense (ask a question and get a reply) and pre-notifications – if it has information it thinks will be relevant to you it will pop it up.
With systems that are smaller than 8 inches (phones and smaller tablets) Windows 10 will appear somewhat different and much more similar to current Windows Phone operating systems. The easiest way to think about it is that the UI will not change much from Windows phone 8 but the framework in the background will be continuous from phones to desktops. Developers can write an app and it will work with minor UI changes (that could be automatic) all the way up the sizes available.
The new touch friendly Microsoft Office also made an appearance and looked rather as you would expect – a miniature simplified version of the full desktop version.
Many other Windows apps were shown updated. Perhaps the stand out was the music app which will now play from your OneDrive online storage – put MP3’s in your storage and stream them to your PC or phone.
Window 10 also gets a new browser – Project Spartan. Spartan has a new underlying engine and is designed to be smoother and simpler. It has a note taking and markup facility built into it – draw or comment on the page and share it with other users. A reading mode which is saved offline and synced between devices is added. Finally Spartan is tied into Cortana and gives active information. The example given is if your wife needs gluten free food and you are booking a restaurant meal Cortana will interrupt and tell you if they do not have gluten-free food.
From a gaming perspective Windows 10 will have an XBox app built in to every system (including phones). This app will have social connections including voice and text chat and screenshots and videos from Windows to Xbox and vice versa. DirectX12 is getting a number of improvements giving gaming rigs the chance to push even more pixels and conversely small machines like mobile phones and tablets to be more efficient in their power usage. Microsoft also demonstrated playing multiplayer Fable cross platform between the Xbox One and a Windows 10 machine.
Microsoft also announced a new device called the Microsoft Surface Hub. This is a huge 84 inch screen with dual camera and pen input. It looks like a combination of video conferencing, whiteboards and a presentation device.
It had been widely thought that VR would be a part of the presentation but instead a new system called Windows Holographic was launched. They showed a lot of very impressive mockups and threw out a lot of ideas but what it comes down to is that every version of Windows 10 will have the software and APIs to work with and control holograms.
To back this up Microsoft called out to hardware manufacturers and showed off the Microsoft HoloLens. This is not a Heads Up Display but an entire Windows 10 PC in a headset with everything a PC has but wearable on your head. It is a see through display that you wear that lets you see holograms in the world all around you. You interact with it via voice, gaze and hand gestures and it uses them cooperatively – look at something and say click and it will. This is promised to be launched in the same time frame as Windows 10.
They demonstrated the HoloLens on stage with the software HoloStudio building a 3d robot drone. The drone was then printed directly out of a 3D printer. It was also demonstrated with holographic Skype, Minecraft and NASA applications.
The practical side of me wonders at the price and battery life but if Microsoft can get this right and working this is a game changer from almost every perspective. This looks like science fiction.
The event was filled with information that we will all spend a lot of time digesting but Microsoft and Windows 10 made a positive impression and I am personally excited for 2015 and Microsoft.