Microsoft is hoping that the 1.5 billion Windows users around the world will welcome the upcoming release of Windows 10 and forgive the company’s previously questionable choices about changing the Windows Start menu in Windows 8.
Microsoft revealed more detail than ever before in a Windows 10 briefing today and the news is promising. Last year, Microsoft announced that Windows 10 will not only see the return of a more familiar Start menu on the Windows desktop, but that the new OS will have added security for enterprise customers as well as one platform and one app store for all devices from smartphones, tablets, phablets, laptops, desktops, and even the Xbox One.
Microsoft has been using the Windows Insider program to improve the development process for Windows 10 and the feedback from individual Windows Insiders has already resulted in real changes to the upcoming Windows 10 user interface. For example, as requested by Windows Insiders, the Settings and Control Panel menus will now be placed under one Settings menu on Windows 10 so users have access to all device controls in a single place.
The next preview of Windows 10 will be available later this week to users who are part of the Windows Insider program, but one message is clear: Microsoft doesn’t want to just make a new operating system, the company wants to completely change the way we use digital content in our lives.
Microsoft’s Windows 10 development team is focused on “more personal computing,” which means increasing the mobility of the user experience, establishing and maintaining more trust with users, and making interaction more natural and intuitive. What that means in the real world is that Windows 10 promises to make it easier for multiple devices (and multiple types of devices) to work together and make that interaction seamless regardless of the devices being used. Microsoft promises you won’t have to worry about how to transfer a presentation from your laptop to a projector in a meeting room or how to print a hard copy of those slides to a new office printer. You won’t struggle to figure out how to send the notes from your tablet to everyone on a team because those types of tasks will be done with consistent, intuitive gestures and the devices work from a single platform that doesn’t require complicated apps or additional software drivers to make devices work together.
Similarly, Windows 10 is prepared to handle the constantly changing types of devices we use. If you’re working in the traditional Windows desktop mode on a convertible 2-in-1 laptop and then remove the screen to use the device as a tablet, Windows 10 will automatically ask you if you want to switch to the Tablet view mode with larger icons that are more touchscreen friendly. Of course, users still have the option to continue using the traditional desktop interface on a tablet.
Cortana is coming from Windows phones to all Windows PCs running Windows 10. Simply say “Hey, Cortana” and the Cortana voice interface will activate. Microsoft is quick to point out that Cortana is more than just a voice interface like Apple’s Siri. The cloud-based Cortana is intended to be a “personal digital assistant” that dynamically customizes her interactions based on what she learns about you. And, because Cortana is based in the cloud, your personalized Cortana will be accessible from any device running Windows.
For those individuals and businesses concerned about a cloud-based artificial entity learning too much about them, you will have the option to limit or even change the information that Cortana learns about you so that personal or proprietary corporate data isn’t vulnerable in the cloud.
The new Internet Explorer browser, called Project Spartan, changes the way you interact with online content by making it easier to clip or excerpt content from a site, write notes directly on a webpage and share those notes with others, and let you to quickly save websites as a PDF that can be viewed offline. And, in much the same way that the fictional Cortana AI was built into the Spartan combat suit in Microsoft’s Halo games, the Cortana personal digital assistant is built into the Spartan browser. If you start searching for something related to an event on your calendar, such as flight information for a trip you have planned, Cortana will recognize that may want to use the flight info for your trip and will offer to import that flight information (along with any future flight updates from the airline) to your Outlook calendar.
Several universal applications that run on phones, tablets, as well as traditional notebook and desktop PCs are essential to Microsoft’s plan for making all your devices work together seamlessly.
Microsoft Word, Outlook, and PowerPoint will be included for free on Windows phones and small tablets so that our increasingly mobile workforce can get serious work done even from small personal devices.
The full word-processing engine from Microsoft Word will be built into Outlook so that emails can be formatted and edited using the same interface with the same functionality of a Word document.
The Outlook Calendar interface will be unified on both PCs and smaller devices so that you can use the same gestures to navigate your calendar. Just pinch the screen on the weekly calendar to pull back to a month view or pull two fingers apart across the screen to zoom in on a single day’s appointments.
The Photos app likewise benefits from the universal platform by aggregating your images in the cloud and either letting you manually organize all the images from your various devices or the app automatically organizes your images based on date, facial recognition of who is in the images, and location.
Gaming on Windows 10
Windows 10 on the PC connects to the Xbox One console like never before thanks to the Xbox app. The Xbox Live content from your games library, achievements, friends list, messages, and activities will be accessible on any Windows PC. Now PC gamers can use the Game DVR function to record game play clips from PC games running on a Steam account and save those videos to the cloud or share those video clips on Xbox Live or any other social network.
Windows 10 also promises to allow gamers on both PCs and Xbox One console to play multiplayer games together instead of needing to be on the same device in order to team up. If you already have an Xbox One console and don’t want to spend the extra money on a dedicated gaming PC then you’ll be happy to know that Windows 10 will allow you to wirelessly stream games from the Xbox One to any Windows 10 PC in your home with no significant drop in frame rate.
Those casual gamers without an Xbox One console but who are looking for a better experience when playing PC games should be pleased by DirectX 12 in Windows 10. DirectX 12 should boost performance by up to 50% over DirectX 11 in games running on devices without discrete graphics cards.
Another major part of Microsoft’s strategy for Windows 10 is seamlessly connecting digital content with the physical world, and one way to do that is to make holograms something that we live with every day. Virtual reality is nothing new with devices like Google Glass and Facebook’s Oculus projecting digital content on small screens in front of our eyes. However, Microsoft is talking about something a little different with its plan for merging virtual reality and the physical world.
The Microsoft HoloLens headset is the first untethered headset that uses wrap-around see-through projection lenses and a series of built-in sensors and processors (including a dedicated Holographic Processing Unit or HPU) to project a three-dimensional holographic interface that to be part of the real environment you see around you in real time.
It’s not the holodeck from Star Trek, but this holographic interface will allow engineers to build digital models in 3D which appear in the physical world around them. Designers can essentially use holograms to “3D print” their creations in real time and see those creations in real space.
Speaking of space, Microsoft is working with NASA to allow the team controlling the Mars rover to create a holographic model of the Martian landscape using the Microsoft HoloLens headset. NASA engineers will be able to control the Mars rover and navigate the surface while seeing obstacles or potential hazards as if the engineer was actually walking on Mars.
Of course, this same holographic interface can be used to watch Netflix, browse websites and Facebook, or make Skype calls that look as if your distant family member is actually in the room with you.
In short, Microsoft plans to give us back some of the old Windows we loved while also making significant changes to the way we interact with devices and our digital content. We’ll have an in-depth preview of Windows 10 following Microsoft’s release to Windows Insiders, so be sure to check our home page.