Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella wrapped up Wednesday's hours-long presentation of his company's latest software and hardware plans with the proclamation that he wants to get consumers to go from "choosing Windows to loving Windows – that is our bold goal." The decision to skip Windows 9 and jump right to 10 is largely about putting the disaster of Windows 8 behind the company, so let's see if there was anything to love:
If you have Windows 7, 8 or 8.1 you will be able to upgrade to the latest version of Windows for absolutely nothing (well, almost, if you’re on Windows 7 the upgrade is only free for a year). Things have been trending this way since Apple started making its desktop operating system updates very cheap and then free since it launched Mavericks in October, 2013 (mobile OS updates have always been free). We don’t actually know when Windows 10 will be available for consumer download, “some time this year” is all we heard.
Wait, no, what? Actually, the HoloLens is just a headset with an onboard computer and motion sensors that lets Microsoft take apps and images out of the PC and project a virtual version into the real world space of your living room, where you can interact with them. Unfortunately, people who are not wearing this holo-helmet will not see what you’re seeing: these “holograms” will not float in your actual physical space.
This kind of tech is often called augmented reality, and it’s one of the exciting possibilities of things like Google Glass or the Oculus Rift. The development platform for building these augmented realities will be available on all versions of Windows 10. The HoloLens system doesn’t tether to a phone or a PC to work, and should be available around the time Windows 10 comes out. “That was science fiction, now we’re bringing it into science fact,” is how a Microsoft promo video put it. They even have hologram building software called HoloStudio, which Microsoft said was like introducing MS Paint to show people how to use the mouse. Legitimately the weirdest and most exciting thing they showed.
Cortana now on desktops... take that Siri!
Windows 10’s main feature is the idea of universal apps. Features of Windows Phone are available on desktop, desktop stuff is available on phones, all in one app. That includes core OS features like Cortana, the voice-controlled assistant that was limited to Windows Phone, but will now coming to PCs and tablets. This allows users at their desks to yell at their computers to set up an appointment or a meeting time that will also reflect on their phone’s calendar. Also, she’s going to start remembering more of the stuff you ask her to do, in a predictive-assisting type way, no matter where you access her/it.
Xbox One becomes a Windows machine
Xbox is no longer a bespoke games console that only plays stuff on discs. Players have had downloadable games and over-the-Internet multi-player functionality for years. The Windows 10 update will make Xbox One essentially a living room PC, so that any Windows 10 app for desktop, tablet or phone can be accessed on your big screen TV.
Going the other way, Windows 10 now lets gamers stream Xbox One games to tablets or PCs. And we don’t mean watch, we mean play... so you could play Halo or an Xbox Arcade game at your desk, or on your mobile device. (It does seem as though it is limited to local streaming, so you will have to be in the house with it.)
Internet Explorer is widely mocked by the tech community as a flawed, outdated and insecure browser. But Windows 10 offers a big new update called Project Spartan that among other things will feature web page decluttering or easy reading viewing options, as well as a cross-platform bookmarking/save for later functions. Spartan will also let you annotate any web page like it was a group Word doc, and those notes are also collected in the cross-platform One Note app for future reference (a cool idea for researchers, even if it’s not clear to me why regular folks would ever do that).