Microsoft has unveiled an early version of Windows 10, the company's latest attempt to bridge the gap between desktop and mobile operating systems with a new platform for phones, tablets and PCs that will be available for free for its first year for those upgrading from Windows 8.1 and for those still using Windows 7 a year later.
"Windows 10 will run on the broadest types of devices ever," Microsoft's operating systems head Terry Myerson told a room full of reporters at the company's Redmond, Washington campus. Myerson later concluded the presentation by flat-out stating his goal of upgrading every Windows device to Windows 10.
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That's quite a lofty goal when you consider that less than 10 percent of desktops in the world run Windows 8.1, more than half run Windows 7, and 20 percent still get by on Windows XP.
In a two hour-plus presentation, a parade of Microsoft leaders gave a tour of the new Windows it hopes will soon power home, business and mobile systems, along with game consoles and a bulky new set of augmented reality goggles called HoloLens. It was a rather epic showcasing of a clear new direction for what CEO Satya Nadella called a "platform and productivity company in a mobile-first, cloud-first world."
Were you to boot up the Windows 10 technical preview today, you'd wind up in the familiar desktop with a revamped start menu that's an oversized hybrid of the old Windows Start button interface next to some of those metro tiles from Windows 8. The tile look also makes up the new homescreen for Windows 10 on a mobile device.
The big talking point around the new Windows 10 interface was all about Cortana - Microsoft's answer to Siri and Google Now is integrated into tablet and PC systems for the first time in Windows 10, and even has a dedicated home on the desktop taskbar. Cortana can help compose emails from speech on anything running Windows 10 and also helps fill in data gaps in the style of Google Now, making proactive suggestions, fielding voice queries and autofilling forms along the way.
Microsoft Windows guru Joel Belfiore also introduced the concept of "universal apps" that run across Windows systems, including the Xbox. Inbox for email and a calendar app from the Outlook team, as well as the familiar Office suite and Skype have all been optimized for touch and cross-device use in Windows 10. Local photo and music collections can also be accessed across devices through new universal Windows 10 apps.
"In about a month or two months, we're going to add support to our system for you to put your music collection to OneDrive," Belfiore said.
The whole universal app collection also integrates with Cortana, so you should be able to use your voice to attach a photo from your OneDrive collection to a message and send it to any contact in your address book, phone or Skype contacts, which are all merged in Windows 10, kind of like what Google did merging Hangouts with contacts in Android.
Belfiore also shared the details of Project Spartan, Microsoft's next-generation web browser optimized for use on touch devices and desktops. Spartan allows for real-time annotation of web pages through touch or other input, and there's also a reading list, reading mode and sharing features. Cortana is also built-in here again as well. In short, there's a lot of catching up to other modern browsers in Spartan.
There was also some Windows 10 news for Xbox fans, with an Xbox app that allows for streaming and cross-play of Xbox games to Windows 10 PCs and the Surface Pro 3 with Windows 10, but not phones just yet. It's also possible to capture, edit and share games across Windows 10 systems with a Game DVR.
The marathon press event also saw the introduction of a few new and interesting pieces of hardware, including the aforementioned Google Glass-meets-Oculus HoloLens. Microsoft is baking "holographic capability" into the consumer version of Windows 10 (though it's more like augmented reality that looks like holograms), demonstrating the ability to watch Netflix, hold Skype calls and even create advanced holographic models with its HoloStudio software.
The other new piece of hardware is the enterprise-focused Surface Hub, an all-in-one meeting and collaboration solution consisting of an 84-inch 4K display with built-in proximity sensors, cameras, speakers, microphones, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, NFC and just about anything else that might conceivably aid in communications and productivity tasks. Hosting meetings with the ability to whiteboard, share data and connect devices across geography were just the beginning of the potential applications.
Myerson noted that more Windows 10 information would likely continue to roll out at Mobile World Congress and the Game Developers Conference in March, followed by a pivotal Microsoft BUILD conference in April.
Look for Windows 10 to officially launch later in 2015 with new hardware from both Microsoft and partner companies, including new flagship Windows phones. It will be available for free for its first year for those upgrading from Windows 8.1 and free after a year for those on Windows 7.
We'll have more on the expansive Windows 10 world here on Gizmag in the near future as it unfolds. Meanwhile, check out the below run-down video of the new Windows 10 features.