Microsoft | Windows 10
Microsoft’s Windows 10 event on Wednesday, one of the few major presentations from the company since CEO Satya Nadella took over from Steve Ballmer last year, delivered on the promise of showing us the future of the Windows operating system.
But far from a mere bullet point list of new features, the event actually brought several exciting new developments, as well as a new product reveal that some are saying may give Microsoft the cool factor it’s been searching for in the face of mounting competition from the likes of Google and Apple.
By far the biggest story to emerge on Wednesday was Microsoft’s HoloLens and Windows Holographic, an augmented reality headset and software system presented by Alex Kipman.
The system allows users to manipulate and create virtual objects (using HoloStudio) with their hands as the headset, which is self-contained, requiring no additional hardware, tracks the wearer’s hand movements resulting in real-time results in virtual space.
Along with showing off an impressive demo of content creation, Kipman also promises that the system will be useful for gaming and remote work collaboration. No release date or price was announced, but it’s clear, just hours after the event, that the HoloLens stole the show from Windows 10.
Windows 10 is free! (For some, for a limited time)
Windows 10 will be available free for one year to users of Windows 7 and Windows 8.1.
Distribution is not a feature, but it’s one of the most important factors in making the next version of Windows succeed and, based on the reaction, Microsoft got this one right.
That alone should ensure that large swathes of the Windows user base upgrades during that time.
A smarter Cortana
Some of what we saw involved improving aspects of the Windows system, namely Cortana. Microsoft’s vice president of the operating systems group, Joe Belfiore, spent a great deal of time on stage showing off how intelligent the new version of Cortana will be.
That included demonstrating Cortana’s ability to discern a user’s particular tastes (for a regional sports team, for example) and offer suggestion and custom responses in kind. The intelligent assistant can also respond to your verbal commands and pull your data from the cloud in OneDrive.
But the new Cortana isn’t just more intelligent. According to Belfiore, it has more personality. We were given a sample of that personality when Belfiore prompted Cortana to perform an impression of the Star Wars character Yoda, a moment that felt more forced (and corny) than groundbreaking.
Nevertheless, this is what Microsoft should be doing with Cortana (pushing it to become warmer and more human), if the company has any hopes of making the tool a mainstream hit. Does Cortana need to work on its jokes? Sure. But Belfiore’s demo was an encouraging look at Cortana’s next phase.
Several years ago it seemed as though there was a bit of a web browser glut, but nowadays its seems like it’s getting harder to choose the right browser, particularly as more of us increasingly rely on mobile rather than desktop devices. Some reports still have Microsoft’s Internet Explorer in the lead in terms of marketshare, but that doesn’t mean that IE is “truly” the most popular.
It appears as though Microsoft has been listening, because on Wednesday it decided to unveil a brand new browser called Project Spartan.
Made for Windows 10, the new browser features a new rendering engine and the ability to annotate and share web pages with friends. The new browser is also optimized to work with Cortana, a feature likely to be particularly useful during mobile browsing situations.
Overall, the browser has many of the features we want (including built-in PDF support and an offline reading mode), but what also stood out is how the browser lived up to its name — it’s design is dead simple and clean. Getting out of the way and disappearing into the background isn’t a usual trait for Microsoft software, so this does indeed look like new territory.
Microsoft Surface Hub
One of the running themes of the event was remote collaboration and seamless content handoffs, a concept that appears to drive the company’s new Microsoft Surface Hub. The 84-inch device is a 4K-resolution display that can be mounted on a wall and used to drive interactive presentations.
Featuring built-in sensors, cameras, microphones and NFC, this “whiteboard on steroids” also allows you to write on it using a digital stylus.
Like much of the news today, no release date or price was announced, but it’s clear that this was more about showing us what Microsoft is working on bringing to market soon rather than prompting anyone to immediately pull out their credit cards. But still, can’t you kind of feel that plastic tingling in your pocket?