On January 22, Microsoft held a large press conference for the upcoming release of Windows 10 later this year. With a bevy of new features and even one or two new products to go along with it, Microsoft is set to make a splash in 2015 if they can succeed with the release of Windows 10. Here are several of the biggest takeaways from the Windows 10 press conference and what they mean for the average user.
NEW (AND RETURNING) FEATURES IN WINDOWS 10
There won’t be any earth-shattering changes in Windows 10, but Microsoft has announced several improvements. The long-missed start menu is making its glorious return after being absent in Windows 8. A streamlined control panel and settings menu will be added that will also display notifications from all your Microsoft devices. Also interesting is that you will now be able to stream Xbox One games to your PC as long as you have both of them on the same home network.
Microsoft’s voice-activated personal assistant Cortana will be making an appearance in Windows 10. The finicky and limited nature of voice-controlled software may limit its appeal, but Microsoft’s Joe Belfiore was adamant about the recreational and productivity possibilities Cortana provides, saying that it opens up “a whole new level of multitasking,” in a promotional video.
Following Microsoft’s penchant for naming things after the Halo series, their new internet browser Project Spartan will either replace or be an alternative for the much maligned Internet Explorer. In addition to following Google Chrome’s model of a lightweight and fast browser, Project Spartan will have social/productivity features such as being able to annotate web pages and then send them to other people. Even if it will have to do a lot to prove that it’s not just a poor man’s Chrome, it will be great to have an out-of-the-box alternative to the consistently abysmal Internet Explorer.
MICROSOFT’S TAKE ON VIRTUAL REALITY: THE HOLOLENS
Maybe the most intriguing announcement of the show was the announcement of the Hololens, a “mixed reality” holographic display for Windows 10. It’s more or less an oversized wrap-around visor with see-through frames that projects three-dimensional images onto the visor so you can see and interact with holograms in the world around you. Essentially, those scenes in the Iron Man films where Tony Stark is flipping through and interacting with a dozen different holograms spinning around him might not be too far off from becoming reality.
Microsoft’s promotional video indicated that it could be used for interacting with Windows 10 and certain applications, such as in creating 3D models, having Skype video conversations, and even turning your living room into a video-game level. Those are some very ambitious claims to make, and it’s doubtful it will be able to do all of those things perfectly at first, but it’s exciting regardless.
Microsoft has yet to commit to a release date, saying that it will come out around the same “time frame” as Windows 10. It’s probably safe to say that it will be ugly, expensive, possibly uncomfortable, and very much imperfect on its first version; nonetheless, Microsoft may be laying the groundwork for something much bigger. Imagine the possibilities if they could perfect and shrink that technology into something you could easily wear everywhere, ala Google Glass, but better.
WINDOWS PHONES HAVEN’T BEEN ENTIRELY FORGOTTEN
Years after it was first introduced, the Windows Phone is still the awkward kid at the party who wants to hang with the cool kids like Apple and Google but always fails. Microsoft has struggled to compete with the device lineup of Android and the infinitely better app support both Android and iPhones receive. In addition to promising a consistent interface and better synergy across mobile and desktop devices, Microsoft may have a partial solution to draw customers to Windows phones.
They raised the possibility of developers being able to code universal applications that will seamlessly work on the entire Windows ecosystem—home computers, tablets, the Xbox One, and Windows Phones—all without requiring much extra work to make them work on each one. Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella stated at the conference that one of the advantages of Windows 10 was that “developers can write universal applications, and get to more people across the entire Windows family, from the phone to the desktop. That’s the opportunity that we are creating.” Even if it’s unrealistic to think it’ll be the magic bullet to make Windows Phones relevant, it’s a noble goal that would be fantastic for both developers and users if it was realized.