The future of Windows
Microsoft had a slew of exciting announcements up its sleeve at the Windows 10 event in Redmond, Wa., on Wednesday—and not all of them were actually directly related to Windows 10.
From a new browser to powerful PC gaming improvements to Windows 10 for phones and even new hardware, these are all the major new features and products coming down the pipeline. And you won’t have to wait long to try them for yourself: The new Windows 10 Preview build will hit PCs next week and phones just after the Super Bowl.
Without further ado, let’s dig in. These are the 10 biggest announcements from Microsoft’s big event.
An offer you can't refuse
Actually, before we dig into Windows 10’s new features, let’s talk about something perhaps even more important: Its price. Windows 10 will be a completely free upgrade for current Windows 7 and Windows 8 users who upgrade within a year of the new operating system's debut (which will happen around early fall).
You can’t beat that price. And once you’ve claimed the upgrade, you’ll continue to receive updates for the supported life of your device.
Cortana comes to PCs
Cortana, Microsoft’s smart, sassy virtual assistant in Windows Phone 8.1, is making the leap to PCs, and she actually looks pretty darn handy. She’ll get her own place next to the Start button in the desktop taskbar, waiting to respond to search queries delivered in natural language via voice or text.
If you ask Cortana “Will I need a coat tomorrow?” her Bing-powered brains will let you know after searching the Web for a weather forecast. She’ll also be able to search your local storage, OneDrive, or business network to answer queries like, “Show me pictures from December,” and “Find PowerPoint slides about [event].” Now that sounds useful.
Cortana will also be featured in Windows 10’s Spartan—a new browser built around a new rendering engine. Spartan, as the name implies, shakes off Internet Explorer’s legacy cruft, delivering an uncluttered Web experience. Support for an enhanced Reading Mode (already found in Windows 8’s Metro IE app) clears junk and ads to present a more readable Web page. Spartan will also include a Pocket-esque Reading List that lets you save articles for later, complete with offline support.
Cortana will chime in on Spartan—bringing up the menu and directions when you’re looking at a restaurant's website, for instance. The browser will also let you annotate or mark up Web pages, then send the results to others (as shown at left).
Now this was unexpected: Microsoft’s taking on augmented reality with its new Windows Holographic initiative, which overlays smart, timely info atop the physical world—kind of like a more robust version of Google Glass.
Windows Holographic is comprised of three major parts: HoloLens, a wires-free headset that packs its own CPU, GPU, and the newly coined HPU (Holographic processing unit); Windows Holographic, which will enable 3D imaging in Windows 10; and HoloStudio, an application that will let you create your own holograms. You have to check this out.
Another out-of-the-blue, radical hardware announcement, the Surface Hub is an 84-inch, 4K, touch-enabled display designed to drive office collaboration. Basically the biggest freaking Windows tablet you’ve ever seen, the Surface Hub is packed with connective technologies—Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, motion detectors, a camera, microphone, you name it—along with one of the most seamless ways to join a web meeting that we’ve ever seen.
If you’re curious, Jon Phillips has more details about the wall-dominating Surface Hub.
Windows 10 comes to phones and tablets
Windows 10 was designed from the ground up to give devices of all sizes a singular, unified experience.
Microsoft’s Joe Belfiore showed off Windows 10 for phones and tablets by highlighting key features that draw the devices closer to PCs. He revealed how the universal, touch-friendly Office apps were coming along by playing with the Word and PowerPoint apps on a Windows Phone. He also mentioned that notifications cleared from any of your Windows 10 devices will be cleared from all your Windows 10 devices. Hallelujah!
Windows 10 is bringing some additional tweaks to the Windows Phone formula, which you can read all about here.
Office apps get universal
Some key details about the touch-friendly Office software were revealed during the Windows 10 event. The Windows RunTime functionality built into “Metro” apps will make the Windows 10 Office suite responsive to the device type you’re using, and it will enable modern gesture controls in stalwarts like PowerPoint and Outlook. Tapping into Windows 10’s wider capabilities, Cortana will be able to help find specific appointments in the Calendar app or Outlook messages stored on an Exchange server.
Modern Office apps are taking forever to appear, but at least they’re looking polished. Windows 10 will include Office for free on phones and small tablets, much as Windows 8 does now.
PC gaming improvements
After years of neglect, Microsoft finally gave PC gamers a reason to smile at Wednesday’s event. Windows 10 will include a native screenshotting and videocapture tool, capable of capturing the last 30 seconds of gameplay from any game. Pressing Windows key + G brings up the new tool. (Clip editing shown at left.)
More importantly, Xbox chief Phil Spencer outlined more details about the DirectX 12 gaming API coming with Windows 10. We already know it offers AMD Mantle-like performance enhancements, but Spencer says DX12 can cut power usage in half compared to DX11. Hot damn! Spencer showed a forthcoming Futuremark benchmark choking in DX11, while continuing to chug along just fine with Windows 10’s DX12.
Some of Windows 10’s most potent gaming capabilities stem from deep Xbox One integration. Windows 10 will include a new Xbox app that will let you chat with your Xbox Live friends, peruse your achievements, and manage your screenshots and videos (including ones from PC games).
But that’s not the exciting part. What’s exciting is that Microsoft will let you stream your Xbox One games to any Windows 10 device on your local network, kind of like Steam in-home streaming for your console. What’s more, certain cross-platform games will allow PC and Xbox One gamers to play together, starting with Fable Legends.
Continuum UI switching
With the Windows 10 Preview rolling out more broadly to device types beyond traditional PCs, Microsoft is implementing the ‘Continuum’ interface it teased at the initial Windows 10 reveal. Continuum dynamically shifts the interface from Modern to desktop depending on whether you’re using a PC or a touch-enabled device. If you’re using a hybrid-style device, it will switch back and forth depending on how you’re actively using the device at the moment.
It sounds like the intelligent UI switcher Windows 8 has so desperately needed since its launch. Watch Continuum in action here.
But wait, there's more!
And all these nifty new products are just the tip of the iceberg. Be sure to check out PCWorld’s Windows 10 event coverage for full details of all the goodies and tweaks. If you’re unfamiliar with Windows 10 whatsoever, our guide to all the features revealed in the initial Windows 10 Technical Preview can bring you up to speed. Intrigued? Here's how to get the Technical Preview for yourself.