Microsoft Unveils Windows 10: Is Nadella Ready to Take a Big Bite Out of Apple?
How would you like to be able to stream your Xbox One games to a PC or tablet? How about an AI-assisted web browser? What about augmented reality holographic smartglasses? These were among some of the announcements Microsoft made on Wednesday's big Windows 10 reveal.
In Microsoft's biggest unveil since its new CEO Satya Nadella took up the reins of the company last year, Microsoft unveiled a new and improved Windows 10 operating system with a huge emphasis on seamless Windows connectivity across mobile devices, computers, and the Xbox One, among some buzz-worthy surprises.
Microsoft 10: Seamless Interconnectivity
Clearly the biggest focus of the renewed Microsoft, the company announced it was making big strides in allowing users to users to work with the same apps, on the same projects, across devices -- with each version of the software tailored for each particular screen size and user interface.
During its live-streamed announcement, Microsoft's VP of Operating Systems Joe Belfiore demoed some of the new interconnected features of Windows 10, which he said would "be coming over the next there, four, five months," emphasizing that the new platform and OS was still in development.
Chief among those features was "universal apps," for fundamental tasks across platforms. Microsoft showed an early version of the new feature on Office, which on mobile will include Outlook and a full version of Word and a more robust Powerpoint. Other universal apps include Calendar, Photos, OneDrive, Mail, and more.
Tailoring universal apps to mobile will partially be the job of Continuum, another new feature that automatically switches apps to fullscreen mode when Windows recognizes there are no other input accessories available.
Another feature to get the cross-platform boost is Cortana, Microsoft's Siri-like assistant software. Belfiore showed off Cortana's new, more conversational, natural language engine (she appears to have a sense of humor now), and how Cortana's responses are becoming personalized to the personality of each user. For example, Cortana gave Belfiore (a Seahawks fan) a glib Super Bowl prediction of "'hawks by 72... and a half."
Cortana will now work on the desktop version of Windows 10, as was widely expected, and will have search powers similar to Bing on Windows 8 -- the Internet, your files, items in the cloud, emails, etc. -- and will also be able to perform many basic tasks based on natural language commands like "gather my photos from December."
The "Halo"-themed A.I. assistant won't only be useful through voice commands. Typing queries on the desktop will bring up Cortana's assistance and her brains will be part of Microsoft's new, completely refreshed replacement to Internet Explorer: still known as Project Spartan
Spartan Web Browser: Annotation and Cortana
"Halo" fans won't be surprised that software named "Spartan" includes assistance by Cortana, but it marks a genuine innovation for web browsers. Microsoft showed off Cortana by beginning a search for "Weather" which -- without visiting any webpages or even the search results -- brought up basic weather information, based on location, in the same way search suggestions auto-appear while querying Google.
The web browser is also being design with the "every screen" mentality, and includes a new annotation feature. With annotation, you can highlight parts of webpages, or add notes that can be shared with friends or coworkers -- all without a Surface pen and on any platform.
Welcoming Xbox Back In
One of the strangest things Microsoft forever seemed to leave out of the rest of its device and software ecosystems is the Xbox. Why not take advantage of the fact that you produce one of the two top gaming consoles in the world, and happen to be the only company that also works in mobile and desktop operating systems?
For a while, it seemed only Sony was interested in connecting its PlayStation content to mobile devices. That's changed now, as many aspects of the Xbox One and Xbox Live will be accessible through the new Xbox app, including new features that might challenge existing giants in various gaming fields. For one, you'll be able to "DVR" your Xbox and some PC games, and share clips with friends like Twitch.
You'll also be able to stream games to PCs and tablets, making console and PC interplay an impossibility of the past. Microsoft showed Forza Horizon 2 running on a new Surface Pro tablet to prove to gamers this is really happening.
Xbox Live messaging will be available on mobile and desktop Windows 10 as well, along with an activity feed that makes the service truly feel more like a social network than ever before.
... And One More Thing
As if Microsoft hadn't already surpassed the last couple of Apple events in unveiling truly exciting new products, Microsoft also unveiled "Project Hololens." They're holographic glasses, which, as demoed, are completely untethered devices that cast a virtual software UI over the real world.
(Photo : Microsoft)
What's even more amazing is that the devices have their own CPU, GPU and "holographic processor" and follow the "every screen" strategy: the Hololens is touted to be able to run any app that any other Windows 10 device can, as long as the app is tailored for the holographic processor, the same way it would be for a mobile or desktop device.
Release Date? February Early Access
The Hololens, along with Microsoft 10, will be made available at the same time. Windows 10 will be free on any device for the first year, to help adoption rates, which is a Microsoft first. Another big first is that the company is allowing a large number of people to preview Windows 10 -- starting in February.
When the actual release comes was still left unspecified, and we haven't had a chance to test any of these new features yet to see if Microsoft can walk the talk.
But judging by Wednesday's presentation, Microsoft looks completely re-energized and ready to take a bite into one particular giant, dusty Apple.
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