After the sea change that was Windows 8, Microsoft is still trying to make an operating system that will work on both mobile devices and PCs. Beyond purely visual changes like reworked desktop icons, Windows 10’s start menu will now expand to a full-screen view that looks like Windows 8.1’s home screen. A new Android-style Action Center provides quick access to Wi-Fi options, Bluetooth, and other settings — and the settings menus themselves should be cleaned up and easier to use. It’s another effort to keep the best features of desktop Windows while adapting to touchscreens. A new feature called Continuum, in fact, is designed specifically for convertible devices, switching almost instantly from a mouse and keyboard to a tablet screen. It obviously works pretty well on the stage, but so far, we haven’t seen more than early testing builds.
Possibly one of the most exciting parts was the talk of integration between PC and Xbox
Your PC is now your Xbox
Microsoft owns a vast majority of the computer gaming market. It owns a substantial portion of the console gaming market. So why was its now-defunct PC gaming network, Games for Windows Live, so horrible? Hopefully Microsoft has figured this out, because it’s now announced an Xbox app for launch on every Windows 10 machine. The app brings over Xbox One features like your messages, friends list, and activity feed. You’ll be able to chat with people on Xbox Live and view console achievements and videos from your desktop, as well as record your own clips on PC.
From this first look, it seems a lot like an expanded version of Microsoft’s SmartGlass mobile app. But more excitingly, you can actually stream games from your Xbox One — it’s roughly comparable to Sony streaming games from the PlayStation 4 to the Vita, except that instead of a mobile console, you could stream Xbox games to a Windows tablet like the Surface.
Desktop on your phone
Windows 8 was a desktop / tablet compromise, but Windows 10 is going even further: it’s for phones, too. There’s a build of it tailored to devices smaller than 8 inches, which reorganizes the interface to look a lot more like the old Windows Phone operating system. True to Microsoft’s unified vision, notifications will sync between PC and phone, and Microsoft-owned service Skype will integrate into the messaging app. One of Windows Phone’s fatal flaws, of course, was that it didn’t work well (or at all) with other major apps like Instagram or Gmail. But with a heavier focus on universal apps, and an assurance that this isn’t just “Windows Phone” but actual Windows, it’s possible Microsoft will be in better shape this time around.
Cortana on your desktop
Cortana, Microsoft’s personal digital assistant, is coming to the PC. Long available on mobile, Cortana will now live next to the start button on the task bar and serve as a natural-language interface for Windows 10. It will answer spoken or typed queries, searching documents across local documents as well as ones stored on OneDrive. It will also propose web links and other suggestions — if you type Skype, for example, it or link to the store if you haven’t installed it already. Cortana will also be integrated into the new Maps app, reminding you where you parked your car. Cortana will also be proactive, popping up notifications it thinks you’ll be interested in — tracking flights, stocks, sports, and other it’s either learned or you’ve entered manually into its notebook.
Want to run PowerPoint from a phone?
Microsoft demonstrated its vision for getting all its Windows 10 PCs, tablets, and phones to work well together. First up was the unified Office, the phone and tablet versions of which look very similar to the desktop one. Most of the same formatting options are there, and the recent documents list syncs between devices, so you can collaborate on documents on the go. Microsoft ran a Powerpoint presentation from a phone and said you could wirelessly print documents from mobile as well. It’s a different strategy from Apple, which has designed distinct software for iOS and OSX for different devices. Microsoft built the full Word engine into the universal Outlook app. It has iOS-like swiping interface for deleting and flagging messages. The PC version looks similar and a lot cleaner than the current Mail client. Photos will upload to OneDrive, and the photo app will aggregate pictures from all devices, remove duplicates and clutter, and organize them automatically into albums.
Internet Explorer is over. Say hello to Project Spartan
As we saw in some leaks earlier this month, Windows is replacing the much-maligned Internet Explorer with a new browser codenamed Project Spartan, designed for Windows 10. It’s a cleaner browser with a lot of shiny new features and integration with other Microsoft services. There’s a “note-taking mode” that lets you draw all over pages with a stylus or add comments with a keyboard, then save the results on OneNote. A clean “reading mode” does what you might expect: it formats a page like a book and adds a syncable reading list that’s basically “Pocket for Microsoft” or Safari’s page-saving feature. And like just about everything else Microsoft announced today, Spartan has Cortana built into it, contextually recognizing information like restaurants or plane flights and offering extra information.
A bigger role for OneDrive
It didn’t get a distinct announcement, but OneDrive was everywhere in Microsoft’s presentation. It formed the backbone of its unified apps, allowing documents to sync across devices. Belfiore also teased a larger role for OneDrive in photos and music: Music, for example, will sync between devices using OneDrive. There weren’t many details, but Joe Belfiore said the feature would be added in “a month or two.”
Microsoft made a giant touchscreen TV
Microsoft announced the Surface Hub, an 84-inch 4K screen meant for the workplace. It has cameras, speakers, mics, Bluetooth, NFC, and a touchscreen interface meant for a stylus. The idea is that you can have meetings, with members, appearing via Skype, and draw on the screen, with your work shared between everyone’s devices. It’s Microsoft’s latest iteration of the large-scale multitouch technology from Perceptive Pixel, a research company it acquired in 2012.
Microsoft’s virtual reality headset is here — and it’s augmented reality
The most shockingly ambitious, unexpected, and bizarrely sci-fi announcement of the event was Microsoft’s foray into augmented reality. The Microsoft HoloLens is a see-through visor that overlays holographic imagery over the real world. The video showed architects walking through building renders, plumbers drawing instructions onto faucets remotely, and someone playing Minecraft on tabletops. Also possibly a virtual dog. Alex Kipman, who worked on Kinect, described it as the future of technology, art, and everything. It’s powered by a new processor, what Kipman called a holographic processing unit. It’s equipped with sensors to detect the real world and gestures of the user, as well as holographic sound. It has no wires and doesn’t need to connect to phones or PCs. Holographic APIs are built into all Windows 10 devices, and Kipman invited developers of Magic Leap, Glass, and Oculus to come work with it. He said it would be “available in the Windows 10 timeframe.”
You can watch the entire event here. But be warned it’s 3 hours long.
There was also a more in depth look at how Windows and Xbox will work together.
The Xbox App
Whether you only game on the PC, the console or both, the Xbox app brings together the most important aspects of your gaming life: Games, Friends, Messages, Activity Feed, your gaming legacy with Achievements, and much more.
Xbox Live and multiplayer across devices.
Xbox Live is social, interactive, and seamlessly integrated directly into Windows 10, bringing gamers the experiences they love across devices, like multiplayer gaming on Windows 10 against players on an Xbox One, and messaging and chat with friends. And developers will get full access to the Xbox Live API, making it easier to create more powerful gaming scenarios across devices.
Thanks to the deep integration of Xbox on Windows 10, games on Xbox One can be streamed through your home network to your Windows 10 PC or tablet, anywhere in your house. Xbox One gamers will now be able to play many of their favorite console games on their PC. And many Xbox One accessories will work interchangeably on the console and PC (with more on the way), so you can customize your experience in whatever way you see fit.
We’ve enhanced our graphics technology to squeeze every ounce of performance out of your supported hardware and open up a new wave of innovation for high-end graphics. Delivering greater complexity and detail on your current PC, games authored or updated for DirectX 12 are able to run faster and have richer visuals. And this technology is already in the hands of developers today. The engines used to power hundreds of games are implementing DirectX 12, including Unreal Engine 4 from Epic and, as we announced today, Unity.
On Xbox One, one of the most popular features used by gamers is Game DVR, which gives simple access to recording, editing, and sharing out your most epic gaming moments. It’s not easy or consistent to do that for PC games today. We’re bringing this beloved feature to Windows 10, now accessible by simply pressing Windows+G. With the games you love playing – whether on Xbox Live, Steam, or other services – you can record, edit, and share game clips with all your social networks.
Today we announced that we are bringing Fable Legends to Windows 10 PCs, day-and-date with the Xbox One version in 2015. This means Fable fans running Windows 10 will be able to play against their fellow gamers on Xbox One. It’s the same game, in the same world, on the same map. Fable Legends is just the first of the major game franchises from Microsoft Studios coming to Windows 10 and we will have more to share in the coming months.
All in all some pretty interesting stuff to come out of it all. I for one am pretty interested in all the integration with Windows. The HoloLens headset sounds pretty interesting too, but I’m not really sure it’s something I would go for, but I’m always open to my mind being changed. If you want to read some more about it then just head here, it has a pretty good write up about it.