The 10 most important changes coming to your PC, tablet and phone
Windows 10 is coming later this year—and it brings some truly surprising changes with it, along with expected tweaks to relieve Windows 8 sufferers and lure more holdouts from prior versions. The OS is currently available as a preview, so it will continue to evolve in the coming months. Here are the highlights, plus links to more detailed coverage.
1. Windows 10 is coming out this year, maybe soon
After releasing a business-oriented major preview last October and a consumer-orientedmajor preview in late January, the official launch of Windows 10 is planned for sometime this year. A major prerelease version, or possibly even the final version, is expected to drop at the time of the company’s Build conference, April 29 - May 1.
2. You can try Windows 10 now
Microsoft will release Technical Preview (read: beta) builds sporadically, which you can try if you sign up for the free Windows Insider program. Just remember, it’s beta, so don’t expect everything to be fully functional or stable.
Windows 10 is out now in beta, and you can try it through Microsoft's Insider program.
3. Windows 10 will be free to most users
You heard right: Nothing. Nada. Windows 10 will be a free upgrade for the first year, for users with Windows 7, Windows 8, or Windows 8.1. (XP users—we know you’re out there—no freebies for you or others running versions prior to Windows 7. Sorry!)
Once you upgrade, Microsoft promises free version upgrades for the life of the device. What we don’t know yet is whether Windows will cost something after that first year—such as a one-time upgrade charge, or a subscription model. You can sign up to be notified via Microsoft’s Windows 10 webpage.
4. Windows 10 will have hologram technology
You heard right again: At the January consumer preview event, Microsoft introduced Microsoft Holographic, a set of technologies that will enable 3D imaging and hologram projection for Windows 10 apps. A video and live demo showed people wearing Microsoft HoloLens projection goggles to interact with remote coworkers, play a 3D version of Minecraft, or explore a 3D projection of Mars. Developers will be able to use HoloStudio software to develop 3D applications.
No one expected Microsoft to unveil 3D capabilities—and it was fun to try HoloLens at the January event. Even if it appears first in niche applications, it certainly gives Windows a halo of innovation it hasn’t had in a while.
Microsoft surprised everyone by building 3D imaging into the new operating system.
5. Windows 10 will include ‘universal’ Office apps
Microsoft is creating ‘universal’ Office apps that will be touch-friendly and run on all devices. Future Windows Phones and Windows tablets will come with Office apps preinstalled. This is all part of Microsoft's bid to take back territory it's lost to the free productivity applications, namely Google Drive. What’s not clear is how these universal apps will relate to Office 365 or the upcoming Office 2016 desktop software.
6. Windows 10 will include Cortana
Cortana, the female-voiced, somewhat sassy digital assistant that debuted in Windows Phone 8.1, will become part of Windows 10. Tied in closely with the Bing search and notifications features of the new OS, you’ll be able to type or talk to get information through your PC. We tried Cortana at the January consumer preview event, and also when it appeared in Build 9926 a few days later. It’s definitely still a work in progress, but it’s nice to see this highlight of Windows Phone arrive in Windows 10.
Cortana is coming from Windows Phone over to Windows 10, and she's already part of the preview builds.
7. Windows 10 will have two browsers
Windows 10 will have it both ways, browser-wise: It will ship with both Internet Explorer 11 and ‘Spartan,’ the new, uncluttered browser that Microsoft is developing, apparently to replace IE. But perhaps keeping good ol’ Explorer is Microsoft’s way of avoiding wrenching changes that could alienate users (*cough* Windows 8).
8. Windows 10 will be great for gaming
Microsoft is bringing big changes to PC gaming with Windows 10. We’ll see the debut of the DirectX 12 API, which promises faster, “closer-to-the-metal” gaming performance and greater efficiency. Windows 10 will also include a "game DVR" mode to allow recordings of the last 30 seconds of play, all the better for social gaming.
In the most dramatic gaming move, the company said it would enable cross-platform, PC-Xbox play. Microsoft has attempted and failed to unite these platforms before, however, so we'll see how it works this time.
Windows 10 will have many new features for gamers, including a DVR feature for recording the last 30 seconds of play.
9. Windows 10 will embrace most Windows Phones
One Windows for all! At the January consumer preview, the company announced thatWindows Phones would receive Windows 10 and work in concert with other Windows devices. Some confusion has ensued since then about possible exceptions, so we’ll continue to track any developments.
10. Windows RT may be on its last gasp
Microsoft hasn’t shut the door entirely on Windows RT devices like its own Surface 2. But with excitement building for Windows 10, the most Microsoft would promise is that such hardware would get its own version of Windows 10—likely limited in functionality, as Windows RT was compared to Windows 8.
Then news broke that Microsoft would stop manufacturing the Surface 2 entirely. The company is downplaying the significance of this move, but it could indicate that Microsoft's keeping existing RT devices on life support via upgrades, but halting further development.
WINDOWS 10 TO THE FUTURIST STEP
1. It's an attempt by Microsoft to take Windows back to the future
Since launching the ambitious but flawed Windows 8 in 2012, Microsoft has been in a perennial state of damage control. In a failed attempt to make Windows better for touch devices, Microsoft botched the user interface and left legions of disappointed customers.CIOs were particularly repelled by Windows 8 and its radically different, touch screen-optimized UI, as well as by its alternate traditional desktop interface, which was included for running legacy Windows apps but lacked key familiar features, namely the Start button and Start menu. The toggling between the two modes was also clunky.In IDC’s preliminary totals for the end of 2014, there were almost 732 million copies of Windows installed in businesses worldwide, and more than half – 449 million -- were Windows 7. About 157 million were Windows XP, and 28 million were Windows Vista. Just over 35 million were Windows 8. distanced itself from traditional PC users that need, at least some of the time, a good keyboard-and-mouse experience," said Al Gillen, an IDC analyst. "The focus in Windows 10 is to re-balance the experiences such that commercial customers will see value in Windows 10 that they did not see in Windows 8."Microsoft tried with partial success to address these and other issues in subsequent Windows 8 revisions and updates. But most CIOs clung instead to the solid, stable Windows 7, unwilling to subject their end users to a long, unpleasant and productivity-eroding learning curve.One of the many companies that skipped Windows 8 was health club chain L.A. Fitness. "It was too much of a change from what people are used to and we didn't want to go through the challenges of getting people comfortable with it and the time necessary to do so," CIO George Bedar said.With Windows 10, Microsoft tackled head on the UI issues, and judging by publicly available preview versions of the OS, it apparently has finally gotten it right. The traditional desktop UI looks and acts a lot more like Windows 7, and the touch-optimized UI is more intuitive. Also, the interplay between the two has been greatly enhanced -- Windows 10 is "adaptive," meaning it can detect which device is being used (desktop, laptop, tablet, large wall mounted monitor, smartphone) and adjust its rendering.Microsoft has also pledged that upgrading from Windows 7 and Windows 8 to Windows 10 will much more seamless and straightforward.
2. Windows 10 adds security features that enterprises should want
Microsoft is touting improvements in areas like identity protection and access control, information protection and threat resistance. For example, in access control, Windows 10 will have native two-factor authentication, as Microsoft tries to get users beyond the single-password method that has proven so vulnerable. With two-factor authentication, malicious hackers need to be in control of two pieces of information in order to break into a system, such as a password and a code sent to a user's device like a smartphone.In the area of information protection, Windows 10 will have a data loss prevention (DLP) technology baked in that distinguishes between personal and corporate data, and protects the latter using "containment." Corporate apps, data, email, web content and other sensitive information will be automatically encrypted by Windows 10 both on desktops and mobile devices.IT managers will be able to establish policies that control which apps can access corporate data, and Windows 10 also extends VPN control options to protect this data in devices owned by employees.In the area of threat and malware resistance, Windows 10 will have features to lock down devices and only allow users to run apps that have been signed using a Microsoft provided signing service.IT administrators will be able to determine which apps they consider trustworthy, such as those they sign themselves, those signed by ISVs, those available on the Windows Store, or all of them.
3. The universal app platform
Windows 10 is the first version of the OS with a unified code base and APIs, meaning that apps built for it can run -- with minor modifications -- on different devices supported by the OS: smartphones, tablets, laptops, desktop PCs, the Xbox console, Internet of Things wares. This is great news for end users, and for commercial and enterprise developers, who will have a much easier time at creating tools, applications and integrations for the OS, without having to re-write them from scratch for different devices."The platform enables a new class of Windows universal apps -- apps that are truly written once, with one set of business logic and one UI," said Kevin Gallo, Microsoft's technical lead for the Windows Developer Platform, in a recent blog post.
More than 500 top IT leaders responded to our online survey to help us gauge the state of the READ NOW For Microsoft, it's also a way to spur the number of apps available for Windows mobile devices, since mobile developers had been less than enthused about spending time and resources creating apps for Windows Phone, given its tiny user base -- 2.7 percent of the global smartphone OS market in 2014, according to IDC.IDC's Gillen calls the universal app platform "perhaps the most important technology included in Windows 10."
"The demonstrations I have seen indicate that this is a real solution that will really improve the experience on Windows 10," he said.
4. Windows 10 also brings some surprises
While Microsoft's priority with Windows 10 was to reverse the Windows 8 missteps, and to include advances in areas like security, the company is also delivering some glitzy, whiz-bang features with the new OS. For example, Windows 10 will include the following:Hologram technology: Windows 10 provides what Microsoft calls a "holographic computing platform" with APIs for developers to create 3D apps and with a HoloLens, a head-mounted holographic computer for viewing holograms in high definition and hearing them in surround sound.Cortana: Microsoft's answer to Apple's Siri, Cortana is being ported from Windows Phone 8.1 to Windows 10, so users of the new OS can interact with their computers and applications using voice commands. Two browsers: A new browser code-named Project Spartan will make its debut with Windows 10. It will be powered by a new rendering engine and provide what Microsoft calls "a more interoperable, reliable, and discoverable experience." Advanced features include web-page annotation, clutter-free reading mode and Cortana integration.Project Spartan is being designed as a "universal" browser that will work across the different devices Windows 10 runs on, and will be kept constantly updated as a service with security and feature enhancements.
The new browser is backwards compatible with existing sites designed for IE, but to make sure Windows 10 plays well with legacy websites that require support for older technologies, the OS will also ship with IE 11
5. Windows 10 looks good so far, but ...
While early reviews of Windows 10 preview versions have been mostly positive, CIOs should have a detailed, strategic plan to evaluate the OS internally, not only to make sure it's stable but also to see how it performs specifically in their organization, with specific commercial and custom apps, hardware devices, and the like."We think it will be vital for CIOs to familiarize themselves with Windows 10. Forrester believes that unlike Windows 8 and 8.1, Windows 10 will be adopted as an enterprise IT standar," Forrester's Johnson said.At L.A. Fitness, a group within the IT department has been testing Windows 10, and they haven't yet identified any concerns, but Bedar isn't taking any chances. He has decided the OS won't be rolled out until Microsoft comes out with the first service pack update."We won’t deploy this when it first comes out. We'll wait a while. We don't have any pressing reason to upgrade to it at this point," he said. "We have time to let it settle down, and let the early issues work themselves out. Then we'll proceed with it