Windows 10, #Windows10 conference

Everything You Need To Know About The New Windows 10 from Microsoft

As expected Microsoft MSFT -0.17% has formally announced the new version of Windows. As no-one expected it will be called ‘Windows 10’ not Windows 9. Why? Because Microsoft claims it represents such a significant leap over Windows 8 that calling it Windows 9 would not do it justice.

I can hear your groans now, but in Microsoft’s defence Windows 10 has some major (and long awaited) improvements. Here are the highlights:

One OS To Rule Them All

Architecturally the biggest news is that Windows 10 is being designed to run across all device form factors. That means desktops, laptops, tablets, phablets and smartphones.

“Windows 10 will run on the broadest amount of devices. A tailored experience for each device,” said Terry Myerson, Microsoft Executive VP of Operating Systems. “There will be one way to write a universal application, one store, one way for apps to be discovered purchased and updated across all of these devices.”

Microsoft didn’t break down when we might see a Windows 10 smartphone and how that would impact/absorb Windows Phone (or even elaborate on the future for Windows Phone) but it does offer to clear insight into Microsoft’s long term road map.

Update: Microsoft has now confirmed ‘Windows 10′ will also be the next major version of Windows Phone. What devices get the upgrade and how Microsoft will handle it remains to be seen. 

Windows 10 Start Menu

The Start Menu Is Back

The cat has been out the bag for some time, but Microsoft has finally confirmed the Start Menu will return. The leaks were spot on and it will combine both aspects of the classic Windows 7 start menu with apps from the Metro/Modern UI. Searching within the Start Menu will now perform a web search as well.

Crucially its layout can be customised so apps can be removed or resized and the flexibility and personalisation potential of the Start Menu should win back fans disillusioned about its removal in Windows 8.

Windows 10 use on a tablet

Better Touch/Keyboard And Mouse Integration

Microsoft has taken criticism seriously about the jarring nature of moving between touch and the keyboard and mouse elements of Windows 8.

Microsoft is calling the new approach ‘Continuum’ and it is an umbrella term for a better merger between to different input methods. Continuum will be able to automatically switch between modes by detecting on how users interact with their device. It also carries over to design aspects like the new Start Menu, windowed apps within the desktop and so forth.

“We’re trying to be thoughtful about a UI that goes across all devices,” explained Joe Belfiore, Corporate Vice President of the Operating Systems Group at Microsoft.

He admits Continuum remains a work in progress with refinements to things like the Charms Bar (yes it is still there) set to be an ongoing process through the life of the public beta and right up to release (more on that later).

Windows 10 Virtual Desktops

Virtual Desktops

Another leaked feature Microsoft confirmed today was virtual desktops. Microsoft didn’t give the feature an official name at this stage, but it works much like the long used multiple desktops on Linux and Exposé on Mac OS X.

The view can be triggered with a new ‘task view’ button which both allows users to launch a new virtual desktop and jump between them. Interestingly the taskbar can be customised to look different/relevant to each desktop allowing a simple leap from work to home modes, for example.

Microsoft said all open programs in the virtual desktops will continue to run in the background, which makes for some interesting memory management challenges but also greatly increases the potential productivity of Windows as well as de-cluttering the desktop space.

Pricing / Availability

It has been much speculated that Windows 10 may be given away free to upgraders or involve a nominal fee, but Microsoft revealed no information about this in either the presentation or Q&A afterwards.

What we did learn is a technical preview of Windows 10 will be made available to users later this week (Microsoft is stressing it is only for advanced users and developers at this stage) and that an official release would not follow until ‘later in 2015’. This suggests the OS is not as far along as many expected and Microsoft is keen to develop it in conjunction with user feedback.

Windows 10 Start Menu search

What Will Still Don’t Know: A Lot

Perhaps what is almost as interesting as what was revealed about Windows 10 is what Microsoft kept to itself.

In addition to no news on pricing, Microsoft also didn’t touch on performance (install size and minimum hardware requirements), Cortana integration (the voice assistant in Windows Phone 8.1), give a solid release time frame or go into any detail on how Windows 10 will handle scaling on high resolution screens – crucial given 4k monitors and super high resolution laptops are quickly gaining momentum.

On the flip side what we did see is a more open Microsoft. A company, perhaps shaken by the decidedly mixed reaction to Windows 8 (however fair or unfair), that is now keen to try and mix the best aspects of Windows 7 and Windows 8 into a more user friendly experience. This means releasing early builds, issuing rapid fire updates and developing in conjunction with ongoing user feedback.

Windows 10 Product Family (image credit: Microsoft)

Is choosing the ‘Windows 10’ moniker a step too far though? “It’s a name that resonated best with what we’ll deliver,” explained Myerson.

Many would argue the struggles of Windows Phone and Windows 8 have put Microsoft into a terminal decline, but tonight’s announcement – while thin on details – suggests there is still life in the old dog yet.

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Windows product family, windows 10 launch

Microsoft’s next OS is Windows 10, will ship later in 2015

Instead of announcing the next version of its iconic operating system in front of a massive crowd of thousands, Microsoft chose an intimate venue with 50 or so reporters to launch the new Windows, which it’s calling Windows 10. The company looks at the new number (yes, it skipped a number) as an indication of the direction it’s taking with the OS; Microsoft says it’ll be “the most comprehensive platform ever,” featuring a full range of products that’ll be placed under the Windows 10 umbrella as part of “one tailored experience.” That means it will support everything from the “Internet of Things” to enterprise servers. Microsoft’s Joe Belfiore showed off an early beta version of the new Windows on stage, which looks very much like the leaked screenshots we saw not too long ago; Belfiore says that they wanted to bring the familiarity of Windows 7 and combine it with the functionality of Windows 8.

Windows 10 new Start screen

Windows 10 will run across an incredibly broad set of devices – from the Internet of Things, to servers in enterprise datacenters worldwide. Some of these devices have 4 inch screens – some have 80 inch screens – and some don’t have screens at all. Some of these devices you hold in your hand, others are ten feet away. Some of these devices you primarily use touch/pen, others mouse/keyboard, others controller/gesture – and some devices can switch between input types.

When you put all that together, the end result looks a lot like Windows 7. That’s intentional. Microsoft’s Joe Belfiore pointed to the millions of customers still using Windows 7, and said the company wants to make their transition to Windows 10 much more comfortable than the unfamiliar leap to Windows 8 two years ago. “We want all these Windows 7 users to have the sentiment that yesterday they were driving a first-generation Prius, and now with Windows 10 it’s like a Tesla.”

“Windows 10 will deliver the right experience on the right device at the right time,” said Microsoft’s Terry Myerson. “Windows 10 will run on the broadest types of devices ever.” You can expect a unique user interface depending on what you’re running Windows on; images shown at the event line up with leaks that have surfaced in recent weeks. It’s basically a combination of Windows 7 and 8 that borrows design elements from each of Microsoft’s two most recent operating systems.


The new Windows 10 start menu.

The “Metro” start screen and Microsoft’s traditional Start Menu have been combined; no longer is the screen one huge grid of tiles for desktop users. “The tiles and icons that are shown are a blend of classic apps and new universal apps,” Belfiore said. But Live Tiles are still here and can be resized to a user’s preference. More than anything else, Microsoft is working to make everything feel way more cohesive. “In Windows 8 when users launched a modern app, it sort of had a different environment,” Belfiore said. “We don’t want that duality. We want users on PCs with mice and keyboards to have their familiar UI.”

There’s a new universal search in the start menu that pulls in results from the web, and Microsoft is also talking up its “task view,” which helps users master Windows’ multitasking features. It looks fairly similar to Expose in OS X and allows users to set up different desktops for work, home, and other usage scenarios, switching apps between them at will. Up to four apps can now be snapped on screen, which also should ramp up Windows 10’s multitasking power. Microsoft outright admitted this isn’t entirely an earth-shattering addition. But it is intended to speed up your productivity across the entire operating system. “It illustrates for Windows we have to address a breadth of users,” Belfiore said, moving on to show a big improvement to the command prompt: it now supports paste.


Windows 10’s Task View.

But Microsoft isn’t abandoning touch input. Belfiore said the Charms bar from Windows 8 has been carried over to Windows 10 with improvements of its own. “We want to support those Windows 8 users who have touch machines and getting a lot of benefit out of them.” For convertible devices like the Lenovo Yoga 2 Pro, Microsoft is adding a new Continuum mode that aims to make the frequent switch between tablet mode and laptop mode more seamless. “What you get is a device that operates with the simplicity of a tablet, but morphs itself back to the familiar PC experience,” said Belfiore.

Microsoft will launch a Windows 10 “Insider Program” beginning tomorrow, which will give its most enthusiastic and vocal users a chance to try out and help shape the new OS before the general public gets it. Windows 10 will launch to consumers everywhere in late 2015. And today was only the beginning; Microsoft says it will unveil much more about the new consumer features of Windows 10 early next year.