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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.