Microsoft is set to announce Windows 10 on Wednesday, the next version of its desktop operating system that will also power mobile phones and tablets. What can we expect the Redmond-based software giant to unveil?
Microsoft is undergoing huge changes at the moment, attempting to make the leap from a mainly desktop-oriented company to one that embraces mobile at the core of its products and services.
It still needs to court tablet and smartphone users of course, but the company must also win over the corporate IT departments and millions of desktop users who felt somewhat alienated by the lacklustre Windows 8.
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Part of the answer lies in Windows 10. Microsoft is pinning its hopes on the next version of Windows, which is said to be a radically updated and refreshed version of Windows 8 – that version suffered intense criticism and managed to annoy both desktop and tablet users.
Windows 10 aims to resolve the issues with Windows 8 while also catering to smartphones, the Xbox, servers and a plethora of new devices over the next few years. It is being positioned as a single operating system for all users, whatever device they own.
Will it fail miserably, or help Microsoft get firmly back on track, especially in relation to mobile?
Windows 10 has been available as a preview since September 2014 and mainly focused on enterprise users, but Microsoft is expected to demonstrate the more consumer-oriented features at a live event scheduled for 5 pm today.
Windows 10 might not sound like the most exciting news event, but it will influence how millions of people use Lumia smartphones, Surface tablets and the humble desktop PC for years to come.
Here’s a brief summary of what to expect on Wednesday.
Windows Phone 10
Nobody knows whether the smartphone version will be called Windows Phone 10 or simply Windows 10. Regardless of the name, it will be a critically important update for Windows Phone devices, as Microsoft has struggled to make a meaningful dent in the market dominance of Android and iOS.
Little is known about the features coming in Windows Phone 10, but Microsoft has already signalled its intent to make it much simpler for developers to create cross-platform apps that work on PCs, tablets and phones. There’s a new “Universal App” type which will work on every platform, and even though these apps are expected to run on smartphones, it has not yet been confirmed by Microsoft.
In terms of the app stores, Microsoft may well look to combine its separate stores (there is currently one for Windows and a separate one for Windows Phone) with a single, unified storefront. That makes a lot of sense and would be a boon for consumers. Imagine purchasing an app on your smartphone and getting the PC version for free. With a shared codebase that runs on all devices, Windows 10 could make that happen in a way that Apple currently can’t.
There is even a (remote) chance that Android apps may be supported in Windows 10, according to an ex-Microsoft employee who recently spoke with The Information.
Windows 10 hardware
Unfortunately there aren’t likely to be any new devices shown off, except perhaps several new third party laptops or tablets to demonstrate the upcoming features.
The mobile industry’s main annual event, Mobile World Congress, is just around the corner so a new Surface tablet or Lumia smartphones will be held back until March. However, this week The Information also reported that an all new phone-laptop hybrid could be demonstrated and would be aimed largely at enterprise customers.
Microsoft will need to demonstrate just how flexible Windows 10 is, so a sneak preview of some new hybrid devices would fit the bill nicely.
Windows 10 user interface
There have been plenty of Windows 10 videos leaked on the Internet, but they have not yet revealed many of the key features that we should see today. The existing Technical Preview already includes some useful user interface changes (such as a live tile Start Menu, better app switching and also full screen modes), but it will be more interesting to discover how Windows 10 will work on tablets, smartphones, and touchscreen laptops.
A new feature called Continuum handles the transition between a touch-based UI and one that is optimised for a traditional keyboard and mouse. For now, the “Charms” menu on the side of the screen is set to stay, but it hasn’t found much favour amongst users, so it may well be cut from the final release.
Internet Explorer replaced by Spartan browser
Microsoft hit the headlines last month when it was reported that Internet Explorer might be ditched in favour of a new, lightweight web browser called Spartan. As the name suggests, the whole interface is fairly stripped down and will include integration with Microsoft’s personal voice-powered assistant Cortana (more on that later).
Internet Explorer has lost popularity in the last few years as Google’s Chrome has taken the top spot, but as the main browser in Windows 10, Spartan will need to add some fairly impressive features to regain any kind of market share. Office 365 could feature more prominently if Microsoft wants to encourage users to use its cloud-based services across devices.
If Spartan works on desktops, tablets and mobile devices, and offers full synchronisation of tabs, bookmarks, history and passwords, it could prove to be a convenient option for owners of several Windows-powered devices.
Internet Explorer is expected to be kept around in Windows 10 (for compatibility reasons) but Spartan may well replace it as the main web browser.
Deep integration with Cortana digital assistant
Cortana is Microsoft’s answer to Apple’s Siri, but it is in fact more like Google Now, having the ability to track emails, calendars, and movement, and to provide suggestions and contextually-relevant updates.
Already available on Windows Phone 8, Cortana will be deeply integrated across every Windows 10 platform. If it’s done properly and is easy to use, Cortana will be an extremely powerful tool that helps users find information more quickly, as well as improved personalised recommendations and reminders.
Until Windows 10 is unveiled later today, we can’t be certain which features will make the grade. However, it’s truly an important update and will set the scene for several years to come. Microsoft has a lot riding on the new release, and needs to satisfy consumers who were disappointed with Windows 8 (which has failed to see the levels of adoption that Windows 7 enjoyed at a similar stage in its lifecycle).
For many of us, whether Windows Phone, Surface or tablet owners, there’s a lot to look forward to in Windows 10.
Let us know in the comments whether you intend to upgrade to Windows 10 later in the year, or whether it would tempt you to switch to a Lumia Phone.