Thursday, 22 January 2015

What to expect in Windows 10

Microsoft’s event in January played host to a number of announcements including the Surface Hub and the HoloLens. However, the primary purpose of the event, and the announcement which took up the most time, was showing off new features which are due to arrive in Windows 10.

Windows 10 was first announced at a tiny event last September and since then 1.7 million Windows insiders have downloaded the technical preview and given feedback to Microsoft on it. Some of the features included so far in Windows 10 include:
  • A new action centre when you slide in from the right which includes a list of notifications and quick settings (such as Wi-Fi, aeroplane mode, and a button to switch between desktop and tablet mode).
  • A new settings menu which combines the Windows 8 settings app and control panel which could only be accessed on desktop mode.
  • A new way of app switching when you slide in from the left which is now more ‘elegant and natural’.
Windows 10 action centre
It was Joe Belfiore, the man responsible for the design and software product definition of Windows services, who came on stage to announce the new Windows 10 features. Before he did, he stressed that what he would be showing was an ‘early build’ thus is prone to glitches.

Belfiore first talked about the new search bar which sits comfortably next to the iconic start button in the bottom left corner of the display. It has Cortana, Microsoft’s digital assistant, built in – which was previously exclusive to Windows Phone – and it can be operated hands-free like by shouting ‘Hey Cortana’.

To demonstrate Cortana’s new capabilities, Belfiore had a cringe-worthy conversation with her where he showed how it could track flights, display weather forecasts, push calendar notifications, speak the latest sports results, and even attempt to do impersonations. All of the data that Cortana learns about the user is stored in what Microsoft is calling ‘the notebook’. Users can go here and review what Cortana has learnt about them. This proves that Microsoft is being transparent about the data they collect about their users.

Joe Belfiore in front of the improved photos app
The terrible Windows 8 photos app has finally been significantly updated with a new, slicker, and simpler user interface and a handful of new features. Photos automatically uploaded to OneDrive are now auto-enhanced and duplicates are hidden – capabilities which are extremely familiar to people who currently use Google Plus Photos. The new photos app also automatically files photos into albums depending on where they were taken, when they were taken and who is in them. In the header of the albums include a list of people who are tagged and the name of the album so you can share it on the Internet – once again, functionality which is familiar to people who have been using Google Plus Photo Stories. (All the photo features can be turned off in settings if you don’t want them.)

Belfiore then briefly touched upon a redesign to the People app and the Music app. The new Music app allows you to store your whole music album in OneDrive and then stream it from any of your devices - just like what you can currently do on Google Music.

Windows 10 on a desktop PC
The new lightweight Internet browser which was rumoured last week was officially announced. ‘Project Spartan’ has a new engine which is better built for the current internet (unlike Internet Explorer which is running into an increasing amount of compatibility issues as the web develops). The new browser has ‘three significant new features’ one of which is the ability to draw on pages using a stylus or your finger, click to add comments to the page and share the page with friends via OneNote. The page’s current content is saved however the links remain working. The second feature is a new reading mode which standardises web pages so you can consume content in a clean environment and open PDF documents in the browser instead of having to download them. Reading lists are now synced and offline so you can read when not connected to the Internet. The third, and probably biggest new feature, is Cortana built directly into the search bar.

Windows 10 on
a smartphone
Regarding games, the XBOX app has been improved greatly and you can now stream XBOX One games through your Windows 10 device – something which Microsoft has been promising for years.

The most surprising announcement of the day wasn’t actually about any new software features, it was that Windows 10 will be a completely free upgrade for Windows 7, 8, 8.1, and Windows Phone 8.1 users in the first year. This terrific news was met by light applause. Microsoft said that devices will be updated until they literally can’t take it anymore which sadly might already be the case for Windows RT as no plans have been released to update those devices to Windows 10.

Windows 10 is predicted for release in late 2015. Until then, technical previews will be available to Windows insider users until spring and then Microsoft will add the finishing touches to the OS before it becomes available for the millions of people currently using Windows 7 or above.