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Microsoft bets on Windows 10 to unify its device-based services

Wndows 10 joe_belfiore

Microsoft's Joe Belfiore © Microsoft

Microsoft has revealed further details of the next iteration of its Windows operating system. At a launch event last night, the company demonstrated how it intends to revamp the platform to “usher in a new era of more personal computing”, whatever the size of the device’s screen – and indeed, even if it doesn’t have a screen. Existing Windows and Windows Phone users should be able to get a free upgrade to 10 during the first year.

Microsoft’s view is that it’s the user experience that is important, not the mobility value of the device, and these experiences should be consistent across all platforms. For the user, technology issues should disappear, and people should be the focus.

“Windows 10 marks the beginning of the more personal computing era in the mobile-first, cloud-first world,” said Satya Nadella, CEO of Microsoft. “Our ambition is for the 1.5 billion people who are using Windows today to fall in love with Windows 10 and for billions more to decide to make Windows home.”

It’s a bold and ambitious plan, one that would have been unimaginable just a few years ago. But under Nadella, Microsoft has achieved a strong new focus and, more importantly, belief in itself. If it can indeed out-do Apple with a software platform that spans all classes of devices (including IoT), and encourages the development of a wider and deeper ecosystem of developers and partners, then it might just pull it off.

The company is also making strong moves to break away from the keyboard, saying that voice, gestures and gaze will be just important for user interactions. To that end, it used the event to demonstrate its new Microsoft HoloLens wearable technology. Described as “the world’s first holographic computing platform”, Windows 10 includes a set of APIs that enable developers to create holographic experiences (actually Windows universal apps that feature augmented reality, and not strictly speaking holograms at all).

The Microsoft HoloLens operates without a separate phone or PC and features see-through holographic HD lenses and spatial sound, enabling VR images to be placed in a user’s field of vision. Think Google Glass meets Oculus Rift. Then think five years’ ahead to a 5G world with ample spectrum, gigabit downloads and low latency – it might just work.

But for now, there was plenty of talk of new “experiences” that will be rolled out with Windows 10 later this year. Microsoft will, as expected, bring its Cortana personal digital assistant to PCs and tablets, following its successful launch on Windows Phone. Its Internet Explorer looks like coming to an end, to be replaced with a brand new browser codenamed “Project Spartan” – a new brand name is no bad thing, given the problems IE has faced over the past several years. There will also be a bigger role for its OneDrive cloud-based storage and syncing service.

“Windows 10 must negotiate a formidable wave of negative sentiment following the launch of Windows 8,” said Geoff Blaber, VP Research for the Americas at CCS Insight. “However, Windows 10 is infinitely more refined, it’s a free upgrade, there’s no license fee on sub 9-inch devices and Microsoft, Intel and partners are delivering unprecedented levels of hardware innovation at a wide range of price points. The tide could be slowly turning for Windows”.

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