Windows 10 is Coming

Last September Microsoft announced that Windows 10 was on its way. Since then they have been doing something very few tech companies have done — they asked the world what it wanted in the next Windows operating system. Since then they have been working to build out the look, feel, and features Windows users want. If the January 21st announcement is any indication of what is to come, I think they are doing just that, building the Windows users want. The Windows Insider program which is free and open to anyone willing to test and provide feedback seems to have been a smashing success, and Microsoft is thrilled. Now I know you are thinking, “Another operating system! I just upgraded to Windows 7!” It isn’t as bad as it sounds though. When the new operating system is released later this year (I am guessing August-September time frame) it is going to be a free upgrade for all Windows 8.1 users and amazingly enough for Windows 7 users, too. This is a limited time upgrade offer. This free upgrade will only be available for 1 year from the release of Windows 10. Windows 10 is, under the hood, the same core operating system as Windows 8.1 and Windows 7. It has many of the same user interface features Windows 8.1 users have grown accustomed to but also better implements a fusion of the Windows 7 style interface, making it much friendlier for Windows 7 users and folks using traditional mice and keyboards to use. Standard Windows applications that run on Windows 7 and 8.1 should be just as happy running on Windows 10.

The free upgrade from Windows 7 and Windows 8.1 is an interesting move for Microsoft that I think is going to pay off. Microsoft is betting this will be incentive enough to get everyone to upgrade to Windows 10, creating a user base that is standardized on the latest version of Windows. Microsoft’s vision for Windows is to no longer have major releases and tie licenses to versions but to provide the operating system as a service, much like Office. Smaller more rapid releases called flights will come out like updates to the operating system, providing improvements and new features as the software giant continues to work with the user community to fulfill their dream of making this version of Windows the Windows you love. Microsoft is taking the stance that Windows will no longer be an operating system that is release centered but provided as a service. An operating system as a service. This tracks directly with the cloud first vision of Microsoft. I don’t yet know what this will mean for licensing, but I am hopeful that it will simplify Microsoft licensing and lower the cost of maintaining releases of Windows going forward by removing the need for upgrade licenses.

Among the features demoed during the keynote was a new version of Internet Explorer code named Spartan that allows you to mark up and write on the web then save it or share it with friends or team members via social media. Improved reading features make perusing the Internet easier. You can even take items in your reading list offline and read them when you are not connected to the web. Of course Microsoft promises this latest version of IE to ship with Windows 10 will be more secure and more standards compliant for HTML5. That doesn’t mean however we will not be facing the same compatibility issues we have come to expect with many of our favorite web sites when a new version of IE is thrust upon us.

Many of the key features Microsoft touted were centered on the user interface, which has been the biggest pain point new Windows 8.1 users have complained about. Windows 10 looks a lot more like Windows 7 in that you start with a familiar desktop and have a start menu with your programs in. This start menu is really just the start screen compressed back into a fly-out menu. If you want, you can expand the start menu back into the touch friendly start screen. The new continuum feature allows Windows to modify the user interface based on the device that is being used. For example, a 2-in-1 tablet will have many of the touch features disabled or hidden when you are using it as a laptop, but then being used in a tablet mode Windows 10 will automatically adjust to a more touch centric interface. Many of the tools and features users expected to find were split between the modern and the classic user interfaces. For example, the Control Panel had 2 interfaces that exposed different sets of tools. This became very confusing when needing to access settings on the system. Windows 10 has merged these interfaces and tools back into a more familiar interface.

Some of you may be familiar with Siri on Apple iPhones and iPads, or you may have already met Cortana on Microsoft phones. As a new feature and improvement, Cortana has a new home on Windows 10 PCs. Cortana is an impressive natural speech recognition engine and in the demos seems to be able to provide very helpful and intuitive responses to natural speech requests. Rounding off the “that’s nifty” category of updates is the new integration with Xbox One. The Xbox Live apps give you full access to the library of Xbox Live games. You can stream a game from your Xbox One console and play it on a Windows 10 PC. You can DVR gameplay without additional software. The operating system has an updated graphics engine DirectX 12 which greatly enhances the graphics abilities of Windows 10, allowing it to provide the rich Xbox gameplay experience.

Worth mentioning briefly are universal apps. This new category of apps allows developers to create applications that scale and run across any device running Windows 10. It doesn’t matter if it is a phone, tablet, laptop, or PC the application will run providing a write once, run everywhere feature for software developers so they can get their applications installed on larger numbers of devices quickly and easily.

Windows 10 looks great and is now in public beta which means I am ready to get my hands on it and begin testing it. I expect that Windows 10 will be in full release by the end of summer. If it holds up to testing I will most likely be recommending all of my clients running Windows 7 or 8.1 to take full advantage of the free upgrade while it is available.

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