A Windows 10 Story

You know you run through your head all the clever and insightful things you are preparing to write then you sit down in front of the screen, open up WordPress, put your hands over the keys…….

And you go blank.

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As a fan of Microsoft, yesterday’s Windows 10 event left me feeling the type of high you get when your team wins a tournament. It didn’t answer everyone’s questions about the app gap. There was no new app wins (but we finally saw Office). There was hardware, but it was something NO ONE expected. I still think they need to do more with the Start Screen; and the enthusiasts will complain it’s not “Metro enough” or “It’s too much damn Metro, give me Aero.”

The thing I took away wasn’t so much a single feature, but the answer to a question people wanted answered. It has been a question people have been asking the last few years and especially when Satya Nadella became CEO. In today’s tech market what place does Windows have? To users and to Microsoft itself.

And on Wednesday Microsoft answered.

It is clear people working on Windows 10 want to make it memorable. It’s also becoming clear that they are committed to delivering something that is appealing to users. The main build of Windows 10 continues to be polished with new animations and refinements to taskbar and the overall look and feel.

At this point Joe Belfiore, Windows VP on PC/Phone/Tablets, took over showing features. At this point if you’ve been following Windows 10 you wouldn’t have been surprised by his demos. Cortana on the Desktop, turning the Start Menu into the Start Screen and back, new changes to the taskbar. What was nice was being able to see it all in action.

Belfiore confirmed the coming together of the Control Panel and Settings; they will be a Universal app running on phones, tablets, and PCs. The Charms bar (RIP) has been replaced by the Action Center which has more features and ties in closely to the Phone. Cortana is now the search option and can retrieve various bits of information from all over. Like others I thought the Cortana stuff ran too long but the functionality and integration is staggering to behold.

With Windows 10 Windows RT and Windows Phone as specific versions are gone. In their place is Windows 10 for small tablets (under 7 inches) and phones. Unlike on larger devices, this version will not have a desktop. From the current look Windows 10 mobile looks a lot like Windows Phone except we can now change the background. They did not show multitasking but I am assuming it will be similar to how it’s done on larger devices (using TaskView).

I like some of the changes coming to phones, but I wish they had done more to overhaul the Start Screen. The Universal app model is interesting especially in the changes its making to the Metro (Modern) interface. I will be going more in depth on it later, but for now it appears that at least on the app side there will be a new visual language. The fruits of the model are appearing quickly with rewrites for core applications, Office, and even the Settings app.

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Microsoft finally took the sheet off Office Universal apps (formerly Gemini and Office Touch). Belfiore showed off Word, PowerPoint, Outlook Mail, and Calendar. Word, Excel, and PowerPoint will be included on all phones and small tablets similar to how it is now; the apps will also be available for download from the Store for larger devices. The new Outlook app has new quick action features (flick right to delete and left to flag). The Calendar app has also been changed sporting cleaner lines and colors. While briefly shown as motion studies Music, People, and Photos will also be revamped for Windows 10. I would just like to say that the Photos app redesign is enough of reason to upgrade (even though I miss the Photo cover in Windows 8).

Another bit of information we knew before it was shown was Project Spartan. Spartan is the new browser for Windows built on a forked version of the engine used to build Internet Explorer. Spartan is another part of the Windows 10 announcement I will discuss in another post (honestly Microsoft just kept dropping info like they had to go pee). Spartan is, well, spartan in look and features at this moment and it won’t be part of the next Technical Preview. Belfiore did not talk about extensions or web apps but he did show off the rumored features for the new browser. Spartan in its current form has three features. You can write and type notes on web pages using the inking tool, save articles to the Reading List app, and with a click switch into Reading mode. Cortana is integrated into Spartan and can pop up information from address bar or from the side. Spartan will work on all three Windows screens.

phil_spencer_battletoadsAt the point Phil Spencer, head of Xbox, came on the streamed buffered (actually this event is one of the few times I have had the issue with a Microsoft event). Spencer seemed a little nervous with the crowd of journalists (I won’t make jokes cause I would’ve been standing like a log). What Spencer came to show was the new Xbox app for Windows 10. In Spencer’s short time on stage he announced the ability to stream Xbox games off the console and onto PCs and tablets. He showed off console and PC cross platform gaming; announcing the latest version of Fables will be coming for both PC and Xbox One. He announced DirectX 12 on Windows 10 on all three screens, and he perhaps leaked the return of Battletoads.

The Surface Hub is a 4k, 84 inch touch display built for the Enterprise. The most interesting thing about the Hub is in how in some ways it’s a past through for other devices. You can move what you’re working on from your device to the Hub’s screen almost instantly. Another interesting aspect of the Hub is the notion that a user’s information and work comes with them and leaves with them. Like the Kinect the Hub recognizes users and logs them in and saves their work to their profile. The Surface Hub comes in two sizes (55 and 84) and yes it comes with a pen.

Everyone call this Microsoft’s one more thing, I call a Mic drop or the tech equivalent of the middle finger. At one point looking at it in action I thought to myself it’s not real, this is fake. Then the articles started coming in and jaded reporters and bloggers seemed to be trying their hardest to not act like 10 year olds. And all this from some funky black shades. Windows Holographic was not something anyone had in mind when thinking about what Redmond would show at a Windows 10 event. Even now it seems a little to sci-fi. Windows Holographic and the HoloLens that runs it will be out in the Windows 10 timeframe. It was worked on for five years under the Microsoft Welcome Center and Gift shop.

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The headset is freestanding, augmented reality device that will remind some of Google Glass and Oculus Rift. It started life as a gaming helmet and now it will help JPL explore Mars. The whole thing was surreal; it’s like the first step toward the Holodeck or at least Tony Stark’s garage in Iron Man 2. Windows Holographic essentially paints a virtual world onto the 3d landscape we live in creating this immersive space you can walk around. Head of Wearables and creator of Kinect Alex Kipman showed off the prototype and with a colleague showed off a holographic image of Terry Myerson and made a flying contraption in 3d.

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When he stepped out on stage Satya Nadella essentially closed the event by restating the importance of Windows to Microsoft. The fact that he talked about Windows being Microsoft’s platform, as the place in which all its services came together, was a big deal. Up until then it appeared his tenure would see Windows recede into the background especially in mobile. I think it was important and necessary that he as CEO made it clear that Windows was THE platform. Yes Microsoft wants its services everywhere, but Windows is where they come together and are at their best. What I really loved was that he said that the future of Windows is not just creating a product people need to use, but both choose and love. And in many ways Wednesday was so eventful because the people there seemed to be there because they thought Windows mattered, it’s users matter, and sometimes that’s what’s needed.

So now that the challenger has finally shown up the fight can begin.

Images: Microsoft

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