Anticipation for Windows 10 runs so high that over 1.7 million people have registered to be part of the "Insider" group testing the new operating system.
Of course, some of the excitement comes from the fact that Windows 8 has not been well-received by many, but others are charged up because Windows 10 comes at a pivotal time for Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT). The company has a new CEO in Satya Nadella, and the latest incarnation of the company's signature software allows the company to deliver a Windows that reflects his vision of the future of computing.
A number of Microsoft execs shared more details about the OS in the "Windows 10: The Next Chapter" event today. Let's take a look at some of the highlights.
Microsoft is listening
One of the key complaints about Windows 8 is that it was developed without considering the user base. Microsoft is making it clear that's not happening this time, and Windows division boss Terry Myerson cited feedback from people in the "Insider" program multiple times during his opening remarks. A video was shown where Microsoft engineers talked about how helpful the Insider program has been.
Though he's not directly saying, "we're being less arrogant this time," Myerson is certainly implying it.
Cortana is coming
"You'll see Cortana like never before," Myerson said as he opened the event.
Those comments confirmed that the voice assistant would be part of the new OS. Previously, it had only been offered on select mobile devices.
Cortana will work in voice-activated fashion on PCs and it will also take typed commands. It will also improve over time as it learns from people using it, and adding it to Windows 10 greatly adds to its user base.
Across all devices
"Windows 10 will support the broadest device family ever," Myerson said.
The new OS will, like Windows 8, power not just desktop and laptop PCs, but also tablets and mobile devices. Windows phone will also run a version of the OS as will Xbox. The phone version won't run full programs on phones, but it will run all of the apps in the Windows app store, allowing for a seamless experience across devices.
Doing this allows developers to build one app for a single Windows app store and have it be available across PCs, phones, tablets, and Xbox. That may entice some developer to build Windows apps who previously hadn't because the company's mobile audience was tiny compared to Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) iOS's and Android's.
Corporate security is a focus
"Windows 10 will protect corporate data better than ever," Myerson said. "Windows 10 would have stopped the latest high-profile attacks."
Myerson made it clear that building a secure system was important, indirectly addressing the notion that Windows-based machines are more vulnerable than those on other operating systems. He specifically drilled home that idea that the OS was engineered with the security needs of its corporate customers in mind.
"Businesses need to trust that their corporate data is protected and managed as it moves between these devices," he said.
One of the goals of the new OS is for people to be able to use devices with transformable form factors seamlessly.
Joe Belfiore, a Windows exec, took the stage to tout what the company is calling the Continuum Experience, that is the ability to transition from tablet to laptop mode on hybrid devices flawlessly.
Beyond just making Windows 10 work seamlessly between modes, Microsoft is also working on interfaces for some of its most popular products so they can deliver a seamless experience across devices.
Belfiore showed an example of how Outlook would work across various devices and said that the company was building out Skype to make it a challenger to Apple's FaceTime and iMessage. Cross-platform versions, of Word, PowerPoint, Excel and the other Office apps are also in the works.
A new browser is coming
A new Microsoft browser, not an update to Internet Explorer, has been rumored for months, and Belfiore confirmed its existence under the name "Project Spartan."
The browser will allow for "new forms of input," he said, such as writing on the screen with a pen. It was also designed to make the most common Web experiences better. Belfiore illustrated this by talking about reading.
"We looked at how we could standardize reading on the web." Belfiore explained, allowing that the browser's reading mode could be customized, and it translates to whatever device you are using.
Explorer will still ship with Windows 10, but Spartan will be the featured browser.
Windows 10 is going to be free for some
"The engineering work to enable a seamless upgrade is only the first part," Myerson said. "I'm very excited to announce that for the first year after Windows 10 is available, we will be making a free upgrade to Windows 10 available to all devices running Windows 8.1."
That move should buy the company goodwill and erase any negative feelings caused by Windows 8/8.1. It should also bring Windows 10 a huge initial user base. It could also spur sales of Windows 8 devices now because customers won't be worried about purchasing a device and then getting stuck paying for an upgrade.
The free upgrade will also apply to Windows 7 users and people using the Windows 8 Phone. That's big news for the phone customers as hardware reasons made it so people using Windows phones before the current OS could not upgrade at all.
While free is good, the use of the term "one year" implied that ultimately, Windows may move to a subscription-based service like the company has done with Office. That's potentially good for the company, but it's a tightrope to walk with customers who are not used to paying for an OS other than a possible upgrade a couple of times per decade at most.
"Windows 10 changes the rules of the game and redefines the relationship between us and our customers," said Myerson, who also used the term "Windows as a service," though he never directly mentions a subscription model.
Late in the event, Nadella also addressed the subscription model by not answering the question. "There is no fundamental shift to our business model that we are announcing today," he said, which heavily implied that such an announcement may happen down the line..
Windows is going to have holograms?
"We're dreaming beyond virtual worlds and beyond today's digital border," Microsoft exec Alex Kipman said. "We're dreaming about holograms."
A video was shown showing how this would work, and Kipman promised that everyone in physical attendance would see a demo of a hologram in the company's lab that day. He cited a doctor being able to learn a procedure without picking up a scalpel, or turning your living room into an immersive gaming environment.
Kipman invited developers to participate and create holograms.
"Developers, Windows 10 is yours. Holograms are Windows Universal apps, and all universal apps can be made to work with Windows Holographic," he said.
When is it coming?
The company did not announce a release date for Windows 10, but said the changes talked about at the event would be rolled out to Insiders over the next five months. That suggests the release date may be in the third quarter, or even the early fourth quarter to capitalize on the spike in computer, tablet, phone, and devices sales during the holiday period.