The Windows 10 Brief – Microsoft is Back!

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Sitting through a 2+ hour conference is hard work, no matter how exciting the content. If I have any major complaints about the Windows 10 brief last night, the delivery of the presentations at times were painful to watch. For such a big company you’d have thought someone would have stopped and said “is this a bit too…cringe?” Apparently not.

Try as hard as you like Microsoft, Cortana is not, and never will be, a member of my family – my girlfriend will never let that happen. Also not everyone’s American, so please spare a thought that what you may consider as a relaxed, friendly presentation screams that you are trying too hard to my British sense.

Having said that, Satya Nadella is an awesome speaker as Microsoft’s CEO. Refreshing, engaging and encouraging, his presence and delivery gives me hope Microsoft are gearing towards an innovative and bright future. Which is important for everyone – Windows computers are here to stay for the foreseeable future, so the world needs Microsoft to be innovative again. And innovative they were last night. So what did I make of the announcements yesterday?

Windows 10

Free for Windows 8.1 users – expected after all the rumours, but still very welcome. Free for upgrading Windows 7 users as well though? That’s bold – very bold. Moving consumers onto a new operating system means enterprises have to play catch-up and pay for their license upgrade to meet their user’s new expectations of a modern OS. That’s where the money will be made.

Microsoft

Continuum is awesome. As a Surface Pro 2 user, the switch between tablet and desktop mode being determined by whether the keyboard’s attached/detached is a simple but very effective improvement with what we had in Windows 8 and 8.1. Coupled with a true desktop start menu, a single computer settings view (FINALLY) and improved usability in both tablet and desktop modes makes Windows 10 a more cohesive operating system Windows 8/8.1 ever was. Mouse and touch now make sense together. http://youtu.be/F_O-LrGL-YQ Now let’s consider if this is expanded beyond what was shown – how about connecting via Miracast to a TV or other peripherals like Bluetooth devices? An OS that’s intelligent and uses the best interface for your input method? Yes please.

CortanaCortana

Cortana is the interesting addition to Windows 10 and on its own I must admit seemed like a gimmick. My thoughts whilst watching were pretty much based around the notion “I’ve seen this all before with Windows Phone, there is nothing innovative here. Why would a desktop user ever have a use for it?” But that’s missing the point of the feature’s inclusion, and with a day’s rest I realise I didn’t initially see the bigger picture.

With Windows 10 apps are suddenly universal – with the right interface considerations an app can be developed using the same code for desktops, tablets, the Xbox One and for Windows Phone. But with Cortana integrated on all these devices suddenly developers have a consistent and modern interaction tool across all devices. In theory this sound brilliant – a converged method of only having to learn a single operating system across PCs, tablets and phones.

Here lies my concerns though – what if I don’t have Cortana on my phone? I’ve recently moved from the stagnant Windows Phone 8 to the new and shiny Sony Xperia Z3. I’ve shut the door on Microsoft’s personal assistant for the next 2 years already, and so have many iPhone 6 buyers. Because of this, Cortana’s integration is relegated for most users to purely desktop responses and interactions – the one place where a voice assistant is the least likely to be used.

No one ever used Clippy in the old days when needing help, did they?

Having Cortana on Windows 10 is a bit of a Trojan Horse so as to help improve the 3rd party application support and interaction with Windows Phone. That’s no bad thing, but at the same time I can’t see many end users utilising Cortana’s capabilities when answers can be more readily returned using a web browser – a solution every user has learned over the last decade or so, with startlingly accurate results.

After all, Cortana has now become Microsoft’s main unique selling point with Windows Phone, and that was not enough of a reason 3 months ago for me to stay with their mobile OS. For Cortana to be a success 3rd party developers must embrace both Cortana and the universal application development.

It’s likely part of the reason why Windows 10 will be free for users, but only within the first year of its release; the more people on Windows 10, the greater the target audience for the new development platform, which in turn means developers need little input to release a good app on Windows Phone in addition to Windows 10. Xbox One is just a bonus.

Cortana-for-PC

Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad Cortana is in Windows 10. It’s a good move, and makes complete sense considering the direction their converged software is going. But at the same time I don’t think it will be as revolutionary as Microsoft would like it to be. Fragmentation is a b***h.

Xbox Live

Truthfully I didn’t pay much attention to the Xbox Live section – but what I did pay attention to was definitely good, if nothing revolutionary. Xbox One game streaming is a great addition, making my PS4 and Xperia Z3 streaming options a bit naff seeing I can only game on the Z3’s 5” display. Supporting cross-play with the Xbox One is also cool, along with built-in DVR recording (I wonder what the performance impact will be?). Welcome additions, and I’m glad Microsoft are not trying to compete with Steam on the PC.

Surface Hub

This could be huge. HUGE. Get it?

Surface Hub

Okay, crap joke. Sorry. At 84” it is huge, but I genuinely believe this could be the next big ‘must-have’ for those all-important corporate conference rooms. No longer will you need to buy a separate whiteboard, projector, conference dialler and computer for your meetings; just this one very snazzy product. These Surface Hubs will be super-expensive, no doubt, but the potential for team collaboration cannot be under-estimated. And it runs Windows 10. Love it.

Project HoloLens

HoloLens

So secret even Word 2013 thinks HoloLens is spelt wrong. The potential for HoloLens is great, but right now I think the best use cases are for education and leisure. It looks like an amazing feat of engineering and software, but until I’ve seen how it works in a cluttered environment I remain sceptical on just how good the technology could be outside of an organised test environment. The problem with most VR systems is that they enclose the user, shutting them off from the real world to enter a new one. Although ideal for games and simulations, claustrophobic is an understatement. It’s good to see an alternative approach that actually utilises the real world instead. As ever, developer support will make or break the product. Imagine playing a game using this technology on your regular display – instead of the display showing your in-game HUD, the HoloLens renders it, providing a pretty nifty ‘helmet’ effect with no fake 3D trickery going on. Now let’s go further – now you can issue orders with hand signals, or change your armour and weapons in an RPG without leaving the game view.

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Minority Report is one step closer with the HoloLens. I need to try this out for myself.

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About Author

Luke is a Citrix & Microsoft IT consultant based in the UK. His Citrix qualifications include CCE-V, CCP-N and CCP-M. He also holds an MCSA in Windows Server 2012 and is a certified MCITP on Windows Server 2008. He loves cats but hates spiders and the cold.

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