Microsoft has pushed Windows right into the future with new updates to their legacy operating system, reports our Technology Editor Kevin Kelly.
At an event at the Microsoft campus just outside Seattle, the new version of Windows, called Windows 10, was showcased alongside a revolutionary new way of interacting with technology, Windows Holographic.
Terry Myerson, Microsoft’s executive in charge of operating systems, started the event talking through the details of Windows 10 that were already known. He laid out changes to its user interface that will make it friendlier to Windows 7 users, eliminating that big jump in usability to Windows 8.
The first big piece of news came when Myerson confirmed that Windows 10 will be a free upgrade in its first year for people running Windows 8.1 and Windows 7 on their machines. This is a big departure for Microsoft, a company that makes the vast percentage of its money on software.
Windows 10 will also run on Windows Phones, making this the first time that the same operating system runs on both phones and PCs. It will also be a free upgrade on phones.
New features were then unveiled, including Cortana, Microsoft’s answer to Apple’s Siri, running on the desktop, an improved notifications centre that features quick access to settings, and universal apps such as Office that can run on both PCs and phones.
Also unveiled was Project Spartan, Microsoft’s new browser set to replace the aging Internet Explorer. While not a whole new browser as it runs the same engine and innards as IE, it does feature a brand new interface that distances itself from its predecessor.
The main surprise of the event was the presentation of Windows Holographic, a feature of Windows 10 that allows you to work with augmented reality through a special headset called HoloLens. While other headsets, like the Oculus Rift, take up your entire vision, HoloLens are clear glasses that augment what you see rather than virtually take it over.
Some examples of use of the HoloLens that were demonstrated to journalists at the event included building objects that could then be 3D printed, playing Minecraft in the room around you, and exploring the surface of Mars, this example was built in conjunction with NASA.
According to Microsoft, HoloLens and Windows Holographic will be available and functional with the release of Windows 10 later this year.
The use of holograms and holographic technology mark a huge step into an ambitious future for Microsoft. As their last version of Windows took a hammering, both commercially and critically, introducing this incredibly bold and new way of computer interacting will be a gamble for Microsoft.
Just last week, Google announced it would be ending its current run of Glass, its own wearable computer that augmented your vision with information. With Microsoft now entering this space head first, albeit with a device and software that does have different functionality than Glass, the future looks increasingly different than the laptop or desktop PC you currently use.