Windows 10 Announcement Highlights

There’s a lot to digest from the big announcements in Redmond. Here are the highlights…

I tried to watch most of the Microsoft announcement the other day. I got to see most of it, but I missed the very beginning and the very end. Such is the life of a working IT guy – meetings… its what we do. So I’ve been doing a lot of research on what’s coming with Windows 10 once the latest Technical Preview build is released. I’m also trying to keep an eye on the prize and dope out what might actually be coming through to us at the end of the whole gig, sometime in late Q3, early Q4 of 2015. What I’ve been able to pull together from what I can find on the internet is below.

However, please take everything with a grain of salt. The world is still geeking out over the Microsoft HoloLens. Everyone is doing the best NOT to turn into Lt. Barkley and become instantly addicted to the holosuite that can be strapped to your head. While I will cover some of that a bit later, its not the biggest and best thing about Windows 10, believe it or not.

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…and so, without much more mumbo-jumbo, here’s the highlights from the Microsoft Press Event of 2015-01-21.

Windows as a Service
This is probably the biggest announcement of the entire key note. It looks like upgrade costs – at least on the consumer side of the world – are a thing of the past. If I’m reading everything correctly, Microsoft is leaving its consumer, OS upgrade business model behind and is embracing the, “if you love them, set [it] free” model when it comes to upgrade pricing. According to the press even on 2015-01-21, Windows is now a SaaS (Software as a Service) product, and future upgrades will just appear on a Windows 10 (or better) machine, and cost the user nothing.

This is a HUGE step away from what was once a very lucrative business model – charging consumer users (sometimes hundreds of dollars) for OS/ platform upgrades. I can remember dropping $100 or more for an upgrade CD/DVD and looking at a full license cost of $357.99 or more and thinking that someone in Redmond was out of their mind. (Actually, I thought they might like to come over to my house, live like I do for a couple of weeks and then kindly explain to me what the hell they were thinking…) The general public can’t afford that, and that’s one of biggest reasons why users either tried to, wanted to or in fact, DID resort to pirating copies of Windows. The bloody thing cost too much for users either building or rebuilding a PC to afford (and don’t even START with me on Microsoft’s borked up Activation requirements that made you prove that you weren’t pirating a copy of Windows, but were, in fact, simply replacing a few computer components).

Now that Windows is a service and users of Windows 7 or better can upgrade their computer’s OS for free for at least a year after Windows 10 is released, pirated copies of Windows in the wild should be greatly reduced. The only question I have here is, “What if a consumer builds a Windows PC from scratch..? Will they have to pay for a Windows 10 license, or can they obtain a clean install DVD for free?” I haven’t seen an answer to that one just yet.

The other big question here is, “if Windows is TRULY a SaaS product, then is Windows 10 the start of ‘Windows 365,’ or some other subscription model?” My friend, Rod Trent, now running the SuperSite for Windows has an article on this specifically; and it makes some interesting points – Windows as a SaaS service is versionless (as its updated all the time, and there isn’t a new release, service pack or any major update… its just… updated); and how those updates will actually be rolled out to end users and/or corporate endpoints is unclear.

I mean, its assumed that Windows Update will still continue to deliver these and that corporate network admins can still deploy a version of Windows to the enterprise and then sit on updates until they are tested and approved; but that along with cost, are REALLY still up in the air. If Windows really is a SaaS product, then the delivery method may completely change… or it may not.

Windows 10 won’t be released until September or October of this year, so Microsoft at least has some time to work that out… Until then, we can all speculate on whether Microsoft is going to drop the Windows 10 brand for Windows 365 or Windows 1; or it if will offer Windows as both a subscription AND a standalone product as it does with Office today… let the rumor mongering begin!

Cortana
When Cortana was introduced on Windows Phone, it was seen as a direct competitor to both Apple’s Siri and Google’s Google Now digital assistants. While Siri is really the only DIRECT competitor here (Google Now is impersonal and doesn’t have the built in personality that come built into both Siri and Cortana. It may have something to do with the fact that “Google Now” isn’t a proper first name…)

Anyway, Cortana gets a big upgrade in Windows 10. She sits front and center, accessible via voice right off your Task Bar. There’s been a huge fuzzy logic implementation here, giving her the ability to learn about you and what you do, how you work, play, etc.; and the service will be providing information as you work and play – things (she thinks) you will find useful. The more you use Cortana, the smarter and more useful it gets.

The big difference between Cortana and Google Now is that Cortana isn’t doing all of this in order to either sell something to you, or to sell YOU to someone else (much like Google is doing with all of your information gathered via Google Now and other Google Services). Here, Microsoft wants you to use its product, instead of making a product out of you. Now, how long that stays that way, remains to be see, but at least for now, we can “trust” Microsoft not to abuse its superpowers.

Universal Apps
So, Microsoft is releasing, really only a single version of Windows 10. That same version of the OS will run on a desktop or laptop PC, a tablet AND a smartphone. The hardware effectively tells the OS what it needs, and the OS only installs and runs those components. Its smart enough to automatically determine the right screen sizes and orientations for what it needs to do all by itself. That, in and of itself is pretty cool.

If you’re a developer, it gets a bit cooler. Microsoft has one version of its OS, and they’re giving you (the developer) the opportunity to release only a single “universal” app that will run on all three major form factors (desktop, tablet and smartphone). Thanks to the smarts built into the OS, your app can take advantage of the same technology and only run in the right modes with the correct UI, screens, orientation, etc. In the end, you only have to maintain a single app if you wish (Microsoft isn’t holding its 3rd party developers to universal apps as a requirement).

I don’t know of any other desktop OS with a mobile counterpart (and that’s really only iOS) that has this capability. Right now, this is a Microsoft and Windows 10 exclusive feature.

Spartan Browser
Microsoft has surely heard the cries of its people and has provided a new browser for them. Spartan, a new browser targeted mainly at mobile devices – again, smartphones and tablets running Windows 10 – is a browser that will be running a new and improved Trident rendering engine. The browser will also work on Windows 10 powered desktop and laptop computers.

While the first build of Windows 10 that is supposed to run on smaller devices with screens 8 inches and under – like stables and smartphones – won’t be released until February of 2015, Spartan won’t be included in that build. It also isn’t included in the latest build of Windows 10 – build 9926 – for the desktop.

The browser is totally new. While it uses the Trident rendering engine, Trident is totally new. Microsoft rewrote it from scratch just for Spartan. The idea here is to create a browser that can truly compete with Web Kit based browsers like Chrome, Safari and Firefox. And while IE in and of itself isn’t going away, Spartan will be completely separate.

Its not completely clear which hardware will run IE, going forward. While Spartan will run on all Windows 10 compatible hardware and in any mode of the OS – meaning on a smartphone or tablet – its assumed that IE will remain a desktop only application. As such, Spartan will have some level of legacy compatibility built into it. That is to say, that it will be able to interact with websites written specifically for IE (like Outlook .com and OWA). While these sites run on non-IE browsers, their functionality is clearly limited and in some cases, disabled or missing. At least Spartan will have some level of legacy capabilities built in. How much, remains to be seen; and it’s hard to say, how well Spartan will be received, so it’s difficult to determine if this is the Microsoft browser that will finally replace IE or not.

Game DVR is a Game Changer
It’s obvious with the (at times, debatable) success of Xbox 360 and Xbox One that Microsoft is big on gaming and getting users to use Windows as a gaming platform. Microsoft is modifying its Xbox app for Windows, allowing you to view your games and chat with people via Xbox Live.

Game DVR is perhaps the biggest feature in the new app. With it, you can view, comment on and share game play clips. Any Windows game – including older Steam titles – can save a (last) 30 second game play clips via the Windows+G command. Since you never know when you’re going to bump into a totally stellar set of events, Windows 10 caches ALL game play on a rolling 30 second window, allowing you to save off the last 30 seconds to a cool clip that you can post and share with friends. Note, you’re likely going to need a fast processor, available free RAM and a fast hard drive to do this in a “reasonable” amount of time, if at all.

You’re also going to be able to serve up your games to any Windows 10 compatible, connected device on your home network. This is especially important if you have, say, a 9 year old son who totally LOVE playing Minecraft on your 50″+ plasma TV screen, and hates that he has to shut down because it’s time for the big game, or the family is just tired of watching him play for 4 hours straight. With Game DVR, the game can be transferred to a compatible phone or tablet, or other Windows 10 computer, where it can simply be continued. All you may have done is paused the game on Xbox One, run the Xbox app on an appropriate device and picked up where you left off.

With something like this in place, my son won’t have to stop playing simply because something as trivial as the Pro Bowl or the Super Bowl comes on. He can move to another Windows 10 device and pick up where he left off, and I can watch the game… All is right with the world.

Windows HoloLens
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I nearly lost my mind when I saw Windows HoloLens. There’s a lot there to be excited about, but I couldn’t help but hear Arnold Schwarzenegger’s, “I’ll be back…” run through my head a couple of times while the presentation was going on. You had to think Skynet at least a couple of times while the presentation was running. It was totally (and frighteningly) cool.

Windows HoloLens was developed in part by the same guy that brought us Kinect – Alex Kipman. Both he and others that have tried the device describe it as pretty much what you would think it was – It looks and works pretty much like it did in the video demonstration that we saw during the keynote.

You put the helmet on, and you’re effectively inside a new world that’s laid over the top of the one you live in every day. The thing that struck me while I was watching the demo was the ability to man and control drones in the same manner that Will Robinson controlled the robot in “Lost in Space movie that was released back in 1998. This way, you could pilot a plane or fly a reconnaissance mission without ever having to leave the safety of the airbase; and have a better, over-all experience than you would flying via a camera on the drone, displaying on a monitor at the base. With Microsoft HoloLens, you’d be “in” the plane.

NASA has eyes on the device for controlling rovers and being able to “explore” the surface of a distant world or asteroid (dare I say, comet?!?) without having to physically man a mission. They will be able to move the surface topography, examine specifics of it, and replace it, all without disturbing a single grain of sand. Other applications for design, design review, and hands-on training come to mind. They possibilities are very vast.

So is it available? As of this writing, it hasn’t. It should be available to developers in the Spring of 2015. The fact that Microsoft has this developer based, preliminary release milestone set in stone means that they must have a somewhat viable product, at least.

The other big problem is, of course, the cost. When you have something that is this cutting edge, it’s hard to know if and what will be available at what price. I would assume that this will initially be quite pricey. However, with the consumer based examples that Microsoft demoed – the dad helping his daughter fix the drain on her sink, for example – you would think that this would be something that most everyone could afford to purchase and work with.

However, this, like availability, is going to be a wait and see operation. There’s a big deal here; but how big will ultimately be determined by how affordable it is for the masses.

Conclusion
There’s a lot here. Windows 10 could really be cool if it was affordable to all, always up to date, and contained technology (like Cortana, HoloLens and Game DVR) that really worked in real world situations without a boat load of tinkering and tweaking required to keep it running and at an affordable cost so that the down stroke didn’t eliminate more than 75% of potential customers.

What do you think? Is Windows 10 going to be a winner? I’ll have a few articles up on my install experiences with it over the next few days as well as a follow up article to my Windows 10 Predictions column.

In the meantime, why don’t you join me in the Discussion area, below and let me know what you think?

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