Microsoft says Windows 10 will be free for many; demos holographic computing

Event shows off near-feature and far-future products. 

Microsoft says Windows 10 will be free for users of Windows 7, Windows 8 and Windows Phones 8 during its first year (the new OS is due by Christmas; for mysterious branding reasons, there will be no Windows 9).

Windows 7 and 8 still run around half the world's PCs, so this is a big free upgrade offer.

Consumers buying new PCs have had little or no choice to upgrade to Windows 8, but many business buyers and other organisations are sitting on Windows 7 — the solid, does-everything-you-need OS that's being called the new XP (a reference to Microsoft enduring version of Windows that it finally killed support for in April last year. Official support for Windows 7 ended last week, but extended support will run through to 2020).

Certainly, that's been the case here at NBR Towers, where we recently bought a dozen new PCs, but have them running Windows 7 (though as Technology Editor and I'm using Windows 8.1 on one of my laptops, and the Windows 10 technical preview on the other).

Microsoft is introducing a host of tweaks with Windows 10, but for most the headline feature will the return of the Start menu.

I've been using the technical preview version of Windows 10 since November, and it's been pretty solid. I've only crashed once. And, better, in Desktop view and with the new Start button, and can more-or-less pretend I'm still in Windows 7. The sliding live tile interface introduced with Windows 8 solved a problem for Microsoft, giving Windows computers, tablets and phones the same interface (or at least a very similar one). But that was not an issue of particular concern for many Windows PC users, particularly those packing iPhones and iPads, or Android mobiles. Those tiles look great, but are slow to use in real-life next to good-old static shortcut icons on your desktop.

Microsoft also used its Windows 10 preview event in Redmond, Washington this morning NZ time to demo a new headset called HoloLens (pictured above) that lets people see — and manipulate — 3D “holograms.” 

This prototype technology is designed to bridge the gap been augmented reality and virtual reality. With the large headset on, users can still see the real world, and computer generated objects are displayed in front of them. These objects are controlled using motion sensors built into the headset, so ideally, even though a user will wave their hands around in the air to use HoloLens, they shouldn’t risk running into furniture or walls in the office or at home.

It's all technically impressive, but part of me wonders if Microsoft should focus less on the Star Wars technology, and more on simply making Windows 10 appealing to the version 7 hold-outs.

Voice, and universal apps
The latest featues to be revealed for Windows 10 include support for Cortana (the Siri-like Voice assistant already available for Windows Phone), plus support for Microsoft's "Universal App" model that will let software makers create one programe that can run across Windows PCs, 2-in-on-hybrids, tablets and phones (again, great for customers who live in an all-Microsoft universe, but not of such immediate pull for others. Regardless, the model should be a hit for developers and help encourage more Windows apps).

Gaming types will apprecate the ability to stream Xbox games to a Windows 10 PC (if it runs smoothly), and it looks like Skype is finally beiing better integrated into other Microsoft products.

Microsoft's official brag list from this morning's event:

  • Cortana comes to PC and Tablet. The Cortana personal digital assistant will now be available on Windows 10 PCs and tablets to support people and help them get things done.
  • A new web experience for Windows 10. “Project Spartan,” the next generation browser offers the ability to annotate with keyboard or pen and share with friends, distraction-free reading mode and integration with Cortana to put the web to work
  • Xbox on Windows 10. Stream games directly from your Xbox One to Windows 10, play games with friends across devices and experience great graphics built using DirectX12.
  • Office for Windows 10: Office universal apps on Windows 10 deliver a consistent, touch-first experience across phone, tablet and PC. We’ll have more to share on the next version of the Office desktop suite in the coming months.
  • The world’s first holographic computing platform: Windows 10 enables developers to create holographic experiences in the real world, and the new Microsoft HoloLens is the first untethered holographic computer – no wires, phones or connection to a PC needed.
  • New Microsoft Surface Hub optimizes Windows 10 experiences for groups: Surface Hub takes advantage of Windows 10, Skype for Business and Office 365 to make every person – remote or onsite – feel like they’re in the same collaborative space.

Watch a recast of the event here.

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