We have all known that an event was impending for the next phase of Windows 10 announcements. Microsoft had said as much recently, knowing that a technical preview build for the operating system should hit in January. This week, Microsoft sent out press invites for that event, which will take place in person and online January 21, 2015.
While that is not a huge surprise, what is a little surprising, or at least exciting, is who will be in attendance. Those people indicate a lot of what we will get to see in action on-stage.
CEO Satya Nadella, Executive Vice President of Operating Systems, Terry Myerson and Corporate Vice President, Operating Systems Group, Joe Belfiore will all be speaking, meaning, of course, that we will see Windows 10 in its main glory a lot. Between desktop, laptop, tablet and convertible, the main usage of the operating system, the PC, will be a big focus for the company.
Microsoft has said that, while the last showing of Windows 10 was based a lot on the enterprise, this one will be based on consumers. This means we will likely see consumer-based apps shown off, like Xbox Music or Hulu, assuming refreshes are in store (hopefully Hulu has a refresh in store, as their app currently doesn't work well on Windows 10).
We will likely see an expansion on some of the existing features, some of which were shown off at the enterprise event. For example, hopefully Microsoft will explain the idea behind including the multiple desktop idea, which for some is a confusing feature to build in, as opposed to allowing 3rd party platforms to offer it. I am hopeful that Microsoft will show off more of the notification system, including the Windows Phone inspired system tray.
We are also likely to see the Windows 10 addition of Cortana, Microsoft's uber-useful digital assistant. Anyone who has used the technical preview will know the search button on the task bar, next to the Start button. It currently launches a very Windows Phone 8-style Bing search box, but anyone who has used windows Phone 8.1 knows what power that button can truly wield, in the form of Cortana. Considering that a recent private build of Windows 10 included a testing version of Cortana, it is likely the goal is to show her off at the event.
Being as Cortana has become one of the most important and well-loved features of the Windows Phone ecosystem, her arrival on the desktop, laptop and tablet platform is an exciting move. Personally, I do not interact with the calendar, alarms, navigation or search on my phone directly anymore, opting instead for the ease of use of Cortana and her natural language processing prowess.
We are also likely to see some of the more hardware-centric features in action. The most important of these hardware related features is Windows 10 Continuum. Currently in the technical preview, depending on the hardware you install on, your experiences will be different, with no quick way to switch between them. If you install on a touch-first device, such as a Surface Pro 3, you will notice the interface is similar to that of Windows 8. If you install on a mouse & keyboard device, it will appear more like Windows 7.
Continuum allows the operating system to change itself based on your current hardware configuration. So, if you're using a Lenovo Yoga in laptop mode, it will live in the desktop realm. As soon as you bend it around into tablet mode, which is a touch-first environment, the OS will automatically switch into the more touch friendly Windows 8 style. Ideally this will also be configurable, allowing people to override these default settings to maintain either interface for all occasions.
In addition to the aforementioned executives, there will also be a presentation from Phil Spencer, Head of Microsoft's Xbox division and Microsoft Studios. One of the important things about Windows 10 is the fact that with it, Microsoft is converging platforms, theoretically leaving only one modern platform to rule them all, including the Xbox One.
With that, it is likely that Spencer will be there to show off some of that convergence. It is likely that an Xbox One running a Windows 10-based dashboard will be displayed, even if the dashboard is running on development hardware (not in the well-known black body). Hopefully Spencer will at least talk about the development capabilities of the platform, outside of the major players. I have wanted the ability to build an Xbox app for PLuGHiTz Live since Hulu and Netflix first appeared on the 360.
In addition to development features, hopefully Cortana will make an appearance on her original platform, the Xbox. Adding the power of Cortana and her natural language processing to the already useful Kinect-powered voice controls, the Xbox One could become the most useful livingroom PC ever.
In addition to the Xbox hardware, Microsoft is believed to discuss the future of gaming on the Windows platform, something that has been in flux for some time. Last year, they shuttered the PC Xbox Live companion, Games for Windows Live, instead focusing on Windows 8 as a platform. This year they reaffirmed their gaming commitment, which was reiterated with the purchase of the Minecraft studio. Unfortunately, for all of the talk, nothing major had been done to prove this commitment, until this week's release of Minecraft for Windows Phone.
If the Xbox One will be running on Windows 10, it is possible that Xbox-related content could be coming to the PC, potentially wrapped in the Xbox brand. Is it probable? Not very. Is it possible? Yes. Would it be awesome? Absolutely.
Another platform being brought in under the Windows 10 umbrella will be Windows Phone. Until now we have only heard talk, similar to the Xbox One, with no real evidence of what Windows 10 for phones might look like. There are rumored to be some Microsoft team devices currently running early development builds in the wild, spotted at Microsoft events. There are even rumors that some of the new features have even been spotted in an offhanded glance kind of a way.
One in particular is a feature that was part of the McLaren prototype phone, which was scrapped by Microsoft a few months ago. The device was testing a new 3D gesture system, which brought back yet another Zune feature - MixView. On the prototype, hovering over a live tile would bring up smaller tiles with context-related content. It is said that this feature has found its way into Windows 10 for phone, in a less gesture-based way. It is possible, if this feature is close enough to being shown off, we could see it on stage.
In the image above from a previous Windows 10 event, Microsoft showed off all of the places where Windows 10 would live. There are 2 places in the image that have been sorely neglected - the 2 embedded platforms. A large screen television with Microsoft branding and the Intel Galileo board sitting in the bottom-left corner. From previous development events, Microsoft has let us know some of their plans for the embedded world, with Windows on Devices, but we have yet to see it actually running on and controlling one of these machines.
While not likely, it is possible that Microsoft could show off a smart television running on Windows on Devices, or some other variant of Windows 10. Again, we could see Cortana make an appearance, built directly into a television. Voice controls are not new to smart televisions, Samsung has had a number of models with this feature, but none of them have had anything as powerful as Cortana powering them. It would also give developers another reason to build apps for Windows 10, which should make some loud people in the tech world happy.
Lots of conjecture and lots of hoping, but not a lot of time to wait. We will know in just over a month exactly what Microsoft will be ready to show off, nearly 6 month before the expected release of Windows 10. What features are you most excited to see in action? What rumors do you hope to be true? Let us know in the comments section.