A little over a month ago, I gave some predictions on what Microsoft would present at this week's Windows 10 event, as well as some of the stuff I personally hoped to see more of. Luckily, Microsoft did not disappoint, even one-upping me on some of the categories. They even announced a product within the embedded family that I don't think anyone could have possibly anticipated.
They even outpaced themselves on releasing the next version of the technical preview - build 9926. During the event, the team said the next build would be made public sometime next week, but it was released at 1PM Eastern on Friday. That is less than 48 hours after the event's end, making it an extremely quick turnaround. While the build does not include everything from the presentation, it is fairly close.
The notification system saw a healthy upgrade from the last build. While in the past, the notification area seemed to be an after thought, this time it is well implemented and even feels a lot like its Windows Phone counterpart. Appearing as a Modern-style flyout, the screen takes the place of several former Windows 8 features in the Charms bar that are receiving new life.
At the bottom are the quick actions - buttons like in current Windows Phone that allow you to get to certain features or disable radios quickly. The system settings portion of the Charms bar is now here, along with the ability to interact with Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, etc. The 4 most common can be customized like in Windows Phone, but all are available from the expanded menu.
The whole top portion is the notification area. All of the toast messages that display, either from Modern or desktop apps, will be available here until you dismiss them, or you launch the calling application. An enhancement over Windows Phone and the previous build is the ability to dismiss individual notifications from an app instead of being forced to clear all notifications as a group. Just like with the phone, though, there are certain types of notifications that I never want to stick around, but perhaps that will be solved in the near future.
One of the nice revelations about Windows 10 was about pricing. It will be a free upgrade for Windows 7, 8 and 8.1 for the first 12 months after release. If you don't take advantage of the free upgrade during that timeline, you will presumably be required to pay a standard upgrade fee. Obviously, the smart idea will be to get the free upgrade information while you are able and upgrade later if that is your plan.
Missing from that list are two Windows platforms: Windows Phone and Windows RT. Most Windows Phone 8+ devices will be compatible with Windows 10, though a list is not available. Microsoft intends to bring the OS to all Lumia devices, though I do have some doubts about any older 512MB devices, such as the 520 and 620 series. Windows RT, on the other hand, will not be quite so lucky. An update to RT will be released that will bring many of the Windows 10 features to the devices, without actually bringing Windows 10 to the devices. In conjunction, the Microsoft Store no longer has any Surface 2 devices for sale.
For all of the information on the rest of the Windows 10 announcements, hit the break.
Cortana has officially arrived on Windows 10. As expected, the search button on the taskbar has been replaced with a very Windows Phone-style Cortana. On the primary monitor, the button is now a search box with Cortana's eye on the left, a microphone on the right and textual search in the middle saying "Ask me anything." It is obviously an implementation of the search bar at the bottom of the Cortana app in Windows Phone.
On additional monitors, the full search box is gone, but Cortana's eye is there, and clicking on it will trigger the Cortana app to launch. Even the search box on my mouse can trigger Cortana. The best addition is the "Hey Cortana" feature, which I was really hoping to see in action. I was not expecting to see it in the release, but it is available. Hey Cortana allows you to call her to action with your voice.
Once the app has launched, it works almost exactly like the existing Windows Phone app. Included is the Discover, News and Finance capabilities, keeping you up to date on what is going on within whatever topics you choose. Having several development Windows Phones on a single Microsoft account, one of the things I have really liked about Cortana is her ability to sync her notebook between devices. That capability still exists in Windows 10, with all of my Notebook entries syncing from the phone to the desktop.
For me, my recommendations and news are all consistent between devices, helping to realize Microsoft's One Platform concept. Knowing that a reminder on Cortana from the phone could also exist on the desktop or Surface is wonderful.
One of the things I was most excited to see is the Continuum feature. That allows the operating system to change its mode based on the current hardware configuration. For mouse & keyboard first, the Start menu can be more like Windows 7 and apps are windowed, but when in touch-first mode, the Start menu is full screen and apps run the same way.
The feature was shown off, and is available in the current build. Seemingly dubbed "tablet mode" in the current build, the system can detect mode on its own, or can be overridden quickly through the quick actions in the notification area. The switch does not work exactly as expected on my test machine, which is running 3 monitors and does not support touch at all. Either the mode change will begin to work in the future for this configuration, or it will be disabled.
Xbox is on Windows 10 in a big way. The new Xbox app currently gives access to a number of Xbox One capabilities. On the main screen is your recent progress through achievements and Gamerscore within your recent apps. Activity feed is the same as your feed on Xbox One - a social feed of actions from your Xbox Live friends. Also included is your friends list, showing online and offline, as well as current status. You can begin a conversation right from here, or see existing messages.
Similar to the console, you have the ability to capture gameplay, including 30 second rewind, all through the Xbox app. You can also share that video to your activity feed as if you had been playing on the console. The best part is that it is not dependent on a game being played through the Xbox app itself. In fact, they demonstrated recording video from a game launched from Steam and posting to Xbox.
Coming soon, however, is the big deal: you will be able to stream games from your Xbox One to your Windows 10 computer within the network. Given that you can pair an Xbox One controller to a Windows 8 computer already, that means it will be pretty easy to setup satellite "Xbox One" consoles throughout the house. You could even pair a controller with a Surface and hook it up to your television and play your games.
Despite the articles to the contrary, this press event did not spell the end for Windows Phone. In fact, it proved that Microsoft is more committed than ever to the long-term success of the Windows Phone ecosystem. Bringing Windows Phone into the Windows-proper platform means easier app development and platform deployment.
The rumored development devices proved to be real, as we had the pleasure of seeing a Lumia 1520 in action running Windows 10. While the fabled MixView did not make an appearance, a large collection of universal apps did. We saw in action the new Messaging app, which now combines SMS/MMS and Skype into a single interface. This is a return of a feature lost in the upgrade form Windows Phone 8 to 8.1. In previous Windows Phones, the messaging app combined SMS/MMS, MSN Messenger and Facebook Messenger. Since then, MSN Messenger was shut down and Facebook Messenger changed their policy on integrations.
As with the current Windows Phone messenger, messages will be synced between devices running the operating system and on the same Microsoft account. As with Cortana on my development devices, my messages stay synced between multiple phones. If I receive a text on one, it will show up on the others in short order.
This is the category where Microsoft really shocked, showing two new pieces of hardware running Windows 10 embedded. First is a new generation of what appears to be the hardware originally known as the Surface, then renamed PixelSense, and now known as Surface Hub. This giant multitouch screen with stylus support is designed to make a conference room or design room better. Skype Business and whiteboard are built-in, making conference calls easier. Even better, once the meeting is complete, the contents of the whiteboard will be automatically distributed to everyone involved.
While I very badly want a Surface Hub for the studio, where Microsoft really shined was with a whole new concept in computing: HoloLens. After several years in development, Microsoft is bringing holograms to life, with the power of Windows 10. Shown off in the demo was a 3D designer which can create printable objects in a new way. They even showed off the fruits of a previous test run that had been printed from the app on a 3D printer.
HoloLens is very different from products like Oculus Rift in that it is not a virtual reality tool - it is an augmented reality tool. This tool is such a game changer that even NASA has ideas on how to put it to use. They plan on allowing NASA team to explore Mars through the eyes of the rovers, all with the assistance of HoloLens. There are a number of other great implementations of the technology, the most interesting of which is walkthroughs. You could have an interactive walkthrough of, say, a home repair, that is able to detect pipes or wires and tell you what to do to fix a problem.
Touch-first Office is finally coming to Windows, after its implementation on iOS and Android. These apps are being developed as universal apps, which means they will be available on both the full and small screen, while the current iteration is only available on the phone. A Modern Office suite is something that I have been waiting on since Windows 8 first launched. Now, with it finally coming to market, Visual Studio is the only thing keeping me from living in the Modern world entirely.
I have been waiting for the second, consumer focused Windows 10 event since the first one was complete, and Microsoft did not disappoint at any point in their presentation. While not everything I wanted to see was shown off in detail (there was very little of that), the things they did show off were above my expectations. The future of Windows is certainly a bright one, and I look forward to seeing what comes of Mobile World Congress and //build 2015.