Windows 10 gets it right – but is it too late?

22 Jan 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Microsoft says Windows 10 to be free upgrade for recent buyers.

The upcoming Microsoft Windows 10 operating system will be offered as a free upgrade to users of the most recent versions of Windows and Windows Phone software. The Windows 10 that Microsoft previewed yesterday is everything its predecessor should have been: it adapts between tablets and laptops, provides a consistent performance across phones and Xbox, and works as fast as the interfaces people have become used to from Google and Apple.

Unlike other head-mounted computing systems in the works, Microsoft’s new glasses-based virtual reality device, HoloLens, doesn’t need to be connected to a phone or computer. “We’ve unlocked the screen,” one developer said during the presentation at its Windows 10 event this afternoon.The feature will use a new holographic headset to overlay virtual images onto the real world — so that Skype conversations can pop up while people are working around, or a living room can be turned into a virtual landscape from a game.

Similar to existing Kinect technology on the Xbox, HoloLens allows wearers to interact with computer programs and games in three dimensions, using their hands and speaking commands. The platform, Microsoft Holographic, and the headset were both revealed as part of the launch of Windows 10, Microsoft’s new operating system for tablets, phones and PCs. When Microsoft removed the useful little button in the bottom left hand corner of the PC screen, it began a negative reaction to Windows 8 that never really went away. The company was so desperate to escape the legacy of the unloved operating system that it missed out the number 9 entirely — and putting further distance between Windows 10 and Windows 8 will be a key focus of the announcement.

The shift shows Microsoft is moving toward a frequently updated, subscription model for its flagship operating system, rather than major, paid-for upgrades every few years. This time round the problems are once again as much PR and momentum as they are technology, but there are few opportunities where Microsoft is regaining ground from the insurgents even if it does make better products. Microsoft also showed a video of a NASA scientist sitting at a computer wearing HoloLens glasses, then stepping away from the desk into an immersive hologram of the surface of Mars. The issue, as with Google Glass and any new in-your-face technology, is whether the average person will be prepared to wear something so bulky and obvious.

There’s comprehensive integration of Cortana, the voice assistant who can take on Siri and Google Now in the battle to be the best hardly used feature offered to still largely indifferent consumers. There’s a new stripped-down browser codenamed Spartan that offers a reading mode, the chance to annotate webpages or save them to read later, and generally do a host of things that are available in a host of other products. One note on the terminology that Microsoft chose: Microsoft repeated said that HoloLens produced “holograms.” (Oculus Rift, the other prominent virtual headset eventually making its way to the market, refers its imagery as “virtual reality,” and Google Glass has “augmented reality.”) Merriam-Webster says a hologram is a “three-dimensional image reproduced from a pattern of interference produced by a split coherent beam of radiation,” meaning a hologram would really be projected in the air, not onto a pair of glasses.

Microsoft’s Joe Belfiore also showed off a new notifications bar as well as the Continuum feature, which enables users to seamlessly switch between tablet and PC mode. “A device like this elegantly transforms from one mode to another,” he said, demonstrating how a Surface tablet changed as it was connected and disconnected from a keyboard. Microsoft hasn’t yet announced the kind of holograms that science fiction movies have led us to expect, but it seems to have created a new lexicon to differentiate itself from its competitors. In that context, the HoloLens glasses that Microsoft also unveiled may overlay the world with additional information on its semi-transparent lenses, but it exists as much to reassure the world that Microsoft’s Windows 10 is backed up by radical new ideas too.

The software is similar to the Siri software that runs on Apple devices, however this is the first time such an assistant has come to desktop devices. They may yet change the world, if the world suddently becomes populated by people happy to wear stupid-looking glasses, or some very clever industrial designers make them look a lot better.

That it’s acknowledged that even if Windows 8 worked for some people on some devices, it ceded yet more ground to the iPad and Android and it failed to persuade users that the company understood the future. But it won’t be giving up on business users, either — many of whom had the worst experience with Windows 8, finding it installed on their machines and disliking it. As analysts at Forrester put it: “If successful, HoloLens will ultimately expand the way people interact with machines just as the mouse-based interface did in the 1990s, and touch interfaces did after the introduction of the iPhone in 2007.” But on Windows 10 itself, “The plans don’t show enough potential for creating a differentiated mobile experience that will draw developers and customers away from iOS and Android.” In both areas, that’s far too many ‘ifs’ and uncertainties for comfort.

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