Everything we know about the future of Windows

Windows 10 release date news and features

Update: Following the January 21 event, check out our post-event chats with Microsoft execs, like CEO Satya Nadella sharing his thoughts on the nitty gritty of Windows 10, which you can read below. Plus, Bill Gates talks up his secret project for Microsoft:

With Windows 8 and now Windows 8.1, Microsoft tried – not entirely successfully – to make tablets part of a continuum that goes from number-crunching workstations and high-end gaming rigs through all-in-one touchscreen media systems and thin-and light notebooks down to slender touch tablets.

The general consensus is that it still has a long way to go to produce a unified OS. Recently, Microsoft publicly made the first steps to doing just that, with Windows 10. Skipping the Windows 9 name entirely, the Redmond, Wash. firm aims to step into the next generation of computing with the right foot forward.

Microsoft’s Windows 10 Technical Preview is available through its Windows Insider Program website. You’ll need a Microsoft account to get it, and it’s worth bearing in mind that it’s not the finished product, so it will be a bit rough around the edges.

While information regarding the Windows 10 Road Map slowly trickling through with each reveal event, this is what we know so far regarding the stymied release of Windows 10:

  • The event on September 30, 2014 announced the release of the Technical Preview of Windows 10 for laptops and desktops, often referred to as WTP.
  • Microsoft released its Windows Insider Program on October 1, 2014, designed to keep early adopters up to date with the latest preview builds of Windows 10.
  • As of October 7, 2014, the preview build is available to Windows 7 users as well.
  • Starting with Technical Preview for laptops and desktops, the preview build will extend to smartphones some time in February, Microsoft’s Terry Myerson announced on January 21.
  • The consumer preview build launched on January 23, 2015 and was made available to download through Microsoft’s Windows Insider Program.
  • The Technical Preview will end sharply on April 15 of next year, which conveniently leaves right off at…
  • Microsoft’s Build 2015 conference next April, at which the company will have even more announcements and likely issue a Windows 10 release date.
  • Finally, the company promises that Windows 10 will ship to consumers and enterprise “later in the year” in 2015, Myerson said.
Cut to the chase
What is it? A complete update of Windows
When is it out? It will launch “later in the year” in 2015
What will it cost? For Windows 8.1 users, it will be free for one year
windows 10
Microsoft’s Terry Myerson shows off some impressive numbers

How much will it cost?

Confirming recent reports, Microsoft’s Terry Myerson announced that Windows 10 will be free for Windows 8.1 users for its first year. While there’s no word on pricing for users still on Windows 7 or an older version, Microsoft confirmed a while ago that the two most recent Windows versions will be able to upgrade to Windows 10 directly.

Microsoft’s chief blogger Brandon LeBlanc also confirmed that Microsoft will support those who scored a free upgrade to Windows 10 with security and system updates for the lifetime of those Windows 8.1 devices.

Bill Gates’s not-so-little secret

The co-founder and long-time former CEO of Microsoft has been working on a secret project for Microsoft known internally as the “Personal Agent,” Gates revealed in his third Ask Me Anything on Reddit recently. This Personal Agent is a piece of software designed to remember everything you do on a PC and provide guidance for how to prioritize and assistance in interacting with those apps and files.

“One project I am working on with Microsoft is the Personal Agent which will remember everything and help you go back and find things and help you pick what things to pay attention to,” Gates disclosed on Reddit. “The idea that you have to find applications and pick them and they each are trying to tell you what is new is just not the efficient model – the agent will help solve this. It will work across all your devices.”

windows 10
*Not actual size

Windows Phone users get a sneak peek

Microsoft will soon (if not already) issue a major update to Lumia devices running the latest version of Windows Phone 8.1, codenamed “Denim”. The Denim update will bring just a taste of the features that Windows 10 will employ heavily on Microsoft’s phone lineup, namely Cortana.

This, of course, is in addition to a host of more features, like Live Folders, a Glance Screen tool, enhancements to Internet Explorer and the camera app among others. You can check out all the details in our in-depth Lumia Denim update explainer.

Most recently, Microsoft’s VP of Operating Systems Joe Belfiore teased that more information regarding Windows 10 on phones is coming within the next two weeks as of this writing. The new details will come in a video, according to Belfiore.

windows 10
We doubt you’ll be outfitting your living rooms with this one…

Microsoft reveals something huge

Like, 84 inches huge. Microsoft has developed an entirely new device to showcase the features and capabilities of Windows 10, called the Surface Hub. Redmond team members revealed and demoed the device during its January 21 reveal event.

The device is an 84-inch, 4K touchscreen that is designed for enterprise users – generally meeting rooms. The Hub also features stylus support similar to the Surface Pro 3 with a pen specifically made for the device.

The device is designed to offer a holistic solution for meetings from web conferencing to whiteboarding and document sharing. No word on price or release date was given.

windows 10
This is where Microsoft thinks the PC is headed

… and something intangible

During its January 21 event, Microsoft revealed Windows Holographic and Microsoft HoloLens, a brand new headset and hologram system designed to blow the concept of augmented reality wide open. Every Windows 10 device will support holographic computing APIs.

Windows Holographic is Microsoft holographic computing platform, while HoloLens is the proof-of-concept for the firm’s holographic computing initiative. The company built a brand new holographic processing unit (HPU) to process terabytes of data from every sensor packed into the HoloLens.

Through the HPU, HoloLens can run completely independent of any other device. Microsoft demonstrated the technology on stage, creating a 3D model using holograms and later 3D printing that exact specification. There was no word on when HoloLens will launch and how much it will cost, but Microsoft promised that it will be ready for the public launch of Windows 10.

windows 10
You’re a cheeky one, Cortana

Cortana is warping to the PC

That’s right, Windows 10 will see the spread of Cortana, Microsoft’s Siri and Google Now competitor, into all versions of the new OS, including desktops, laptops and tablets. Microsoft’s Joe Belfiore showed off the new PC-centric features within Cortana during its January 21 reveal event.

Namely, Redmond developed PC-specific functions into Cortana for easier access to files, apps and more. Belfiore demonstrated colloquial queries like, “Show me photos from December,” to which Cortana summoned images within that time period immediately. The idea here is to make key pain points in interacting with a PC easier than before through voice.

windows 10

Microsoft’s Universal approach

During its January 21 reveal event, Microsoft’s Joe Belfiore revealed exactly what the company meant by “Universal apps” when it first showed off Windows 10. Basically, the company is developing special versions of its key apps, like Office, for Windows 10 phones and tablets under 8 inches.

Apps like Word, PowerPoint, Excel and Outlook will look and feel nearly identical to their desktop counterparts, but be optimized for touch and screen size. And through Microsoft’s cloud infrastructure, all of your files will be accessible through those devices regardless of where it was created.

Belfiore also detailed a brand new photos app accessible from any Windows 10 device, pulling down images from the company’s OneDrive storage service. The new app aggregates images from both local and cloud storage, eliminating duplicates and enhancing photos automatically.

Finally, the universal photos app will also automatically create photo albums based on not only when and where photos were taken, but the subjects of those photos. The idea here is for managing photos to be simpler and more automated, taking things a few steps further than rival solutions.

Following the January 21 event, Microsoft went on to confirm that its most important suite of Universal apps, Office 2016, will launch in the second half of 2015. This potentially puts Office 2016 ahead of Windows 10 in terms of release.

Keeping in touch

During the January 21 event, Belfiore demonstrated its “continuum” approach to computing with Windows 10 – not just through different devices, but 2-in-1 products as well. Using a Surface Pro 3, the OS chief showed off what it will be like changing use cases on a Windows 10 device.

When the tablet was connected to its keyboard cover, the Surface Pro 3 acted as if it were a laptop, which it technically is. Then, as soon as Belfiore removed the keyboard, a small icon appeared in the lower right of the screen, asking him whether he’d like to activate tablet mode.

Doing so changed all of the apps to full screen, made icons slightly larger and allowed users to access the Start screen a la Windows 8, albeit much updated. As soon as he reconnected the keyboard, the device offered to revert back to its original mode, which then repositioned and resized the windows and icons as they were.

windows 10
How long do we have until ‘300’ jokes go stale?

This … is … Spartan (browser)!

Belfiore went on to detail Project Spartan, the company’s revamp of Internet Explorer, during the January 21 reveal event. He detailed unique features, like the ability to mark up webpages before sharing them with others, and to comment on those same pages at the software level.

Once pages are marked up with drawings and comments, that page is frozen in time with live links and open for sharing through Windows 10’s built-in sharing features. Spartan will also support built-in offline reading and PDF support, not to mention Cortana.

Microsoft’s virtual assistant will be baked into Spartan and pop in with recommendations and help based on your browser behavior. Belfiore in particular demoed a scenario in which a user is en route to a flight. Upon opening the browser to find flight data, Cortana will pop in with that info before the user even needs to look it up.

Since the big reveal, Microsoft’s Group Program Manager for Internet Explorer, Jason Weber, confirmed one big question: Spartan is not a replacement for Internet Explorer, but rather a second browser. Weber went on to explain that, while his team is heavily focused on making Spartan work with the rest of the web, IE11 will be kept for compatibility with legacy and enterprise websites.

Most recently, Microsoft’s @IE Dev Chat account on Twitter confirmed that the Project Spartan team is working on bringing extension support to the new browser. Furthermore, Microsoft confirmed to The Verge that the team is also working on a way for users to import Chrome extensions directly to Spartan.

windows 10
Finally united, and it feels so good

Windows 10 and Xbox unite

For an interesting, forward-looking projections and reactions to the gaming announcements on January 21, check out Jake Muncy’s take right here.

Microsoft’s Xbox lead Phil Spencer took the stage during Microsoft’s big January 21 event, detailing the Xbox app on Windows 10. The app collects all games played on any Xbox or Windows 10 device, a universal friends list and an activity feed. Every Windows 10 device will have the Xbox app pre-loaded.

Users will be able to record game sessions through the Game DVR tool and share them across the Xbox network. Essentially, Windows 10 will bring the automated recording featured in Xbox One to games played on Windows 10 – even those launched through other apps, like Steam.

Spencer also briefly showed off Microsoft’s next collection of graphics and gaming APIs, DirectX 12. Namely, support for the platform expanded to the Unity game engine, and DX12 enables low-power graphics processing for Windows 10 mobile devices.

Plus, Spencer and a Lionhead Studios representative demoed what it’s like to play the same game through a Windows 10 PC and an Xbox One with friends at the same time. Basically, cross-platform multiplayer gaming is coming to Xbox One and Windows 10.

Finally, Spencer demoed the ability to stream any Xbox One game to any Windows 10 device from within the home over Wi-Fi. The Xbox lead also teased that several Windows 10 features will find their way onto Xbox One, but was mum on the details.

Phoning in features

Shortly after the initial Windows 10 reveal back in September 2014, Microsoft released a fresh feature to the Windows 10 Technical Preview, but on that’s not new to Windows Phone: notifications. Known as the Action Center on Windows Phone 8.1, Notifications on Windows 10 operate in much the same way.

Featured as a button on the task bar, Notifications collects alert data from plenty of sources. “You’ll see notifications from the system and apps – from new emails and invites to IMs, Facebook posts and more – all in one place, so you don’t miss a thing,” Microsoft Director of Windows Program Management Gabe Aul wrote in a blog post.

Windows 10

Speaking of new features, Microsoft’s Joe Belfiore teased new trackpad gestures that will come to Windows 10 during his TechEd Europe keynote in October 2014. Much similar to the gestures that Mac users are used to, the new OS will soon respond to three-finger swipes in three directions.

Swiping downward with three fingers will return you to the desktop from within any app, while an upward gesture will summon the new task view. Swiping with three fingers either to the left or right will switch between open apps. Users will also be able to resize snapped windows with a unique three-finger gesture.

Most recently, some striking similarities were found between Microsoft’s Skype integration into the Windows 10 messaging platform and Apple’s iMessage system. Basically, Skype will serve as an intermediary for SMS and other text message formats, taking those messages and storing them for access on any Windows 10 device. However, Apple’s solution is bound to Apple devices, while Skype is available on just about any mobile or computing platform.

Shooting for security

Running the world’s most ubiquitous OS, Microsoft has always taken security quite seriously, often releasing patches daily to its various versions of Windows. Now, the company looks to take its security measures for Windows 10, with two-factor authentication (2FA) coming standard on enterprise versions of the OS, the company announced during its September 30, 2014 reveal.

Microsoft also intends to protect user identities by storing user access tokens in a secure container that runs on top of Hyper-V technology, isolated from the rest of the OS. Windows 10 will also offer a data loss prevention solution that will allow users to separate their corporate personae from their non-work ones.

… and for your data?

Short after the release of the Windows 10 WTP, the OS was pegged for collecting user data. While this is a beta preview, and as such should be collecting feedback data, claims from a number of news outlets pointed to more even more sensitive information.

The Technical Preview reportedly has the capability to track and log keystrokes, capture voice data and more. This may be cause for caution, but keep in mind that almost all, if not all, modern operating systems track and log some level of usage data. Though, it’s almost always anonymized.

Windows 10 release date
One operating system designed with every device in mind

It’s still all about unity

Windows 10 will be “one application platform” for all the devices that run Windows, Microsoft Windows head Terry Myerson declared during the September 30, 2014 reveal, with one store to rule them all. (So to speak.)

While on stage at the event, Microsoft showed images of the new operating system running on everything from desktop PCs to smartphones. In fact, Myerson confirmed that Windows 10 will be the driving OS behind its smartphone platform as well.

Myerson was mum on the naming conventions (e.g. whether Windows 10 on phones would be known as Windows Phone 10, et. al). But what matters is this: Windows 10 will be behind every device that Microsoft has a hand in.

Yes, even the Internet of Things

Based on CEO Satya Nadella’s recent comments during Gartner’s Symposium ITxpo in October 2014, Windows 10 is almost certainly being developed with the Internet of Things in mind.

“Windows 10 is a very important step for us.” Nadella said on stage. “It’s the first step in a new generation of Windows as opposed to just another release after Windows 8. General purpose computing is going to run on 200 plus billion sensors. We’ve architected Windows where it can run on everything.”

Microsoft still cares about enterprise

In fact, the crux of the September 30, 2014 event was to speak to enterprise users and get it in front of them first. “Windows 10 is a very novel approach of separating corporate and personal data across all devices,” Myerson said on stage. “Windows 10 is going to be our greatest enterprise platform, ever.”

Microsoft didn’t exactly please its enterprise audience with Windows 8.1 – adoption has been awfully slow. (And now will likely halt with this new version on the horizon.)

To that end, Microsoft’s Windows Phone guru Joe Belfiore even noted that the company is “looking to find the balance, so that all the Windows 7 users get a familiar experience on the devices they already have.”

As for the recent January 21 event, Microsoft seemed to let the Surface Hub speak for the company’s enterprise ambitions, at least from a hardware perspective. No more details were given regarding security and other business user concerns.

The Start menu: bigger, better, stronger

The return of the Start menu that Microsoft teased during its Build 2014 conference earlier in 2014 was shown off in full force at the September 30, 2014 event. Replete with a merging of the traditional Windows 7-style interface and Windows 8 Live Tiles, the new Start menu is designed to please both camps: touch and mouse users.

Windows 10

“They don’t have to learn any new way to drive,” Belfiore said, referring to Windows 7 business users. That said, customization will also be featured throughout, first with the ability to resizing the Start menu itself along with the Live Tiles within.

The Start menu features empowered search capabilities as well, able to crawl your entire machine, not to mention web results. (Through Bing and not Google, we’d imagine.)

Snap to it, will ya?

The traditional Windows 7 Snap View works in Windows 10’s desktop mode with classic and universal apps, enhanced by a new “Snap Assist” interface. Snap Assist works in tandem with Task View, a new feature that allows users to create multiple desktop environments within a single instance of Windows 10.

Windows 10 release date news and features
Snap windows (and desktops) in all sorts of new ways

You can now grab apps from different desktops and group them together using the Snap Assist UI, all of which is mouse or touch controlled. These features seem more designed for face-level multi-taskers, or people that rely more on visual computing. Of course, this comes in addition to enhanced keyboard shortcuts for power users.

Click on through for a detailed look at the rumors and leaks leading up to the first and second Windows 10 announcements. On the third page, we projected what Windows 9 – err – Windows 10 would be like, or at least what we had hoped. Read on to see how much we got right.