Software giant Microsoft has unveiled the key features of its forthcoming Windows 10 operating system, which aims to ‘make Windows the most popular platform’ for developers.
Speaking at Microsoft’s annual developers’ conference in San Francisco, Microsoft’s executives provided details of the technology behind its ambitious plan aimed at resuscitating the operating system’s fading popularity.
Addressing the conference, Microsoft’s CEO Satya Nadella said that contrary to previous updates, the introduction of Windows 10 presents an entirely new generation in the evolution of the once-dominant operating system.
“It is a very different Windows in terms of how we deliver it. It's a service,” Nadella said.
"I'm really excited about where we are in this journey, but I'm most excited about what we together are going to do in the coming year with Windows 10."
Here are some of the key features introduced at the conference.
Previously referred to as ‘Project Spartan’, Edge had been designed to replace the firm’s trademark Internet Explorer, once a globally dominant web browser, which has lost popularity in recent years to Google's Chrome, Mozilla's Firefox and Apple's Safari browsers.
The new browser, promising faster speed and better integration with Microsoft’s personal assistant Cortana, will be the default browser on all Windows 10 devices.
The browser will learn how users search the web and will offer built-in extensions for social media, with dedicated buttons integrated in to the browser bar.
Compatibility with Android
The firm’s executives confirmed the rumours circulating ahead of the conference that Windows 10 will now run an Android sub-system, making it compatible with Android devices.
Microsoft also announced four new software development toolkits, including Visual Studio Code and the Azure cloud platform, that will make it easy to bring code for the Web, .NET, Win32, iOS and Android to the Windows Store with minimal code modifications. This will enable developers to start with an existing code base such as Android or iOS, integrate with the Universal Windows Platform capabilities and then distribute their new application through the Windows Store.
"Our goal is to make Windows 10 the most attractive development platform ever," said Terry Myserson, head of Windows.
Capabilities to scale applications across devices
Windows 10 is set to allow consumers to use apps across any devices, including smartphones and the Xbox One, Microsoft's games console.
"From devices with small screens like phones to large screens, going beyond, and all-in-one PC to large wall-mounted displays like Surface Hub,” Myserson explained. “We're talking about one platform, a single app, a single binary that can run across all of these devices."
Windows 10's aim of making all apps universal was demonstrated with the USA Today app used across a range of devices with different screen sizes, the content automatically optimising and resizing as the app was used on different devices, from a desktop computer to a smartphone.
Windows 10 will also begin to recognise and display some websites as apps. The DJ website 22Tracks was shown as an example, with the web site registered with the Windows App Store. When Windows 10 users visit the 22Tracks web site, and others, it will appear as an app rather than a web page. Mr Myerson said this will give more developers access to app versions of their products more easily.
This feature gives users the power to put one device down running an app and then pick it up in exactly the same place on another, with the feature working on a smartphone for the first time. This will enable users to turn their phone into a PC, with the larger screen becoming the monitor.
"With Continuum, we believe any screen can be your PC," said Microsoft's Joe Belfiore. "Imagine you're on vacation and your hotel room can become a theatre or you connect your phone to a TV screen. What we're trying to show here today is our unique vision for phones and enabling them to scale up to a full PC-like experience."
New features for Microsoft Office
Microsoft decided to open the popular Office software to developers, enabling them to build intelligent solutions with the new Office Graph API.
One such application demonstrated at the conference links Microsoft’s email and calendar service Outlook to car-sharing service Uber. Through the app, Uber can see the user’s position based on data extracted from his or her Outlook meeting reminders.
The new Office Graph API has expanded add-in capabilities for the iPad and Outlook and unified APIs.
Windows also unveiled its augmented reality headset, the HoloLens. The platform allows the user to make apps part of his or her space, storing them in their 'virtual homes' as almost touchable tiles and even have them follow the user as he or she moves through the space.
In a demonstration, modelled on a Microsoft employee's own apartment, the Skype app and a video player were shown following the user around.
To prove that the HoloLens aspires to become more than just a gimmick, Microsoft showed a video of architects using the headset to work together and even physically walk around their plans displayed in the virtual space.
Microsoft said it will further explore the possibilities of the augmented reality device in a partnership with a university and showed how HoloLens is being used to teach medical students anatomy. The headset enables the students to see different parts of the body in more detail than previously possible and also in 3D, the firm said. Partnerships are also in place with Nasa and Disney.
The technology firm also reiterated that HoloLens will be untethered, not requiring it be paired with any other device in order to work.
HoloLens will also work with the Internet of Things, which was demonstrated by a voice-controlled physical robot that appeared on stage which then had a holographic robot projected on top of it. This was then controlled and customised using holographic control panels that the HoloLens wearer can see. The robot was able to move and appear aware of its surroundings because the headset scans the environment.
The Start menu is back in Windows.
Carrier billing allows users to buy apps and services through their phones instead of their credit cards.
Microsoft Spotlight – a personalised lock screen which learns how a user works with their PC and displays prompts and questions onscreen based on what has been used frequently. According to Microsoft’s Joe Belfiore, Spotlight was designed to help users ‘find and discover value in the Windows ecosystem’. Spotlight has been a search function in Apple's OS X for over 10 years.
Microsoft has not yet confirmed release dates for either Windows 10 or the HoloLens headset.