Microsoft isn't exactly pressing the restart button on its operating system with Windows 10, but it's changing enough for the company to skip a number altogether. Features from the Start menu to better multitasking to a brand new browser are all on the table for the new OS. Here's a breakdown of the biggest new features coming to Windows 10.
The Start menu: bigger, better, stronger
The return of the Start menu that Microsoft teased during its Build 2014 conference and detailed in full at subsequent events has been available for testing in the WTP since October 2014. 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.
"They don't have to learn any new way to drive," Belfiore said, referring to Windows 7 users. That said, customisation will also be featured throughout, first with the ability to resize 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. We know now that this is through Cortana, Microsoft's voice assistant, but more on that later.
Step into Microsoft's new Office
Back in February, shortly after a leaked video on WinBeta revealed Microsoft's Universal (now known simply as Windows) Office apps in detail, the company issued an update to the Windows 10 Technical Preview with just that. If you're not doing so already, WTP users can test out the new Word, PowerPoint and Excel Universal (or Windows) apps.
Like the whole of Windows 10, these apps are designed to work on Windows 10 laptops, tablets and phones. This update comes in advance of Office 2016, Microsoft's desktop-based version of the suite, which we expect to see debut in the second half of 2015. It's likely that Office 2016 will interact with its Windows app counterparts through OneDrive and other solutions.
And back during MWC 2015, Microsoft squeezed out a few more details surrounding the touch-centric Office 2016, namely cosmetic makeovers for Outlook, Word, PowerPoint and Excel. Also, Outlook will be more deeply integrated with its sister apps than ever before. Finally, the new Insights and Tell Me features will let users search the internet from within Office and create search-based command prompts, respectively.
Today, both general users and IT pros-slash-developers can preview Office 2016 on Windows and Mac OS X. Plus, we've finally got the skinny on what the differences are between the simply-named Office for Windows 10 and Office 2016.
Windows Phone fans get a sneak peek
After much teasing leading up to an event during MWC 2015, a Technical Preview of Windows 10 for phones was released to just about every Lumia device under the sun.
Handled much in the same way as it is on desktop, the WTP for Windows 10 on phones has introduced alpha-phase features like the Project Spartan browser, the new Outlook and a much-improved camera app that borrows heavily from Nokia's camera app for its pre-Windows-buyout Lumia phones. Check out all the details here.
As for when it's coming to everyone in a final release, there have been far fewer rumours and scuttlebutt than we've seen around Windows 10 for PCs. It's assumed that Windows 10 will released simultaneously across all supported device categories, including phones, but Microsoft has yet to address that publicly.
In the meantime, we've learned quite a bit installing Windows 10 on the cheapest Windows Phone around. You can check that out right here.
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 Windows PCs and tablets in addition to phones. Microsoft's Joe Belfiore showed off the new PC-centric features within Cortana during its January 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.
Since then, Microsoft has gone on to discuss how Cortana is more about machine learning, or computer systems and services becoming smarter over time based on user behaviour, than simply retrieving files and facts for you. Plus, it was recently reported by Reuters that Microsoft has aims to release the voice assistant to iOS and Android.
Microsoft gets an Edge
During the Build 2015 conference, Microsoft's Joe Belfiore outed Project Spartan as Microsoft Edge, the official name for the company's Windows 10 browser of choice. The original details follow.
Project Spartan, essentially the company's replacement for Internet Explorer, was revealed during the January event, too. Belfiore 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 behaviour. 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. (So, in reality, Spartan will effectively replace IE for the majority of users.)
Microsoft's @IE Dev Chat account on Twitter later 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.
Finally, Microsoft recently revealed that the popular "Do Not Track" browser option will be disabled by default in Spartan. The company claims that the feature no longer complies with the Worldwide Web Consortium's standard on the matter. Regardless, Redmond promises that it will provide users with directions for how to enable the feature.
Windows 10 and Xbox unite
Microsoft's Xbox lead Phil Spencer took the stage during Microsoft's big January 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.
Around the time of GDC 2015, Microsoft updated the Xbox the app for Windows 10 for testing in the WTP with just about everything teased during the January event, including access to Xbox One game clips and options to search for friends and interact with the Xbox Live activity feed. Plus, the app can now better deal with window size changes. Finally, users can control the Xbox One through a virtualised remote control within the Xbox One app on Windows 10.
But back to the January event, Spencer also briefly showed off Microsoft's next collection of graphics and gaming APIs, DirectX 12. Namely, support for the platform has 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.
During GDC 2015, the Xbox chief let loose even more details regarding the increasingly intimate relationship between Windows 10 and Xbox One. For starters, Spencer revealed that soon all wireless Xbox One accessories will work on Windows 10 PCs.
Later during the show, we learned that Microsoft is "investigating the possibility" of streaming PC games to Xbox One. Currently, Microsoft is only committed to allowing the inverse, for all Xbox One games to stream to Windows 10 PCs.
Microsoft's Universal approach
During the January reveal event, Microsoft's Joe Belfiore revealed exactly what the company meant by "Universal apps" (now known as "Windows 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 optimised for touch and screen size. And through Microsoft's cloud infrastructure, all of your files will be accessible on those devices regardless of where they were 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 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 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.
Paving the way for enterprise
Going way back to the first-ever Windows 10 reveal in September 2014, Microsoft spoke to enterprise users almost exclusively. "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, 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 of early February, Microsoft issued its plans for rolling out Windows 10 to enterprise users: through Windows Software Assurance program. While this program will offer several methods for enterprise users to upgrade their fleets of systems to the new OS, that also means it will not come free like it does for consumer versions of Windows 10.
The SA program is designed to give enterprise customers more control over when and how updates are pushed to their range of machines. Of course, the idea here is a focus on security and flexibility for IT through additional Long Term Servicing branches that provide security and critical updates only – barring new feature updates.
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 to the next level, with two-factor authentication (2FA) coming standard on enterprise versions of the OS, the company announced during its September 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.
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 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, that includes 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."
Click on through for a detailed look at the rumours 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.
Dan Grabham and Désiré Athow contributed to this article