Forget everything you know about Microsoft’s Windows operating system and more specifically, how much it usually costs you to upgrade. This morning Microsoft revealed more Windows 10 features for users and revealed anyone will be able to upgrade to Windows 10 — provided they’re already running a compatible Windows operating system.
Microsoft talked more about Windows 10 in detail this morning at its Windows 10 Media Briefing. It was at that event that the company gave users a look at Microsoft HoloLens, Office for touch devices and Windows 10’s gaming integration. These were all great announcements but Windows 10 was the glue holding everything together and still managed to outshine everything else.
Microsoft says it’s transitioning Windows from the purchase model of Windows 7 and prior to treating it as a service. Windows 10 will be absolutely free for users running Windows 8.1, Windows Phone 8.1 and Windows 7. To be clear, it’s free with a catch. Microsoft says users will need to upgrade within the first year Windows 10 is available. After that, Microsoft will roll out fixes and upgrades automatically.
Cortana took over a large part of the event. Until now, Microsoft had never confirmed explicitly that it had plans to introduce Windows Phone’s personal assistant to more people in Windows 10, that’s despite an early version of it leaking in private builds. During today’s demonstration we got to see Microsoft employees set calendar appointments and send messages through devices equipped with Windows 10. What’s more, they didn’t even have to press a single button to do it since Cortana for Windows 10 features always-listening support. As we’re an entertainment focused website, being able to tell Cortana on Windows 10 to play specific songs and albums seems pretty cool.
Microsoft showed off a number of what it calls Universal apps. These are apps designed to adapt to whatever device Windows 10 is running on. For example, we got small looks at Microsoft Office, Xbox Music, People, Photos, Videos, Mail, Maps and Messages. These apps will work across the smartphones, tablets, desktops and notebooks. Windows 10 will run a new web browser, which the company is calling Spartan for now. It has extensions, built-in Cortana integration and will also run on all form factors. Universal apps will work on Xbox One too, though we haven’t gotten a look at what that looks like.
Speaking of Xbox, Windows 10 will be the first operating system with DirectX 12. Microsoft promises big improvements in games on Windows 10 with DirectX 12 instead of Windows 7 and Direct X 11. That’s key because, Microsoft is giving every Windows 10 users access to a complete Xbox experience through an updated app.
Continuum is how Microsoft plans to deal with its Start Screen problem. There are plenty of devices that need a large interface with fullscreen apps. Continuum will detect when users have a keyboard attached and give them windows apps complete with borders and a Start Menu. When there isn’t one, the Start Screen morphs into an updated Start Screen with a list of frequently accessed apps on the right. In theory, users are getting the best of both worlds.
Windows 10 on screens smaller than 8-inches drops the list of frequently used apps, but keeps the background behind Live Tiles from Windows 8. For Windows 10 on small devices, Microsoft seems to have finally decided to add some color and personality. Apps like PowerPoint had bold colors and app bars. Today, Windows Phone 8.1 is a bit too stark.
Microsoft says Windows Insider Program participants should expect a new version of Windows 10 with some of these features within the next week. The rest will slowly roll out. Windows 10 will launch sometime in 2015.