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Windows 10 Isn't Just a Free Upgrade -- It Talks and Is Smart

Microsoft potentially removed a crucial barrier to the future of its Windows franchise by saying it will offer the next version -- Windows 10 -- as a free upgrade to existing Windows 7 and Windows 8.x  users. The company is also adding some compelling new features that may make the upgrade worth the effort if these new capabilities live up to their promise.

Speaking at the anticipated launch event in Redmond today, Terry Myerson, Microsoft's executive vice president of operating systems, announced the free upgrade. The caveat is users must install Windows 10 within a year of its release, though it remains to be seen whether that deadline will hold. Perhaps for consumers, which today's event was aimed at, that won't be a big deal. But businesses and enterprises do things on their own clocks, based on need and compatibility.

In an earlier post, I thought it would be a wise move to offer the free upgrade, though I had no knowledge Microsoft would ultimately do so. As part of the release, Microsoft is also shifting to what it calls Windows as a service, where it will provide continuous upgrades.

"When it comes to Windows as a service, it's a pretty profound change," Microsoft CEO Nadella said at today's event. "For customers, they're going to get a continuous stream of innovation. Not only a continuous stream of innovation but also the assurance their Windows devices are secure and trusted. For developers, it creates the broadest opportunity to target. For our partners, hardware and silicon partners, they can coincident with our software innovation, drive hardware innovation. We want people to love Windows on a daily basis."

Microsoft gave a number of reasons to "love" Windows besides the free upgrade. The company announced the rumored Spartan Web browser, which has a rendering engine better suited for modern Web applications, Myerson said. Microsoft will also offer Cortana, the digital assistant released for Windows Phone last year, for Windows running on PCs and tablets.

Officials also demonstrated the notion of a set of universal apps such as Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneNote and Outlook, while optimized for each form factor that are consistent across them and designed to let a user stop working on one device and quickly pick up where he or she left off on another. An Xbox app on Windows that will allow Xbox users to run games on their PC or Windows tablet was also announced.

Microsoft also revealed its vision for augmented reality and took the wraps off HoloLens, which ironically is a Google Glass-looking device that Microsoft said has a built-in CPU and GPU and built on sensors. Microsoft described it as the world's first holographic computer. Its APIs are designed to work with the new Windows 10 environment.

More hardware is in the works from third parties and Microsoft. The event showcased the new Surface Hub, a Windows 10-based 84-inch Ultra HD display with Skype for Business built-in, sensors, cameras and the ability to mark up content with any phone or device. The company will also offer a 55-inch version and indicated other Surface hardware is in the works.

The company will release a new Windows 10 technical preview next week with a Windows 10 build for phones scheduled for release in early February. Many of the new features Microsoft demonstrated today will work their way into builds of the technical preview over the next three to five months, said Joe Belfiore, a vice president in the operating system group. Microsoft also plans to reveal more features for enterprises in March, according to a company official.  The company still plans for the commercial release of Windows 10 in the fall timeframe.

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 01/21/2015 at 2:29 PM


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