Later today Microsoft will announce Windows 10, the next major version of its desktop, tablet and mobile OS that the company hopes will prove more successful than Windows 8.
Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT) is a company in transition, as it attempts to evolve from a desktop-focused company to one that has mobile and cloud-based services at its very core.
Besides currying favour with tablet and smartphone users, the company needs to impress corporate IT departments and the desktop users who felt that Windows 8 wasn’t up to scratch. It’s pinning its hopes on the ambitious update, said to be an updated and improved version that should assuage those who shunned the previous release.
Can the Redmond-based company succeed and get back on track, especially where the mobile industry is concerned?
The event kicks off today at 9 am PST, where it’s expected that Microsoft will demonstrate the more consumer-oriented capabilities.
Here is a summary of what to expect.
Windows Phone 10
Window Phone has failed to gain traction in a market dominated by Android (which leads in terms of units shipped) and iOS (in second place, but with impressive revenue). That’s why it’s critically important that Microsoft addresses the needs of smartphone users, by making it simpler to develop cross-platform apps that will run on desktop computers, smartphones and tablets.
The new “universal app” is the solution, and even though it’s not yet been officially confirmed, the move will enable one version of an application to be deployed on any number of devices and purchase in a single app store.
Consumers would benefit as it would give more flexible ways to purchase software – buy on a smartphone and download for free to a PC, for example. There has even been a suggestion that where Windows Phone is concerned, Microsoft may provide a means for its Lumia range of devices to even run Android apps, solving the problem of the “app gap”.
New Windows 10 hardware?
There aren’t expected to be any new devices on show. However, in order to demonstrate the new features, Microsoft may choose to showcase some new OEM hardware, especially touch screen laptops and tablets.
Mobile World Congress is set to kick off in early March, so new Lumia devices running Windows 10 are likely to be previewed there instead, however The Information website reported this week that a surprise phone-laptop hybrid machine aimed at corporate customers might be demonstrated.
Ultimately, Microsoft needs to show that Windows 10 runs on every hardware platform, so a couple of new devices would provide a compelling demo.
Windows 10 user interface
Windows 10 videos have already been leaked on the web for months. However, the Technical Preview that’s been available to developers for a while now has only shown some of the desktop features, such as the live Start Menu and full screen modes (similar to OS X). More interesting will be the features aimed at mobile users, especially “Continum” which optimises the user interface dynamically for the screen size and input method being used, whether a touch screen mobile or traditional mouse and keyboard.
Internet Explorer to get the chop in Windows 10?
Internet Explorer has fallen out of favour compared to its heyday. Chrome is now the de facto browser of choice for many people, prompting Microsoft to ditch IE altogether in Windows 10 and replaced by a new, lightweight browser aptly named Spartan.
It’s a stripped down browser which will also include integration with Cortana, and will possibly emphasise Microsoft’s cloud-based office suite, Office 365.
Spartan needs to include some fairly special features if Microsoft wants to promote Office 365, OneDrive and its Azure cloud services. For example, Spartan should offer full cross-device synchronisation of tabs, bookmarks, history and passwords, as well as the ability to quickly view and edit documents stored in the cloud.
Cortana and Xbox everywhere
Cortana was released on Windows Phone devices largely as Microsoft’s answer to Apple’s Siri. However, it also has the ability to track emails, calendars and your whereabouts to provide localised suggestions and personalised, contextually relevant news and information.
Cortana is already available on Windows Phone devices, but in Windows 10 it’s expected to be extremely deeply integrated at the very core of the OS, so that it becomes almost the default search method for many users (especially mobile). Microsoft could also ensure that Cortana works seamlessly across the desktop, Xbox, and mobile devices.
As for the Xbox, Microsoft has a huge advantage over Apple as it could easily turn the Xbox into a more full home hub that manages content, media and Internet of Things devices. They also need to learn from the success of the Steam game service, by offering their own built-in app which makes it far simpler to download games, synchronising purchases and progress across every device. They’ve missed a trick in the past, but let’s hope Windows 10 rectifies those shortcomings.
We won’t know for certain how Windows 10 will look and behave until this morning, but it’s an important milestone for Microsoft and one that could help them push their “cloud-first, mobile-first” mantra for the next few years.
Let’s hope that Windows 10 lives up our expectations. A follow up to this article will be published later this week.
Larry Banks is a keen follower of technology and finance. He has worked for a variety of online publications, writing about a diverse range of topics including mobile networks, patents, and Internet video delivery technologies.