Microsoft Enlists 'Holograms' and Cortana for Windows 10

The company unveils its ambitious vision for its next-generation operating system with deep Cortana integration, new virtual reality technology and a host of UI improvements.

Windows 10

As promised, top executives showed off Microsoft's highly anticipated Windows 10 operating system today during a press event hosted at the software giant's headquarters in Redmond, Wash.

At the event, Microsoft also unveiled a new Windows 10 device, called the Surface Hub. Packing an 84-inch 4K display, stylus support, built-in sensors, cameras and integrated OneNote support, the product will serve as a digital whiteboard and a virtual meeting solution powered by Skype for Business, according to Microsoft.

In addition, the company is setting its sights on the burgeoning market for virtual reality headsets. Windows 10 Holographic is a virtual and augmented reality technology that overlays interfaces and 3D visuals onto the real world and enables users to interact with them. API support is being built into every version of the OS.

Introducing the 'Next Generation of Windows'

Terry Myerson, executive vice president of Microsoft's Operating Systems division, took the stage first to introduce the "next generation of Windows," which he claimed is being heavily influenced by the feedback from users in its early-access Windows Insider program. Myerson said his team is "humbled" by the levels of user engagement. "Feedback is truly helping to shape the future of Windows 10," he said.

To date, 1.7 million Windows "insiders" have installed Windows 10 over 3 million times and generated 800,000 pieces of feedback encompassing 200,000 topics, said Myerson.

In his opening presentation, Myerson teased the inclusion of Cortana, the company's digital voice-enabled assistant, which first launched on Windows Phone 8.1. For businesses, he said the OS is the "best enterprise platform ever" with a focus on "simplifying management and deployment for IT."

Microsoft is also courting hardware hackers and enthusiasts with support for "maker" boards, low-cost and ultra-compact minicomputers, of sorts, popularized by the Raspberry Pi, Arduino and even Intel in recent years. Windows 10 will enable Microsoft and its developer ecosystem to gain a foothold in the "fast-growing Internet of things space," according to Myerson.

In general, Windows 10 is being developed with three core priorities in mind, said Myerson. They are the mobility of experiences, essentially removing the technical barriers that stymie users as they move between device types, along with enhanced data privacy and natural interactions using voice and gestures.

Return of the Start Menu

Microsoft Corporate Vice President Joe Belfiore followed by demonstrating some of the progress Microsoft is making with the user interface. In the desktop mode, Windows 10 displays a streamlined task bar with a built-in search box. The Start Menu returns, with a new full-screen option that mimics the current Start Screen in Windows 8.1 for touch users.

An action and notification center replaces the "charms" feature when a user swipes from the right side of the screen. It provides access to app notifications and common tasks like turning airplane mode on and off. Windows 10 will also harmonize the settings and Windows control panel into a single interface.

Belfiore also showed off the "Continuum" feature, which switches the Windows 10 desktop UI to a tablet-optimized view when a user disconnects a keyboard and mouse, and back again when they are reconnected.

Cortana, Microsoft's digital assistant, will officially be part of Windows 10, announced Belfiore. "Cortana, we're excited to welcome you to the PC," he said. During his demo, he showed off how users can trigger tasks, including sending an email, search for information or control music tracks, by simply uttering commands to the assistant.

Belfiore also unveiled "Project Spartan," Microsoft's new Web browser for Windows 10. It sports a new rendering engine, a minimalist UI and a productivity-enhancing feature that allows users to "mark up the Web directly" with a stylus and/or keyboard and mouse to share, save and collaborate on Web-based content. Additional features include Cortana integration, built-in PDF support, a reader mode and a reading list that saves content offline and syncs across devices.

Pedro Hernandez

Pedro Hernandez

Pedro Hernandez is a contributor to eWEEK and the IT Business Edge Network, the network for technology professionals. Previously, he served as a managing editor for the network of...