Microsoft today lifted the veil on its upcoming Windows 10 operating system, offering a thorough preview of what consumers can expect when the software is released later this year across desktops, smartphones, and tablets. After a small glimpse back in September revealed numerous changes — a modernized Start Menu, better multitasking with Task View, and UI improvements among them — Microsoft used today's press conference to focus on what Windows 10 will mean for its millions of everyday users. Not everything shown today will be made available to Windows 10 testers immediately. Joe Belfiore specified that some will roll out over a course of "three, four, or five months."
To start off, Microsoft has already leveraged early tester feedback to improve Windows 10. If you're familiar with and prefer the Windows 8.1 experience, you'll be able to take the Start Screen full screen instead of the Windows 7-style start menu we saw in September. Microsoft has also added an Action Center that provides instant access to common tasks like enabling or shutting off Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and other settings. Notifications are synced across devices, so if you dismiss something on a Windows 10 smartphone or tablet, it won't stubbornly pop up again when you return to your PC. Speaking of settings, Microsoft has refreshed the appearance of settings menus everywhere with a much cleaner, easy-to-understand design.
After getting started on smartphones, Microsoft’s personal assistant is coming to the desktop. Cortana will bring her powerful search and reminder capabilities to Windows 10. We got a rough, unofficial demonstration of what this would look like back in September, but today the company showed off a much more polished vision. Microsoft says "you’ll see Cortana as never before" in Windows 10, as it will now serve as the primary search tool for a massive audience of Windows users. But it gets way more personal than that; Joe Belfiore essentially carried on a full conversation with Cortana on stage. Cortana gave a Super Bowl prediction — which seemed just a bit biased in favor of Seattle's own Seahawks. Unlike the sometimes robotic responses you'll hear from Siri and Google Now, Cortana speaks with a natural, conversational flow.
Cortana will be a huge part of Windows 10
Microsoft says Cortana has gotten much smarter thanks to all the learning she's taken from Windows Phone users. Belfiore asked how much college tuition at a specific university would cost, and Cortana answered without pause. The personal assistant also joked with Belfiore as he went along, and has apparently learned more about the new platform she'll be working on. "We wanted to educate Cortana about PC sorts of things," Belfiore said. Ask Cortana to show you slides from a PowerPoint presentation, and she'll bring them up immediately. But users remain in full control over what Cortana knows and has access to thanks to her Notebook. "It really is the world's most personal digital assistant, and now she's going to be available to millions and millions of more people," Belfiore said.
Design and interface improvements
Microsoft is paying attention to the details in Windows 10. During today's demonstrations, refreshed and more modern icons could be seen at every turn. The chrome around apps has been flattened, and everything feels more cohesive and consistent compared to the early Windows 10 software that beta testers have been using over the last few months.
Belfiore then launched into the first demonstration of Windows 10 on phones, showing off a new Messages app with Skype integration, a fully-adjustable keyboard, and other improvements.
New universal apps for PC
Microsoft has been working on all-new, universal apps for Windows 10. First is Outlook, and the company has built in Word's engine, which provides comprehensive styling and extra formatting capabilities no matter what device you're checking email from. On PC, it looks similar, but more polished than what's there today. Desktop users can also personalize Outlook with a background image of their choice.
Apps look and function consistently across devices
But other software was shown off as well: Microsoft has a new, Metro-style (and very sleek) Calendar app that's consistent across PCs, tablets, and phones. And Photos will now weed out duplicates and "clutter" that can result when you're syncing photos from every device you own. Microsoft's OneDrive cloud storage has gotten much smarter about displaying a "simple view of all your photos," Belfiore said. Like Google+, the new Photos app will automatically enhance and touch up photos, removing blemishes like red eye and making sure you end up with the right exposure. Windows 10 users can expect new apps for People, Maps, and Music, as well.
Microsoft has indeed been working hard on a new web browser, though we didn't get an official name today. It's still being referred to as Project Spartan, and Belfiore's demonstration lined up perfectly with The Verge's earlier report. He showcased the browser's broad support for touch and annotation. Highlighting something on a page is as simple as circling your finger around it — no Surface pen or stylus required. Using a mouse also works fine; you can click on any section of a website to type out a comment for sharing with co-workers or friends.
A new Reading Mode puts articles in a layout that's easier on your eyes, and Microsoft is also introducing a Reading List that syncs content across phones, tablets, and PCs for later; Apple has had similar functionality in iOS and OS X for some time now. But what Apple doesn't have in its browser is Cortana. Microsoft's personal assistant is everywhere in Project Spartan. She'll tell you the weather in the URL bar. Visit a restaurant's website, and Cortana will provide a map, menu information, and contact details should you decide to head there for dinner.
Gaming is getting a massive push in Windows 10. A new Xbox app enables Game DVR for sharing clips of most PC games with your friends — and they're sent across Xbox Live, so Xbox One owners can watch as well. You'll see a universal friends list with Xbox gamers on console and Windows, full messaging support, and an activity feed that shows you what everyone's doing.
But the plans get even more ambitious than that. Cross-play between Windows 10 and Xbox One gamers will become a reality. And if PC games aren't your thing, you'll be able to seamlessly stream Xbox One games to Windows 10 PCs and tablets on your Wi-Fi network "later this year." Microsoft showed off Forza Horizon 2 running on a Surface Pro 3.