Microsoft gave the world an in-depth look at its upcoming Windows 10 operating system today, and it appears that the highly anticipated OS will be just the thing to wash the awful taste of Windows 8 out of our collective consciousness.
At its presentation, Microsoft showed off a variety of new features for Windows 10, including a brand-new Web browser, simplified navigation, and a desktop version of the company’s Cortana virtual assistant.
A free upgrade to Windows 10
The biggest news out of the event is that Microsoft will offer Windows 10 as a free full-fledged upgrade to those running Windows 7 and Windows 8. That puts Microsoft on the same level as Apple, which has been offering free operating-system upgrades for some time now.
During its transition from Windows 7 to Windows 8, Microsoft charged existing customers $120 to step up to the new operating system. That’s a lot of money, especially for an operating system as divisive as Windows 8.
Of course, there’s one caveat to the Windows 10 deal, and that is that you’ll have to upgrade within one year of the operating system’s release. Anyone who hasn’t upgraded by that point will likely have to fork over a hefty chunk of change.
Say ‘Hello’ to Cortana
Like Apple’s Siri and Google’s Google Voice, Microsoft’s Windows Phone comes with a virtual voice assistant of its own called Cortana. Named after a character from Microsoft’s Halo video game franchise, Cortana lets you schedule appointments, open apps, search the Web, and more, all by using your voice.
And now Cortana’s coming to Windows 10.
Cortana sits in the bottom-left corner of the desktop, right next to the Start button, and lets you search both the Web and your own device using your voice. The included Notepad feature also lets you create a custom profile complete with your personal interests, such as sports and news.
So if your favorite team scores a touchdown, Cortana will provide you with a score update. Or, if you don’t care about sports, you can tell her not to.
So long, Internet Explorer
For years now, the standard operating procedure for purchasing a new Windows PC has been to immediately replace Microsoft’s Internet Explorer with either Google’s Chrome or Mozilla’s Firefox.
It seems like Microsoft finally took the hint, because with Windows 10, it will be introducing a new Web browser code-named Spartan.
Like Chrome and Firefox, Spartan has a simpler design than Internet Explorer. The new browser is also expected to run more smoothly than IE, and give you the ability to instantly annotate Web pages using either a stylus or your finger, via a touchscreen or a regular old keyboard and mouse.
Spartan will also include Cortana integration, which means that when you search for things via the browser’s search bar, Cortana will give you responses that match your interests, in addition to standard search results. Cortana will also be able to cull information from specific websites and give you what she believes is the most pertinent data.
So if you’re browsing a restaurant’s website, Cortana will be able to give you directions, as well as help you reserve a table.
Microsoft didn’t mention what would happen with Internet Explorer, but ZDNet’s Mary Jo Foley reported that Microsoft will include IE with Windows 10 in order to support legacy websites. Still, it’s clear that Spartan is Microsoft’s browser of the future.
If you’re a gamer, you’ll be happy to know that Windows 10 is being made to improve your overall game-playing experience. In addition to running the latest version of DirectX, DirectX 12, which should increase gaming performance, Windows 10 will include cross-platform support with Xbox One games.
That means if your friends have an Xbox One game, and you have the PC version, you’ll be able to play online with (or against) each other. That’s a huge advance, because until now, console gamers have only been able to play with other console gamers, while PC gamers have been limited to their PC brethren. This bridges that gap.
So far, Microsoft has only announced that its upcoming Fable Legends will support cross-platform gaming, but we’re hoping that the feature eventually becomes a widely accepted part of Windows 10.
Beyond cross-platform support, Windows 10 will also let you stream games from your PC to any other Windows 10 device, as long as you are on the same local network. So you’ll be able to play games installed on your Xbox One on your Surface Pro 3.
When you can get it
Microsoft was rather tightlipped about when the final version of Windows 10 will be available for download, saying only that the operating system will come to market later this fall.
If you can’t wait to try out the latest features of Windows 10, though, you can sign up for Microsoft’s Windows Insider Program, which gives you access to unfinished preview versions of Windows 10. Just make sure you don’t install any of the Windows 10 previews on your main PC, as it will be unstable and could result in all of your data being destroyed.