On Wednesday, Jan. 21, Microsoft will finally give us a taste of what consumers can expect from the next version of Windows, at an event it’s calling the Windows 10 Consumer Preview.
The tech giant previously gave us a brief look at Windows 10 in a “technical” preview it launched for business and IT professionals back in September. But this time, we’re going to see how Windows 10 will work for real human beings.
We’ll be covering the event live as it happens via our Windows 10 live blog, so check back on Jan. 21 for our coverage. In the meantime, here’s everything we expect to see on Microsoft’s big day.
1. A more cohesive design across devices
We already have a pretty good idea of how the latest version of Windows 10 will look, thanks to the previously released Windows 10 Technical Preview.
But Microsoft also plans to extend the look and feel of Windows 10 across a variety of platforms, including tablets, smartphones, and the Xbox One gaming console. How exactly Microsoft will do this will differ between device types. Tablets will likely retain a more Windows 8 tile look than the more desktop-focused design Windows 10 will use for PCs.
But little is known about how Windows 10 will work on smartphones and the Xbox One. Reports indicate that the design of the smartphone version of the OS will hew more closely to the desktop version’s. We’re curious how that will work.
There’s still no word as to how Windows 10’s design will impact the Xbox One, though we’re likely to find out more on Jan. 21.
2. We’ll learn more about Continuum mode
One of the biggest complaints we had with the PC version of Windows 8 was that it put more emphasis on the tablet-friendly, tile-based Start screen than the traditional desktop.
To address that problem, Microsoft has introduced “Continuum mode,” which lets users of 2-in-1 devices like the Surface Pro 3 switch seamlessly between desktop and tablet modes.
In a video demonstration, Microsoft previously showed how the Surface runs in desktop mode when connected to a keyboard, and how it automatically switches over to tablet mode when the keyboard is disconnected.
Beyond that video demonstration, we haven’t been able to see much more about Continuum mode, so expect to see a more thorough explanation of the feature during Microsoft’s event.
3. There will be an all-new Web browser
According to Mary Jo Foley of ZDNet, who has accurately reported Microsoft rumors in the past, Windows 10 will come with a new Web browser codenamed Spartan.
Foley said the browser will look and feel more like Google’s lightweight Chrome and Mozilla’s Firefox, which will be a welcome change from the Internet Explorer’s clunky interface.
IE will, however, still included with Windows 10 for websites that require the browser to run properly.
4. Cortana comes to the desktop
According to a variety of reports and leaks, Windows 10 will come with a desktop-based version of Microsoft’s virtual assistant, Cortana.
The feature, according to the Verge’s Tom Warren, will replace the existing Windows 10 desktop search, and function much the same way Cortana does on Microsoft’s Windows Phone platform, complete with calendar reminders, the ability to open apps, and both local and Web-based search.
It’s not yet clear if you’ll also be able to dictate questions for Cortana or if it will work solely via text-based queries. Given the processing power in a desktop PC, we expect it to be fully voice-powered. That’s also something Apple hasn’t yet given us with OS X: There is, so far, no Siri for the Mac desktop.
5. A better Windows Phone?
Microsoft’s Windows Phone operating system has been something of a fiasco for the tech giant’s mobile effort. Tom Warren at The Verge reports that the new version of Windows Phone serves as a combination of Microsoft’s Windows Phone 8 and Windows RT. Windows RT is a now failed version of Windows 8 that was meant to run on tablets, but was criticized for lacking many of the features of the desktop version of Windows 8, including the ability to run full desktop programs.
One big change: Consumer may be able to use apps across smartphones, tablets, and desktops. That would make sense, as Microsoft has previously said that it wants to create a single app store for all of its Windows 10 platforms.
6. When can you get the Consumer Preview?
If past precedent is any indicator, Microsoft will make its Windows 10 Consumer Preview available to Windows Insiders shortly after the Jan. 21 event. It’s worth noting, however, that the preview will still be an early test build of Windows 10, so you can expect to run into some bugs and hiccups if you install it. We don’t recommend that anyone use the pre-release Windows build on their primary (or only) computer.
7. A Windows 10 release date
Though unlikely, there’s a chance that Microsoft could give us a more definitive release date for the final version of Windows 10.
According to Reuters, Microsoft’s chief operating officer, Kevin Turner, told the Japanese news service Nikkei that Windows 10 will be made available in the late summer or early fall of 2015.
Hopefully, the company will be more forthcoming about the exact date at the Consumer Preview event.