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The Windows 10 Creators Update could streamline your friendships

Rob Pegoraro
Contributing Editor
Allison O'Mahoney speaks at a live Microsoft event in the Manhattan borough of New York City, U.S.,October 26, 2016. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson

Take off the VR headset and stop fiddling with 3D onscreen objects: The most important part of Microsoft’s upcoming Windows 10 Creators Update may be its attempt to keep you in touch with close friends.

Microsoft’s introduction of this free Win 10 revision in New York Wednesday morning led off with visions of virtual reality, augmented reality and 3D interfaces. But the bit that seems more likely to change the Windows experience is a sharing shortcut with the somewhat regrettable name of “MyPeople.”

Sharing is caring

This part of the Creators Update—due “early next year” but available in preview form this week to Windows Insider users—targets a long-running problem of messaging overload.

As daily correspondence climbs, it gets harder to stay in touch with family and friends (plus bosses and other people with unusual leverage over your bank balance). Existing tools like address autocomplete can’t cope with that scenario and can become a liability when mere acquaintances share first names with lifelong pals.

The MyPeople feature Microsoft (MSFT) showed off instead lets you designate your closest friends, then elevates your interaction with them via shortcuts in the Windows taskbar. To send them a photo or a document, just drag that onto their mug shot at the bottom right of the screen.

Those shortcuts also let you jump into conversations with those people instead of watching their chit-chat vanish in your notifications. Microsoft product manager Allison O’Mahoney demonstrated this feature by switching from a Skype messaging chat with her husband to an e-mail thread with him and then back to Skype, all without leaving a dialog floating over his taskbar shortcut.

MyPeople will also tie into SMS relay from Windows and Android phones, a feature you can use today in Windows 10’s Anniversary Update. (Android users need to install Microsoft’s Cortana app first.) And you can send “shoulder tap” emoji between Win 10 machines—though that may only fuel the messaging overload MyPeople strives to solve.

It all sounds a bit like the VIPs feature in Apple’s Mail—but operating on a systemwide basis, not confined to one app. It also evokes the recent-contacts list Google’s Android puts atop sharing menus, except that Android populates that automatically from your latest conversations instead of letting you anoint best buddies.

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella AP Photo/Richard Drew)

 

3D, VR and gaming

The graphically-intense features that began Wednesday’s event made for more compelling demos, but they will require more powerful hardware than MyPeople and may also appeal to smaller audiences.

3D—not in the wearing-glasses sense, but in the context of playing with 3D models on screen—should have the most mass-market relevance.

The idea is that instead of having to model 3D objects in specialized apps, you could generate them from real-world objects using smartphone camera apps, download them from Microsoft’s new Remix 3D gallery or import creations from Microsoft’s Minecraft game.

Then you can share them in e-mail, on Facebook or even in PowerPoint; even the humble Paint app gets a 3D revival in Creators Update.

None of these features is new, but having a desktop operating system spotlight them should get more people interested.

VR has also struggled for mass-market relevance beyond 360 videos on Facebook or YouTube. Microsoft’s HoloLens has drawn praise for its ability to overlay VR content on a view of the real world around you, but it’s also a $3,000 purchase.

Windows 10 Creators Update, however, will support virtual-reality output to an upcoming line of VR headsets, starting at $299, from Acer, Asus, Dell, HP and Lenovo.

That update will also bring such new gaming features as easy broadcasting of a game and the ability to create custom multiplayer tournaments. Since I would only broadcast my performance in a game for comedic effect, I will leave it to others to judge their worth.

MIA from Microsoft

Feedback from Windows 10 users and Windows 7 holdouts who time spent in this software suggest other key areas for improvement. Alas, Wednesday’s event had nothing to say about them.

The easiest fix should be the inexplicable lack of support for multiple time zones in Windows 10’s Calendar app. It’s as if it’s 2010 again and we’re all puzzled by Google Calendar making us add or subtract hours to get transcontinental flight times correct—but Google fixed things by the end of that year. Get with it, Microsoft.

Addressing privacy concerns won’t be so easy. Win 10’s “telemetry” helps Microsoft fix glitches by reporting when apps crash, but its default settings can also result in snippets of documents getting sent to Microsoft after a program bombs out and generates a bug report. Win 10’s setup glosses over that finer point in a glib “Express Setup” dialog—which helps cede the field of privacy-optimized Google (GOOG) alternatives to Apple (AAPL).

The hardest fix may be basic reliability. Win 10’s Anniversary Update got a thumbs-down from users with external webcams after that August release stopped many of those devices from working. It’s disturbing that Win 10’s wide pre-release circulation among Windows Insiders didn’t get this problem to Microsoft’s attention early on; it will be more disturbing if Creators Update ships with a bug of comparable magnitude.

Email Rob at rob@robpegoraro.com; follow him on Twitter at @robpegoraro.