Microsoft gives platform unification a second shot with Windows 10
Potential Microsoft customers are perking up after the latest announcements from the Windows 10 team. Apparently finished with business-class features, the development of the OS has been much more consumer-geared lately, boasting Cortana integration as well as a brand-new browser to replace the underused Internet Explorer.
Cortana is Microsoft's answer to Siri (as well as being a sly reference to an artificial intelligence character in the popular Xbox Halo games). Like Siri, Cortana is voice-activated and can be asked intuitive questions such as "Will it rain today?" or "Where can I get lunch?" Unlike Siri, Cortana will be available on desktop with Windows 10 and has been updated accordingly — alongside the expected features, Cortana can also search for files on your hard drive, allowing you to look up documents without pausing your work.
Having not tired of the Halo references, the new browser launching simultaneously with the OS has been dubbed Spartan. Or perhaps that's a reference to the way the system can render pages: The Spartan browser has a "reading mode" setting that renders a webpage without banners, ads, and other unnecessary fluff, so large bodies of text can be consumed by the user without distraction. (Users of Windows 8 will recognize this from the Metro Internet Explorer app.)
Users can also annotate web pages and share their annotated versions with other Windows 10 users, or save articles for reading on other devices, on or offline. And because no Spartan would be complete without Cortana (ha, Halo jokes), the personal assistant is integrated with the browser as well, providing helpful information alongside certain searches and webpages.
Speaking of Halo (humor me), Microsoft also hopes to draw more of the gaming crowd by strengthening Windows 10's gamer-friendly features. A versatile Xbox app will allow Windows 10 users to chat and share video clips. For non-Xbox users, Windows 10 will include a Windows key + G feature that will allow you to take screenshots and short video clips of traditional PC games as well.
They also boast the DirectX 12 Gaming API, which Xbox lead Phil Spencer claims can boost game performance by up to 50 percent. Finally, the new OS is blurring the line between console and PC gaming. Users will be able to stream their Xbox games to any Windows 10 device on their local network, many mobile games will become available on Xbox, and in some instances Xbox and PC gamers will be able to play against one another.
All of this is consistent with Microsoft's drive for platform unification, but after their first failed attempt (the largely rejected Windows 8), many consumers are still leery of taking on the newest operating system.
So Microsoft has sweetened the deal by announcing that home users running Windows 7 or 8 can claim a free copy of Windows 10 in the first year after its release (users running the Enterprise versions of Windows 7, 8, and 8.1, or Windows RT or RT 8.1 will have to purchase). Furthermore, it's a lifetime upgrade — Microsoft offers support for the life of the device.
Unfortunately for certification hopefuls, Windows still has not announced any certifications specific to Windows 10. In late December of last year, however, they released a series of technical videos covering Windows 10. The series includes a technical overview and portions on management and deployment and security. Each portion includes an assessment, suggesting that this might be a precursor to a fully-fledged certification. Anyone interested can stay ahead of the game by viewing those sections here.