Windows was never gone, but it’s about to make a comeback nevertheless. You can currently observe how Microsoft is getting its flagship up to speed. After a week full of exciting announcements, you may wonder what else they’ve get up their sleeve. Let me summarize.
Upgrading to Windows 10
Free Upgrade from Windows 7 and 8.1
Back in January, Microsoft announced that if you’re currently running Windows 7 or 8.1 or own a license, you can upgrade to Windows 10 for free. When you upgrade from within Windows, your personal files, as well as installed programs and settings will be maintained. The upgrade will be free within one year of the final release of Windows 10 and valid for the supported lifetime of the respective device.
Upgrade Available to Non-Genuine Copies of Windows
Microsoft’s operating system chief Terry Myerson told Reuters that even if you’re running a pirated copy of Windows 7 or 8.1, you will be able to upgrade to a legitimate version of Windows 10.
“We will provide a mechanism for non-genuine Windows 10 PC devices to ‘get genuine’ via the new Windows Store, whether they are upgraded versions of Windows or purchased.”
Microsoft must have realized that they are fighting a losing battle against piracy, especially in countries like China, where an estimated 75% of Windows installations are not genuine. In case you’re tempted to follow this path to obtain Windows 10 after its final release, note that an upgrade won’t necessarily turn a pirated Windows into a genuine copy. At this point, the consequences aren’t entirely clear, but non-genuine installations of Windows might not have access to support.
Free Windows Applications for iOS and Android
Even before the Windows 10 Technical Preview launched, Microsoft was busy releasing appications on other platforms, including Office for Android and iOS, and more recently a lock screen for Android. Now they are planning to bring Cortana to iOS and Android.
Windows Phone 10 & Building Bridges for Developers
With Windows Phone 8, the name suggested that it was pretty much the same as Windows 8, but that wasn’t quite the case. One of Windows Phone’s biggest issues was the lack of apps. The desktop and mobile versions of Windows 10 share more than the name and a similar interface. It’s a unified platform and Microsoft is making it attractive for both consumers and developers.
Users will benefit from universal apps that run both on the desktop and on the mobile platform. To encourage the development of such apps, Microsoft has open sourced .NET Core and MSBuild, a build engine that’s part of Visual Studio. The tool can now be ported to other platforms, making it available to a wider range of developers.
ROM to Port Windows 10 to Android Phones
Taking the cross-platform idea even further, Microsoft is planning to offer a custom ROM to install Windows 10 on Android devices. To that end, Microsoft has partnered with Xiomi, a Chinese smartphone manufacturer. In Asia, people commonly install custom ROMs to escape the restrictions placed on Google Play. They are currently testing the ROM with Xiaomi’s flagship device, Mi 4.
Small Footprint & Compression
As a cross-platform operating system, Windows 10 is challenged to support a wide range of devices, including tablets and phones. On devices with limited storage every GB counts. On systems with sufficient RAM and CPU performance, Windows 10 will compress system files and save between 1.5 (32-bit) and 2.6 (64-bit) GB of storage space. Furthermore, Windows 10 devices won’t require a recovery partition, reducing the OS footprint by several more GB. Instead, recovery resources are integrated in the system itself. Taken together, these measures will save up to 14GB.
The Coolness Factor
Cortana is a character. While she might only be catching up with Siri and Google Now at this point, it’s obvious that with Windows 10 running across platforms and Cortana coming to iOS and Android, she will soon be the reigning queen of digital assistants.
Windows Hello & Passport
Authentication with biometric data isn’t a novel movement; fingerprint scanners on laptops for example have been around for several years. Microsoft takes this a step further, however. First, you will be able to log into your device with Windows Hello, which uses your fingerprint, facial recognition, or a retina scan to identify you. These biometric data will be stored locally and will never leave your computer.
A successful login through Windows Hello will activate Windows Passport, which can automatically log you into supported websites and services. At launch, this will include Outlook.com and OneDrive on the consumer side.
In other words, you will no longer have to remember passwords or set up two factor authentication to be safe from hacking or theft. The catch is that these features require new hardware. Presently, only the Intel RealSense 3D Camera (F200) supports facial and iris unlock features. Older fingerprint scanners, however, will be supported by Windows 10 and the Windows Hello feature.
Xbox Music & Gaming Features
Xbox Music allows you to access and manage your music stored on OneDrive from the web and any Windows device, including the Xbox 360 and Xbox One. If you have an Xbox Music Pass, Microsoft even adds 100GB of free OneDrive storage space. For now, users of the Xbox Music app for Windows Phone 8.1 will need an Xbox Live account for the music to show up in the app.
Gaming on Windows 10 will be something else. The Xbox app will be the new gaming hub, integrating with Steam and connecting gamers and their devices. Direct X12 promises significantly better performance, and with Holographic you’ll experience a whole different dimension.
Smart Timing of OS Release
An exact date is yet to be announced, but Windows 10 will be released this summer, just in time for the Back to School sale, Black Friday, and the Holiday season. With the pull of the new OS features and a fleet of novel hardware to boot, the timing will spur adoption rates for the new Windows flagship. This doesn’t mean you have to wait until late summer to buy a new computer, though.
What Is Microsoft’s Master Plan?
Microsoft is clearly determined to engage as many users as possible with Windows 10. The interesting question is, what else do they have in store? How will they profit from their user base in the long term?
It’s quite obvious that Microsoft is moving to a Software as a Service (SaaS) strategy, with Windows being nothing more than a platform for products that can be monetized. Examples of this are Microsoft Office 365, connected to OneDrive cloud storage, or streaming services like Xbox Music, which appears to be moving into the redesigned Windows Store. Microsoft is also embracing the freemium model, offering limited versions of its software and services for free to hook users into its ecosystem. Those offerings alone, however, are not enough for Windows to be sustainable.
What gives a platform leverage of course is its user base. Users are attracted by a rich selection of features, which in turn attracts more developers and their apps, or vice versa. Microsoft has previously failed to establish its mobile operating system as a market leader, mainly due to a lack of features. By uniting the desktop and mobile platforms, bringing a massive amount of people into the unified Windows ecosystem, and offering multiple avenues for developers to contribute to the Windows environment, they are creating the conditions for Windows 10 to thrive, both on desktop and mobile devices.
What is your take? Will Windows 10 prevail? And what’s not to like about this development?