Next month, I have a loooooong article coming up for my The Writers Workbench column about Windows 8. It's seriously long (I thought of pitching it as a mini-series, instead...), but that's in part because I tried to make it as un-techie as possible, and explain things as clearly as possible in human English.
The very short version is that Windows 8 isn't really that at all, but rather Window 8.1. Whatever mixed reaction you've heard about the operating system is likely based on the initial release. That first version was pretty good, though with a bunch of flaws, which were mostly related to confusing usability for some people. But the upgrade is drastically improved. In fact, in many ways, it's very much like using Windows 7. That little decimal made all the difference. (Just like years ago you never heard of Window 3, but Windows 3.1 changed the computing world.) And Windows 8.1 is extremely good. It's even changed the way I use my devices (all of them, desktop, notebook, tablet and Windows Phone) -- and for the better.
But that's not the point here. Just background. The point is that Microsoft just had a big developer's presentation for the next version of Windows already. It's still a ways off -- word is late-2015. But what was presented was fascinating. I wrote a bit about these upcoming changes a few months back, when a few reports showed up, but this is far more mature and detailed.
The oddest thing about the next version is something that has absolutely nothing to do with how the operating system will run, but that it's going to be jump from Window 8.1 to being called Windows 10, leaping completely over the nines. I've heard a number of possible explanations, none of which are remotely important. Still, the one that makes the most sense to me is that this name avoids confusions for tech developers who had referred to two long-ago versions of Windows (called Windows 95 and Windows 98, remember them?) as "Windows 9" in their coding, and therefore calling this "Windows 10" eliminates any conflict problems. And in talking to a high-level Windows expert, his research into the odd naming supports this explanation.
As for the new features of Windows 10, I won't go into everything -- or even most things -- and will do my best to be as completely non-techie as possible. But these are the most intriguing aspects of it.
1. The whole point of Windows 10 is to further blend the tablet and desktop (and phone) experience into one standard operating system. Use one device, and the operating system will be the same on any other. One Platform for All is what they're referring to. There are reports that Microsoft might not even call the software that runs their phones as "Windows Phone" anymore, but just...Windows. Because it's all the same.
2. Windows 10 will now recognize if you have a keyboard attached or not, and boot up to the best mode for you. If you do have a keyboard, you'll get Desktop Mode that's looks and runs almost exactly like Window 7 (though with big improvements). If you're using a tablet and no keyboard, it will boot up to the tablet mode that's more convenient. And if you have a "2-in-1 convertible," which is a device that can be either a tablet or notebook if a keyboard is connected, Windows will detect the proper status each time you boot up. (For each of these, you'll be able to switch back and forth between modes, if you want., but for most people that won't ever be necessary. You'll boot up into Windows, period. No worrying about modes.)
3. The Start menu is back. And in a fascinating way, continuing this concept of blending everything together for the sake of simplicity. It actually combines the old Start menu with the "Start screen" and Live Tiles that were introduced in Windows 8. (Note: Live Tiles are nothing more than Microsoft's name for apps, but allow information on them to change in real-time, like sports scores or news headline or stock prices.) Now, instead of jumping back and forth between modes, to get to your Live Tiles or Desktop, you simply click on the Start menu (like before) and get the Start menu (like before) -- but you can right-click on any icon there and create a personalized palette of Live Tiles to have at your fingertips, basically your favorite apps. You'll be on the same, familiar Desktop; you'll be using the same, familiar Start menu; but you'll also have access to Live Tiles right there. It's the two modes blended together, all-in-one. Again, no confusing jumping back and forth between modes to get Live Tiles or the Desktop.
4. Similarly, you can pin apps from the Windows store right on the Taskbar in Desktop mode, just like you've always done with applications in the past. Again, no having to jump to another mode to use them. They're all blended together in one seamless operation.
5. Modern Apps are now called Universal Apps -- but this is a significantly bigger deal than that. Right now, Modern Apps (which are those downloaded from the Windows App Store) are full screen. That means they only work on a computer. And like Apple and Android, if you want phone or tablet apps, they have to be rewritten and re-scaled for the new device, running a bit differently on each. Universal Apps will be the same on whatever device you use. Run an app on your Desktop, and it will be the same on your phone and tablet.
6. A new Task View will let you create multiple desktops. You can make a desktop for your office with all the apps and folders and files showing that you need there, and also make a completely separate desktop for home. Just click Task View and then "Add a desktop."
7. There should finally be a Notification Center, and also the voice-activated service Cortana. (This latter is the Microsoft version of "Siri," which was recently introduced on the Windows Phone, and should now be part of Windows in general.)
Anyway, that's the short version of what's coming in Windows 10. Not for a while, late-2015, as I said, but from all I read, the current testing version of the operating system is reasonably mature already.
If you're interested in more, and want a detailed visual look at how some of this will work, here is a pretty good video from Microsoft. It's their VP Joe Belfiore showing some the features (and how techies can get their own version of the Technical Preview to test.) You can get the the features by jumping to the 1:30 mark.
Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
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