Windows 10: This is the Windows We’ve Been Waiting For
I’m going to start off with a bold statement, but one that I hope most will come to agree with me on: Microsoft’s next operating system, Windows 10, is what Windows 8 always wanted to be.
Since the release of the first iPhone back in 2007, there’s been a clear change in consumer electronics and what people expect of them. In just a few years we’ve come from simple cell phones and BlackBerry phones to phones and tablets with touch-capable screens that have processing power rivaling that of laptops from just a few years prior.
The combination of touch screens and the small form factor of our modern mobile devices have resulted in a new frontier of user interfaces, so to speak. The tech industry wanted to make the most use of the little screen space that they had on these devices, and came up with new innovative ways to present information to people through touchscreen UIs.
Furthermore, concurrent to the smartphone and tablet revolutions has been the advent of cloud storage and computing. Now, many consumers are utilizing web tools to access their documents, photos, entertainment and more.
The downside of this rapid innovation in the consumer space is that companies that were well established in this market had to find a way to integrate new technology and design trends to keep their products relevant.
Enter Windows 8. By 2012, the industry had a good understanding of what worked and what did not with regards to mobile hardware and accompanying UIs. Microsoft even had a presence in the mobile space with Windows Phone. But on desktops and laptops, it was time for Microsoft to release the next version of Windows and needed to consider the advancements in the mobile space that had yet to mature when Windows 7 was released.
Microsoft had a plan to keep Windows modern with 8. The goal was to add to Windows some of the most common features in the mobile space, and to make a consistent, unifying UI for all consumer devices from phones to desktops. However, somewhere along the line Microsoft seemingly forgot that Windows is the most popular desktop OS and that several UI features have remained consistent for years for good reasons. Some people may prefer Windows for sake of familiarity, but for many the UI design was also conducive to productivity. Despite this, Windows 8 was designed in a way that ended up removing or changing some UI elements that had been with us for years, and replacing them with arguably less productive options.
Early adopters as well as those that participated in pre-release testing weren’t pleased with these changes. And despite the radical changes, Windows 8’s UI design was inconsistent, failing to unify the OS for all types of consumer devices. There ended up being two UIs: One that was reminiscent of previous Windows iterations, and another for touch-enabled devices. Unfortunately many actions on desktops had users brought over to the touch-centric UI, creating a jarring and confusing experience.
Microsoft had lofty goals for Windows 8 but the result was a rather lukewarm response by the consumers. But since 2012, Microsoft has welcomed in new leaders and it seems to me that this has resulted in a fresh new outlook on how to approach designing a Windows for the modern world.
Today Microsoft held a conference to showcase some of the new features that we will see on Windows 10 which is assumed to launch later this year. Some of you may have already had the chance to try out Windows 10 for yourself through the Insider program and the Technical Preview late last year. I’m happy to say that I feel both that Microsoft is listening carefully to what the customers and testers want to see, and that Windows 10 looks to accomplish what Windows 8 set out to do with regards to our mobile and cloud-connected world.
As Terry Myerson noted during the conference, already there have been 1.7 million testers for Windows 10, and 800K pieces of feedback on how to make this Windows release best. But let’s talk about the features. A greatly missed feature of past Windows releases, the Start menu has returned, but with some new tricks to blend both the traditional Start menu and the Start screen seen in Windows 8. This allows you to search items in your menu as you would in Windows 7, but to the right you find smartphone-like app tiles as you would find on both Windows 8 and Windows Phone. The Start screen from 8 still remains at the moment, but the OS is more intelligent about which the user would prefer: Desktop UI or Touch-centric “Modern” UI.
One of my favorite features of smartphones has now also come to Windows: The notification panel. When active, this panel will show up on the right side of the screen and will display notifications from applications as well as some quick actions that can be taken such as activating airplane mode for laptops. Here’s a summary of some other smartphone-derived features and enhancements that have been added:
- Intelligent UI switching, which Microsoft is calling Continuum Mode. For 2-in-one devices, Windows will detect which mode to best operate in, either the Desktop UI a touch-centric UI. This will allow you the best productivity when both on the go and at home or office.
- Cortana, the personalized voice-operated assistant. This reminds me a bit of Siri and Google Now, and is present on current Windows Phone devices. You can think of it as part input device, part assistant. Cortana can open programs or write emails via voice commands, but can also converse and answer questions with data gathered from the internet.
- Movable on-screen keyboard for mobile devices to allow you to position the keyboard in a way that allows you to best see screen content while typing.
Windows 10 also has a number of usability and convenience enhancements.
- Alt-tab has been improved with thumbnails of each window
- Virtual desktops, something familiar to users of OSX or several Linux systems are familiar with
- Aero Snap, the software that allows you to have a window quickly resized to take up a half of your screen has now been improved to allow pinning in a quadrant arrangement on your screen
- Modern UI Apps can be ran in a windowed mode when on the desktop UI
- Did I mention that the Start menu is back?
Finally, Windows 10 has improved on consistency cross-platform, in a few ways.
- Windows Phone seems to be a thing of the past. In the future, smartphones, tablets, laptops, and desktops will all be running Windows 10
- There is Clever UI design for core applications and the OS itself. From the demonstrations shown today for Microsoft Office and core programs, each program has a UI that makes sense for the device that it is running on. For the desktop, this means that there’s lots of info present on the screen while still giving freedom to use either mouse or touchscreen at will. On a phone, the UI may be different to make best use of small touchscreens. But both UIs will be themed in a consistent manner and you can expect certain actions to work the same on both types of systems. Take for example the new Microsoft Outlook. Although the UI was different between desktop and mobile apps, Both reacted to swipe actions on an email in the same way, and both had matching themes.
For a more information on Windows 10 and the event Microsoft held today, it’s worth taking a look at their blog post from today.