One Microsoft. A single cohesive Microsoft working together to deliver a single Windows, working across all devices, and powering everything from Office and Bing to Xbox, and yes, even Holographs. That was the message Microsoft sought to deliver yesterday as it invited some 2-300 press to talk about some consumer features coming with Windows 10, including Cortana (introduced with a shout-out to Zac and WinBeta!); modern apps running in windows, with no outward facing differences between how a modern app and a legacy Win32 application are treated; an Xbox app that lets you play games across devices, stream your Xbox One games onto your PC, and find and connect with new gaming friends; new apps for photos and maps and mail that work across your devices seamlessly; and built in controls and support for sensors that make Windows capable of delivering everything from new smartphone experiences to Holographs. Yes, holographs.
While seamless integration of services like Mail, Calendar, and Maps has been promised since back in the early days of Windows Live, that integration is finally coming to pass.
Windows 10 will run across a full slate of devices, from phones to tablets to the Xbox to PCs to 84” Surface Hubs, but just as importantly, Microsoft is building in a set of experiences that will connect Windows 10 devices that are common and shared. While seamless integration of services like Mail, Calendar, and Maps has been promised since back in the early days of Windows Live, that integration is finally coming to pass.
Ask Cortana a question, about say an upcoming flight on your phone, and (with permission), she’ll remember that information the next time you log into your PC. Plan a trip on your PC and get directions on a map (and by the way, it’s Maps now, not Bing Maps, and Microsoft’s Maps will go back to getting top billing on phones, replacing HERE Maps by default), and those directions will be ready for you on your phone. Mail and Calendar, too, are getting significant upgrades, with new and common sets of functions.
Our day at Microsoft began in Building 92, where the Microsoft Company Store is located, but we headed upstairs to a sharply furnished series of rooms and hallways all decked out in low slung white leather couches and live grass centerpieces, and started the day with the keynote you saw on the webcast.
Terry Myerson started things off with an overview of Windows 10, giving shout out’s to the Windows Insiders for their participation in building the new product. He then turned things over to Joe Belfiore, who walked us through Cortana, Spartan, and Windows Phone, confirming much of what you’ve already been reading about on WinBeta, and showing off more aspects of build 9924.
Xbox is coming to Windows 10
Next up was Xbox’s Phil Spencer and the new Xbox app for Windows 10. In an effort to bring Microsoft’s two gaming communities, those on Xbox and PC gamers, together, Microsoft is tying messaging, achievements, cross platform play, and streaming from Xbox One to the PC all together in a new app that in many ways brings Xbox onto the PC.
The Surface Hub - a re-invented whiteboard
Spencer then handed things off to a demo of the Surface Hub, which is of course built on Windows 10 but even more so on top of OneNote, offering an ever-scrolling whiteboard with quick color controls, the ability to move things around easily, 100 points of touch and 3 pen inputs to allow collaboration, and the ability of remote workers to contribute to whiteboard sessions through their own use of OneNote, and full audio/video connections featuring some impressive built-in hardware.
Through the curtains, however, there were still signs that a legacy Microsoft still looms. Although this was billed as a consumer event, the new Surface Hub (a redesigned Perceptive Pixel smart whiteboard) is a decidedly non-consumer product. No big announcements were made in the keynotes about the elusive touch-friendly Office, except that there still will apparently be touch and non-touch versions of Office co-existing, or was Office featured in the demo sessions.
While the first build of Windows 10 for phones was confirmed for a February debut, there weren’t any new phones to show off, and the word was that we’ll have to wait for new flagship devices, although they are coming, until around the time Windows ships later this year. With all of the talk of a faster, more nimble Microsoft, they’re behind on flagship phones, they’re behind on a touch friendly Office (we’ve been waiting since Windows 8.0), and it could be argued that they’re behind on Windows 10 for phones, if you expected a January consumer event release.
One More Thing: the HoloLens
But back to the good stuff. After touting One Microsoft, Microsoft pulled off a mother of a “one more thing”, revealing a completely new consumer product, the HoloLens that you can think of as perhaps a cross between Google Glass and the Oculus Rift. Instead of being immersed inside of an alternate experience, the HoloLens brings a virtual world on top of the real world by overlaying computer generated imagery over what you still clearly see through the HoloLens glasses.
While I won’t go into the details of our tour of the secret basement laboratories underneath Microsoft’s Building 92 Visitor’s Center, you can read Peter Bright’s description at Ars Technica or Todd Bishop's at GeekWire, or any number of others, we all shared the same tour and same experiences, I will say that experiencing even an early version of this new hardware device, new worlds were literally opened up.
But, as cool as it is, with an admittedly great “wow factor”, will the HoloLens really be the next big thing in consumer computing? It certainly wowed the tech press in attendance, and there’s no doubt that it’s impressive and amazing technology. But so of course is the Kinect, which while it works well and opens up new worlds of gesture and voice to the Xbox and the PC, hasn’t really caught on as a mainstream product.
The fact is, gamers don’t really want to jump around their living rooms and talk to their consoles, they just want to sit and play cool games. Will a new generation of consumers want to immerse themselves behind a still somewhat imposing set of headgear, in what in this early look seems to be a fairly anti-social experience? How do you share HoloLens with your friends? In the demos, we saw computer screens that showed what the user was seeing from inside HoloLens, and maybe that’s the way you’ll be able to share the experience, trading off the Lens and then watching on a screen.
Don’t get me wrong, the HoloLens is a very cool experience, with endless possibilities. But like the Kinect and Google Glass, it takes more than just cool experiences, they have to fit in to how we live, work, and play. Microsoft’s entry into the Holograph domain, which up until yesterday we didn’t know existed, set off fireworks amongst the tech press yesterday, and rightly so. Will it do the same for masses of consumers? That we’ll have to wait and see.
Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella closed the event by sharing some personal stories about what Microsoft means to him as he meets with people around the world, and what Windows 10, and innovation like the HoloLens, is doing for the company. He said that Microsoft wants to be "loved" again, and that "Microsoft is home for the very best of Microsoft services". Microsoft has added its own event highlights reel to recap the experience, you can watch it here if you missed the event or want to relive it:
Still, the big news of the day, aside from the distractions of futuristic holographs and enterprise whiteboards, was all about Windows 10 and One Microsoft. In talking with Chief Marketing Officer Chris Capossela before yesterday’s festivities began, he made it clear that new CEO Satya Nadella is serious about the company working together as a whole. With a single core of Windows 10 running across a wide range of devices and a set of services to go along with them, with Xbox and Windows coming ever closer together, with Bing and Cortana and Spartan and Office all existing on every device and sharing one experience, and with almost unheard of new experiences like the HoloLens fitting seamlessly into the system, Microsoft may finally be coming together as one, indeed.