Microsoft Windows 10 event recap: HoloLens, Cortana, Free Upgrade, Project Spartan and More!

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With Microsoft’s Windows 10 event over it is time to take a look at what the Silicon Valley giant has in store for the next version of the legendary OS. Announcements definitely did not disappoint both in volume and quality.

Most of our questions about Windows 10 as well as some long-standing disputer were finally settled, but Microsoft went a step beyond and touched upon cross-device application usage, unified PC and Xbox gaming, improved DirectX performance and a whole new enterprise collaboration 84-inch touch device.

So if you think you might have missed anything here is a quick rundown of what Microsoft offered in Windows 10 and beyond and boy is it exciting!

Cortana is now part of Windows 10 on PC

The cloud-based Cortana assistant is officially going to be part of Windows 10 on the PC. It is now more intelligent and useful than ever. During today’s Microsoft Windows 10 event the assistant software was showcased in all its glory, working on a Desktop machine.

Cortana will not only be available on your computer, but she has gotten a whole lot better than on your phone. The software has undergone a major upgrade and is now specifically tailored for a full PC experience.

The assistant is built straight into the Shell and resides constantly in the new search bar, in the remodeled task bar. But it does not only act like a simple voice search service. Use cases are incredibly varied and include easy and seamless access to files, settings, web and local search results and basically any other core function of Windows 10.

Microsoft says Cortana is now more personal than ever with the soft female voice now cracking jokes, and understanding 7 new languages – it even does impersonations. Voice interaction and trigger words are very natural as well. You can simply ask Cortana to play some music or be quiet, which is definitely a step toward elevating it the status of an almost human-like assistant, rather than simply a clever voice operated machine.

The increased personality factor comes from the fact that Cortana is now aware of the user it is aiding. Microsoft demoed some of these implications by asking for personal advice and suggestions and Cortana was more than happy to oblige.

Cortana has also learned a trick or two from Google Now and is now really contextually aware, It will provide the right suggestions and notifications, just when you need them. Voice recognition has also taken a huge step forward. Voice typing was showcased as pretty coherent and almost usable on a daily base.

Cortana will also be baked straight into the new web browser, codenamed “Spartan” for an even more intuitive and content-aware experience with link suggestion, info boxes and a lot more.

We are more than happy to see Cortana in the new Windows 10 and with the new added functionality it seems that Microsoft is really making an effort to bring forward a tailored experience for better productivity.

Windows 10 will be a free upgrade from Windows 7 or Windows 8.1 for the first year

At its Windows 10-related “briefing” today, Microsoft has just announced some very good news for those of you who are running an older version of its desktop OS – be that Windows 8.1, or even Windows 7, believe it or not.

Namely, the software giant has revealed that for one year after the official launch of Windows 10, you’ll be able to upgrade to the new version for free.

That’s regardless of whether you’re using Windows 8.1, Windows 8, or even Windows 7. This move is clearly meant to entice as many people as possible to make the jump to Windows 10 as soon as possible after it gets released, with Microsoft possibly hoping to have some very nice adoption numbers for the new OS a few months in. It is, however, following in the footsteps of Apple, which has pioneered free desktop OS upgrades.

Microsoft has also mentioned free upgrades for Windows Phone 8.1, but hasn’t given more details yet. It’s clear that the company wants as many mobile devices to see the new software as possible, but it remains to be seen if all WP 8.1 handsets will actually get the update to 10.

Microsoft announces the much rumored Project Spartan browser for Windows

One of the highlights of Microsoft’s Windows 10 event today was Project Spartan, the software giant’s next generation Web browser. This will be built into Windows 10, and according to company execs you can expect to see it both on the desktop version of the OS as well as on mobile devices.

Microsoft hasn’t yet told us if Spartan will replace IE on Windows 10, but past rumors did mention they’d both ship alongside each other, so perhaps that’s what will happen.

Three main features of Spartan were introduced today, but undoubtedly there’s more to come. And even before we get into those, it’s obvious that the new Microsoft-made browser looks more modern than IE, in line with its competitors such as Chrome and Firefox. The whole UI is simplified and there are much less ‘chrome’ elements to be seen (stuff that’s not actually part of the webpage you’re looking at, that is). So that’s one step in the right direction, clearly.

Based on the official image you can see above, it’s also likely that Spartan will support themes, though probably not by itself – we assume it’s going to adapt its looks to the Windows theme you currently have selected. The browser will also come with built-in note-taking and sharing features, allowing you to ‘select’ any part of a webpage, annotate it, and then share it with your friends or coworkers.

Project Spartan is going to get a reading mode too. This will show you a distraction-free view of the page you’re looking at, with nothing to get in the way of a good reading experience. Think of it like Microsoft’s interpretation of Safari’s Reader Mode. Spartan will have a built-in reading list to complement this mode, and this will be synced across devices naturally.

Finally, Cortana will be inside Spartan, not just Windows 10 as a whole. She will do things to make your life on the Web easier, such as quickly show you weather details, or give you more information about places such as restaurants. She will make the most of the information she has on you, using it in ways that can help you find things out quicker.

Start menu resurrected with Windows 10, but with Live tiles

Windows 10 is taking a step back and forward – the Start menu is back, but unlike the classic menu this one has Live tiles in it. For those who enjoyed the full-screen mode, it’s still on board and is the default for tablet mode.

That’s right, Windows 10 will power both phones as well as tablets and convertibles.

Another change is that the search functionality has been excised from the Start menu and is now part of the dock, making it always visible.

Anyway, switching between the modes is done via the new Continuum feature, which will come especially handy for convertibles. In laptop mode, keyboard and mouse run the show with the compact Start menu. When going into tablet mode you’ll be prompted to switch, which enables the Windows 8-style Start screen.

Microsoft details Xbox integration on Windows 10 – streaming to PC on board

In today’s Windows 10 press event, Microsoft spilled the beans on the Xbox app for its latest OS. The application will be available on every tablet and PC running Windows 10.

Microsoft approached gaming as a highly personal activity with its latest Xbox implementation. System-level features will include messaging and friends list. The Windows 10 app will interact with the Activity Feed, as well as support Steam games.

DVR will arrive to gaming with Xbox for Windows 10 as well. Users will be able to capture and edit gameplay footage just like they do on Xbox One.

DirectX 12 will be part of the graphics subsystem. It will ensure smooth graphics and low power consumption. The popular Unity game engine will also support DirectX 12.

Furthermore, Xbox One users will be able to stream their games to a Windows 10 PC at some point later this year. Microsoft demoed the upcoming feature by playing Forza on a Surface 3.

Microsoft Surface Hub is an 84″ all-in-one computer for the conference room

Remember the Microsoft Surface? No, not the tablet, the large, touch-sensitive table. It never took off, but it’s successor is here and it leverages all the new tech in Windows 10.

The Microsoft Surface Hub was demoed on a massive 84″ 4K touch-sensitive display and it can even detect you when you walk into the room.

The Surface Hub is aimed at businesses and promises to streamline meetings. No more wrangling conference calls and trying to get your presentation files on the projector.

Skype for Business will bring in the people who can’t physically attend while the extensive sync functionality with OneDrive will make your presentation easily accessible.

A special version of OneNote is available when you need to sketch something on the spot. Microsoft promises a fast, lag-free experience, just like you would get from a real marker writing on a whiteboard. This works with mulitple fingers and multiple pens writing on the roomy screen.

The Microsoft Surface Hub packs dual cameras and a mic array for those Skype calls, plus a number of additional “advanced sensors.”

There’s no word on price yet, but we have a feeling this will be one of those “if you have to ask…” type of deals.

Windows 10 will run on phones, share apps with the desktop

Microsoft is unifying Windows 10 for large devices (8+ inch screens) and small devices (phones and small tablets). It has tailored the experience to the size class so you won’t get a large desktop on your small phone, but many shared interfaces will make things feel familiar to users as they switch between form factors.

Developers will be able to create apps that work on a desktop, a phone and even Xbox. Joe Belfiore demoed a special version of Office (still under development) running on a phone, but it will work just as well on a desktop.

The tile-based launcher remains unchanged, but the Settings menu and the Action Center share their base design with the desktop Windows, which will improve the learning experience for users.

The People app will work across device and will aggregate your contacts. The app will let you quickly start a call (regular or Skype) or message a contact. The upcoming Outlook update will feature Tinder-like swipe functionality – left for delete, right for flag. Meanwhile, composing emails will be handled by Word.

Speaking of, Windows 10 will come with a rich set of Office apps – Word, Excel and PowerPoint. They have the full capabilities of their desktop counterparts, but can reflow docs so they fit better on the small screen.

Messaging is now more unified – the default Messages app can handle all Internet-based messaging like Skype, so all messages accross supported services will be in one place (third-party apps need to support it though).

The on-screen keyboard can be moved around to position it more comfortably on phablets. You can also rely on Cortana to transcribe spoken text.

Maps features Cortana integration and the universal app makes it easy to plan a route on a computer and send it to your phone.

Photos is another universal app. It features OneDrive integration and will sync photos from multiple devices, so you can view your entire photo collection from one place. The app will handle duplicates and burst-shots to avoid clutter and automatically group photos in albums. There’s also auto-enhance that handles common issues with photos.

As for upgrades, the Nokia Lumia 1520 has been confirmed it will get the upgrade – it was the device used to demo the OS. However, Windows 10 will be a free upgrade for Windows Phone 8.1 users during the first year of availability. That doesn’t mean some devices won’t be left out though, we’re yet to find out the full details.

The first release of Windows for phones will become available in February to members of the Preview program.

Microsoft’s HoloLens headset is a holographic display for Windows 10

Microsoft is building support for holographic displays into Windows 10, so it only makes sense that the company would make one of those displays, wouldn’t it? Meet HoloLens, an official headset with see-through lenses that merge digital content with the physical. It includes spatial sound so that you can hear things happening behind you in the virtual world, and it even has a dedicated Holographic Processing Unit (HPU) to make sure everything works smoothly. The company is shy about just when it’ll start selling HoloLens, but it should be available “in the Windows 10 timeframe.”
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What to Expect from CES 2015 Next Week: Smart Appliances, Smart Cars, Drones and much more Weird Stuff!

The next Consumer Electronics Show is right around the corner. We will provide you with in-depth news and videos on the latest tech from the show floor. But since we’re already super excited about the show, we thought we would give you our top 15 predictions for what you can expect to see at CES 2015.

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New Oculus Rift headset will be revealed: It seems like Oculus revealed its new Crescent Bay prototype just yesterday, but by the time CES 2015 rolls around, it will be six months old. Crazy how time flies. Since then, the company has acquired camera/hand-tracking company Nimble VR. While the acquisition was recently made, Oculus told us at last year’s CES that the company was working on technology that would allow you to see your hands in-game. Could the new prototype finally offer this capability?

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More VR peripherals: Speaking of Oculus Rift, expect copycat VR headsets at the show. In addition, expect more VR controllers. Everybody’s trying to find the best solution to allow you to control VR, so expect to see many wacky endeavors in that space.

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The Internet of Things things: As much as we hate the term “The Internet of Things,” you can expect to see smarter appliances like microwaves, fridges, and more that are hooked up to the web.

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Smarter cars: A lot of people seem to gloss over the fact that cars are a big part of CES. As a matter of fact, they usually take up an entire hall of the convention center. While you shouldn’t expect driver-less cars for sale anytime soon, you can expect to see a more robust system of driver-assisted cars with online integration.

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Wearables: Last year, we saw a slew of wearable devices. As a result, many people thought 2014 was going to be “the year of the wearable.” That hasn’t exactly panned out, but we’ll probably see a maturation of many of those products this year. One added benefit of wearables is that they allow you to closely track your fitness. As a result, you can expect many of these devices to cater to the health sector.

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No Steam Machines: Last year, Valve debuted its Steam Machines at CES 2014. If you’re thinking Valve will be there again this year, you’re likely mistaken. Valve told us that it won’t have a presence at this year’s CES. Luckily, the company did tell us that it is “planning to be at GDC in a big way.” The company also added that this announcement will pertain to the Steam Machines. GDC 2015 happens March 2–6 , so you won’t have to wait too long after CES to hear more from Valve.

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Beyond 4K: Dell initially revealed its 5K monitor to us back in September, and Apple has since released its 5K iMac. With that in mind, expect more 5K (and higher) displays at the show.

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More sophisticated 3D Printers: With each passing year, 3D printers are picking up steam. Expect a new wave of 3D printers to take advantage of the burgeoning market. We could see faster printers, printers with integrated scanners, or printers that can print using a wider variety of materials.mpc_build.jpg

Faster components: This one’s a given, but you should expect to see faster computers, parts, processors, and everything else at CES. Intel and Nvidia will be on the show floor, so it wouldn’t be a big leap to suppose both companies will be showing off new products.

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New chassis/PCs: Pretty much all of the desktop vendors are going to be there, and that means you should expect to see some new computer designs/cases. Small form factor PCs were pretty big last year, and you should expect to see more of those, along with perhaps a few quirky surprises.

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Lack of Microsoft: We asked Microsoft if it will have a presence at this year’s CES, but the company said that it wouldn’t. If you’re looking to hear more about Windows 10, however, you won’t have to wait too long, considering Microsoft is planning its own Windows 10 event January 21.

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More PC peripherals: Expect more variations on mechanical keyboards, gaming mice, and headsets to be on display at the show. RGB devices will be big this year, but hopefully, we’ll see new, interesting devices like Roccat’s wireless Sova mechancial gaming keyboard.

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Drones: Drones are the new hotness. You can thank Amazon’s Prime Air faux advertisement for that. Whether or not these drones actually take off (pardon the pun), expect to see a new wave of remote-controlled drones at this year’s CES. Let’s just hope no packages fall on people’s heads.

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More media streaming devices: We all know media streaming boxes aren’t new, but with physical media reaching a point of near obsolescence, you should expect to see more of these devices. Hopefully, they’ll be able to stream more than just Netflix movies.

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Weird stuff: The truth is, CES tends to showcase the good along with the ridiculous. A lot of quirky products like Razer’s Project Christine, for instance, never actually see the light of day. Expect to see a bunch of other wacky doodads that will either go nowhere or simply find a small niche.

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Sony’s PlayStation Network (PSN) Back Online, and this is the man who Hacked it and ruined Christmas!

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Sony are having a bit of a tough time at the moment.

Their film division has been hacked and thousands of top secret emails made public, they’re in a war of words with North Korea over the release of The Interview and most recently their online gaming service, Playstation Network, was infiltrated on Christmas Day, causing disruption for millions of people.

Hacking group Lizard Squad came out and claimed responsibility for the Christmas attack, which also affected Microsoft’s Xbox Live, but now angry gamers can finally put a face to that name.

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Speaking to Sky News from Finland, the man above calls himself Ryan, and he says the attacks were carried out “to raise awareness of the low levels of security at these companies.”

You can hear what else he had to say in the video below.

So, there you have it. The man that may have potentially ruined your Christmas has spoken out.

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Meet Microsoft Band, Microsoft’s $200, fitness-focused smartwatch

Wednesday night Microsoft confirmed what we all expected—that it too, has a smartwatch that it wants you to wear 24/7, for work and for play, called the Microsoft Band.

Looking as much like a hospital bracelet as anything else, the $200 Microsoft Band features a rectangular, 320 x106 TFT display that hovers over your wrist. Sensors—a continuous optical heart monitor, GPS, UV sensor, and more—track your activity while on the move and at rest, and send the data to what Microsoft calls the Intelligence Engine, aka Cortana’s little brother. The Band is then designed to work with third-party apps developers, including MyFitnessPal, RunKeeper, and Starbucks—which has developed a “payment” app of sorts.

In all, Microsoft is calling the Band its flagship device of Microsoft Health, a reboot of sorts for a health initiative it tried to establish with products like HealthVault. If you choose, you can store the data the Band collects in HealthVault and share it with your medical provider. Otherwise, Microsoft sees the Band, and Health, as a new way to collect data about you that it can use to improve your day.

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How? Initially, Microsoft sees the Intelligence Engine as supplying suggestions on how long to recover from a workout, for example. Over time, the Engine will apparently be able to comment on whether eating breakfast will make you run faster and more effectively. It’s unclear how the Engine will feed data into Cortana, but she’s there: you’ll be able to ask Microsoft’s digital assistant to add calendar entries, for example, or dictate a text. And, of course, the Band will notify you about upcoming appointments, as your Windows Phone already does.

“Imagine you’ve set the goal that you want to get fit and lose weight as part of your exercise routine,” Zulfi Alam, general manager  of Personal Devices at Microsoft, said in a statement. “Based on your burn rate and exercise over one week, we will soon be able to auto-suggest a customized workout plan for you. As you follow that plan – or if you don’t follow the plan – our technology will continue to adjust to give you the best outward-looking plan, like a real coach would do.”

Why this matters: A number of fitness bands already track your activity, even sleep. Fewer still, though, deliver messages calendar invites. And, barely any smartwatches beyond the Big Three—Apple, Google, and now Microsoft—provide any intelligence that helps you anticipate and plan your day. Microsoft’s Intelligence Engine and Cortana appear to be the pair of intelligent technologies that Microsoft hopes will inspire you to plunk down $200, rather than opt for the aesthetics of the Apple Watch or Google’s ecosystem.

Open to all

But Band isn’t Microsoft exclusive: apps will allow it to work with Apple iPhones (the iPhone 4S, 5, 5C, 5S, 6, 6 Plus running iOS 7.1 or later), Android (4.3 or 4.4) and Windows Phones (with the Windows Phone 8.1 Update). Those apps leaked out earlier on Wednesday.

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Microsoft promises that the Band will last about 48 hours on a single charge, with functions like GPS lowering that somewhat. It will charge in about an hour and a half. Unfortunately, it’s not waterproof, so swimmers will have to look elsewhere. But it will repel “splashes” and will work from 14 degrees up through 104 degrees.

Specifically, the Band will include an optical heart rate sensor, a 3-axis gyrometer, GPS, ambient light sensor, skin temperature sensor, an ultraviolet light sensor, a galvanic skin sensor, and a capacitive sensor. The watch will monitor your heart rate 24/7, and assess whether you’ve been sleeping well.

The band will record data without a data connection, then beam it your phone via Bluetooth. It won’t make calls, but it will flash messages, emails, and even Facebook posts and Twitter tweets. And, of course, there’s a microphone, to trigger Cortana. There’s no speaker, however, so Cortana’s information will be passed along via the screen.

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For that matter, Microsoft seems to want you to wear the Band with the screen hovering over the inside of your wrist. Whether that’s a limitation of the sensors or a design aesthetic remains to be seen.

Naturally, Microsoft hopes that the Band itself will become a platform, with third-party app developers coming together to add to its own capabilities. In addition to the Starbucks app—you can tell the Band to display your Starbucks card info, which can be scanned—Microsoft has struck partnerships with MyFitnessPal, MapMyFitness, RunKeeper, and Gold’s Gym. Gold’s even will construct custom workouts, which Microsoft hopes the Band will be able to adapt as it learns more about you.

All in all, you’ll find a lot of crossover between the features the Band offers and what other fitness bands and smartwatches offer. But the $200 Band is also available now, in three different sizes to fit different wrists. Microsoft also seems to be taking a page from Google in that it’s promising that the Band will improve over time, specifically as it learns more about you.

With the Microsoft Band, Microsoft appears to want to play seriously in the health market, while also providing a tool for your workday. It remains to be seen, however, whether Microsoft will leverage its other technologies—its Xbox game console comes to mind—to enhance its capabilities further. On paper, however, the Band certainly appears to be in the lead pack of smartwatches.

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Nokia brand to be replaced with Microsoft Lumia!

If you’ve seen Microsoft’s recent articles about Lumia you know it was coming. The Nokia brand has been phased out by calling the phones just “Lumia” and redirecting Nokia online properties to Microsoft.com. This rebranding effort will expand and soon the lineup will become “Microsoft Lumia”.

Lumia is already the de facto face of Windows Phone – it accounts for about 90% of the market. Microsoft has been busy signing up new vendors but they will struggle to gain significant market share as the big names have mostly neglected WP.
Will Microsoft put its own logo on the devices or will a more restraint Lumia logo suffice? Keep in mind that Microsoft is treading lightly, not to annoy other WP vendors by showing favoritism to its in-house manufacturer.