Back to the future of Windows 10 and Microsoft’s latest centrepiece, HoloLens

Microsoft's vision of the future
Holographic technology, virtual assistants, and the ability to finally ditch Internet Explorer is finally here. Microsoft’s Windows 10 event recently revealed a bunch of new additions to the company’s latest operating system, as well as possibilities for future technology. Idealog takes a look at all the things they showcased.

Microsoft presentation unveiled a host of new technology such as bringing Cortana, Microsoft’s version of Siri, to the desktop, a new browser code named Spartan, and most importantly, the newest addition to virtual reality – the Windows HoloLens. Working with NASA’s jet propulsion laboratory, the device’s implementation could see new developments being made in aeronautics and space research, as well as catering to designers, artists, and gamers.

Windows 10 has the prospect of being the most adopted and used version of Windows since XP with Microsoft providing a 12-month free upgrade offer for all users currently on Windows 7 and up. Microsoft has also pushed forward the idea that Windows Mobile is now dead, with Windows 10 taking over. The operating system will recognise different devices and present a different user interface on mobile, tablet and desktop.

A key part of the system is the concept of “universal apps” such as the Office suite, which all run with the same basic functionality albeit with some minor user interface (UI) differences.

Here are the major talking points of the event, starting with Microsoft’s newest browser, Spartan.

Project:Spartan

The amount of hate and vitriol thrown at Internet Explorer is now legendary, and while most of it is leftover hate from bygone eras, Project Spartan is a very welcome development for Microsoft’s browser capabilities.

Building on top of the hardware integration mentioned, the UI has been redesigned to fit on all the different types of devices. One of the coolest functionality, which will probably see the most use on touch-based devices, was note-taking mode. Users will be able to draw directly on the webpage to capture images, and allow collaboration with others by adding comments and notations. All these webpage-based collaborations will then be automatically synced to OneDrive.

Reading mode allows rearranging web views to make them easier to read, and the addition of a “Reading List” that users can curate will sync across devices. It’s like those “read later” apps such as Instapaper that are built straight out of the browser.

Most importantly, it’s the integrated functions with Cortana that makes it truly stand out from Internet Explorer and all the other browsers currently on the market.

Draw directly onto a screen, Microsoft's new user interface

Hey Cortana!

Microsoft’s intelligent personal assistant for its mobile platform, Cortana, is named after the protagonist’s fictional AI helper in the best-selling video games Halo. Its introduction to PC is a key part of Microsoft’s plan to integrate a seamless OS between tablet, mobile and desktop, with Cortana tying together the different hardware.

Cortana appears as a small search box at the bottom of the Desktop screen, or as a small circle icon in touch mode. She is also accessible by voice control, with the trigger phrase “Hey Cortana!” when active listening is turned on. Acting as the main search interface for Windows 10 and a personal assistant, she is able to search for a variety of files, documents, settings, as well as perform tasks such as listening to you dictate a email and then send it.

She’s also able to answer intelligently. Ask for answers to a fact, and she’ll answer. Ask for a joke, and she’ll tell you one. The integration between hardware also means a reminder set using Cortana on mobile will show up on PC. Users can even set reminders to call mum when they get home.

Working with Spartan, Cortana is based on Bing-powered knowledge base. She also draws on information from the “Notebook”, which is essentially a catalogue of everything she knows about you. Search results appear in the lower-left corner of the desktop, and she uses Spartan to provide weather information, flight tracking, map directions, and a host of other functionalities that are currently still being worked on.

Cortana will be rolled out in following months with support for seven languages, including a “Yoda impersonation” system.

The HoloLens

The bit everyone’s been waiting for: holograms! Microsoft calls it holography, and while the actual technical side is debateable to whether it is true holographs, it does the same job regardless. It’s an engaging and effective augmented reality system that brings virtual objects alive. The vision is to have Skype windows, Minecraft environments, and the surface of Mars all are presented (and spatially integrated) on to the real world.

While it’s still in early development, Alex Kipman, the man responsible for the project, says the support in Windows 10 is universal, which means developers can build for the desktop once and use it everywhere. The hardware – the actual HoloLens – is designed to be a self-contained unit with its own CPU and brand new “Holographic Processing Unit”. There’s no requirement to be connected to a phone or computer, and is meant to completely independent.

Accompanying the hardware is HoloStudio, a 3D modelling tool that lets people build holograms, which can then be integrated into software or be 3D printed for physical use. The recent Microsoft event featured a 3D printed drone being built by one of Microsoft’s employees using the software, right on the spot.

It also allows the ability to overlay directions and guidance on to the real world through use of Skype, which allows a second user to see from the HoloLens wearer’s perspective and guide them accordingly. For example, an electrician can guide a user to wire up a light switch, or getting help from a plumber to change a sink’s piping.>

More importantly, it’s Microsoft’s work with NASA’s jet-propulsion laboratory that’s the most impressive. A 3D world constructed from data captured by the Curiosity rover means scientists on Earth can walk around and observe everything the rover sees, and collaboratively make decisions on what the rover does. It’s a showcase on how immersive the holograph can feel, providing an extremely unique experience for scientists working at the cutting edge of technology.

The other bits and pieces

Microsoft also dropped information for gamers with the new integration of the Xbox app and Windows 10, allowing users to play console games with each other online. There’s also the option of streaming console gameplay to a laptop or desktop, using applications, as well as controlling the console remotely. On the flip side, this also means users will be able to stream PC apps to their Xboxes.

A giant 84-inch 4k screen was also debuted, called the SurfaceHub. Inbuilt motion sensors detect when someone enters a room to automatically switch on, and then switch off after backing up data to a specified system after a person leaves. Essentially a massive digital whiteboard, the system runs a version of OneNote that can be used solo or as part of a shared data group.

There’s no firm details on launch date for the Windows 10 however, besides the oft quipped “when it’s ready” line. But with the way things are going, it seems like Microsoft’s offerings are going to shake up the way we use our devices.