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What will Windows 10 do for you?

The new Windows brings a mobile interface, including Cortana, to PCs and tablets, while syncing apps across all devices

Published: January 21, 2015 09:50 PM

With its Windows 10 announcement today, Microsoft showed it’s finally ready to catch up to Android and iOS by integrating mobile features across devices from PCs to tablets to phones. But it also took a few leaps beyond its competition, most notably by introducing a holographic version of Windows. Conspicuously missing from the announcement was a release date for the new OS, which we first previewed last September. However, Microsoft said it would be releasing a developer’s version in the next few days. Once the Windows 10 launches to consumers, the company will provide free upgrades for a year for users running Windows 7 and 8.1, and Windows Phone 8.1.

Here’s a rundown of what you’ll find in Windows 10.

Cortana comes to the PC. Cortana is Microsoft’s voice-controlled digital assistant. It’s been on Windows Phones, but the company will now add it to Windows 10. Interaction with Cortana on the PC promises to be a more natural experience since the app will leverage the PC’s more powerful processors. For an example of what it does, ask Cortana if you need a coat, and it will give you the local weather. Cortana tailors its feedback according to the device you’re using. If you’re working from a PC, it will search your local hard drive, as well as OneDrive, and even apps in the Microsoft store.

As with earlier versions of Cortana, users can control what the app knows about them. Go into the “notebook” to either add interests manually or remove items if they’re incorrect or if you don’t want that information to be stored. Of course, the more you tell Cortana, the more useful its advice will be. For instance, with enough information, it will provide traffic updates to help get you to an appointment that’s in your calendar. But unlike smart phones, PCs often have more than one user. We’ll have to see how well Cortana juggles the preferences of multiple users.

A Windows 10 for smaller devices. Microsoft hinted that Windows 10 might come in two flavors, one for PCs and larger tablets, and another for devices with displays smaller than 8 inches. The Start screen for smaller devices will look similar to the one used on Windows Phone now, with some important changes. For instance, recently installed apps will move to the front of the display. The Action Center, which includes notifications, will sync with your PC. As on some Android phones, there’ll be a shrinkable keyboard for one-handed operation on larger-screen phones. Messaging will integrate tools such as Instant Messenger and Skype with SMS text messaging, similar to how Google Hangouts and Apple Messages work.

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Universal apps. Microsoft is aiming for better continuity when it comes to apps, a weak spot for past Windows platforms (Windows RT on tablets, Windows Phone on smart phones, and Windows 8.1). You’ll find equally robust and consistent features across all Office apps, such as editing and formatting tools. But their appearance will be tailored toward the device you’re using. For example, on a two-in-one computer, the interface will be optimized for a keyboard when the display is connected. But when you remove the display, the interface will automatically optimize for a tablet.

The apps will also sync across devices. For instance, you’ll see the same list of Recently Opened documents on your phone and PC.

There’s also a new Outlook. With some of its new features, Outlook takes a cue from Apple’s mail capabilities, allowing you to delete messages by swiping to the left from your phone’s screen. That same user interface will be available across devices. But it’s not clear yet whether other e-mail services, such as Gmail and Yahoo, will be integrated into Outlook.

Finally, Microsoft’s new Photo app will automatically place photos into albums, again a la Android and iOS. It will also automatically enhance photos, by getting rid of red eye and making other improvements.

RIP, Internet Explorer. Window’s 10’s new browser, code-named Project Spartan, will bake in Cortana, which should deliver a new level of smarts to your web searches. For example, if Cortana knows you’re tracking a particular flight, and you type the name of the airline into the browser, it will automatically bring up info about that flight.

Among the other new features is a note-taking mode, which lets you mark up a web page using a stylus or your finger. If you’re using a non-touch device, you’ll be able to add comments with a keyboard. A clipping tool lets you save a piece of a page to OneNote, or share it with other people.

Project Spartan will introduce a standardized format for reading web pages on smaller devices. It was hard to tell from the demo how much that differs from the mobile version of a site that you currently get. And, as with Apple’s Safari, you’ll be able to create a reading list that saves pages for offline reading.

Turn your PC or tablet into an Xbox. Halo junkies, you’re no longer trapped on your Xbox. With Windows 10, you can stream Xbox games and play them on other devices. For the future, Microsoft says this integration will lead to new applications that will bring more TV-type features to the Xbox and vice versa.

—Donna Tapellini and Michael Gikas

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