Most people will agree that the Windows 8 and 8.1 operating system was probably among one of Microsoft’s most divisive versions ever. Melding together a traditional “desktop” user experience (most of us are familiar with going all the way back to Windows 95 and more recently until the incredibly popular Windows 7) with a “mobile” experience Microsoft refers to as “Modern UI” (commonly known as “Metro”).
On the horizon is Windows 10. Microsoft’s attempt to finally unify desktop, tablet and mobile phone operating systems into a single platform capable of adapting to the device on which it runs. How does this benefit the average user? First lets consider how it was implemented in the Windows 8.x generation.
With Windows 8, Microsoft’s Windows division (led by Steven Sinofsky at the time) wanted to try and bridge the gap between mobile and desktop. At the same time, Microsoft had re-entered the smartphone market with Windows Phone 7. When Windows 8 came out, Microsoft started the move to Windows Phone 8 which effectively meant that the Windows CE underpinnings powering the Windows Phone 7-series devices was finally retired in favour of the same basic underlying architecture powering Windows 8 for desktops and tablets (commonly known as the Windows NT code base).
This meant common subsystems were now shared across the platforms like storage, networking and at the heart of it all, the Windows NT kernel. Also new, was the WinRT runtime (not to be confused with the short-lived Windows RT OS) which paved the way to develop applications using the “Modern UI” experience on Windows and on Windows Phone. The two however, had differences which made sharing code possible, but it did require effort to write a version for both the Windows Store and Windows Phone Store (which until now are kept separate due to the differences in the platforms and their APIs).
Enter Windows 10 and the new “Universal Apps” model. With this, Microsoft intends to usher in a new era of application development for the platform. To understand what this means, lets look at what Windows 10 brings to the table:
- An enhanced desktop UI which brings back the Start Menu (familiar to those of Windows 7 and earlier versions).
- A significantly enhanced/upgraded version of the WinRT API for the Universal Apps model.
- 1 Operating System for all device types (Desktop/Laptops, Tablets, Smartphones, Xbox, Smart watches and other wearables, IoT devices, embedded devices etc.)
- Seamless experiences across all of these devices offering unique app experiences and interoperability.
- The debut of Project Spartan – the new Microsoft web browser replacing Internet Explorer.
Windows Phone will now be replaced by (what Microsoft currently refers to as) Windows 10 for Phones. No longer will Windows, Windows Phone, Windows Embedded or the IoT (Internet of Things) version of Windows 10 be separate operating systems. They will now be different SKUs of the same OS.
Under the leadership of the new head of the Microsoft OSG (Operating Systems Group) – Terry Myerson and Joe Belfiore (formerly of the Windows Phone division before it merged into the Microsoft OSG), Windows 10 is aimed to unify all the “variants” of Windows into a single OS which adapts to the device on which it runs. No more specific OS variant to device. The key to making it all come together are a an updated set of API’s which will enable developers to write once targeting all devices at the same time.
It should be noted that Windows 10 will be powering not only traditional desktop and laptop PC’s, but also tablets (both Intel x86 and ARM) all the way through smartphones, Xbox One, the Microsoft HoloLens and IoT (Internet of Things) devices (think smart watches, health bands and other wearable devices).
What does this ultimately mean?
Unlike the Apple ecosystem (for example) where iOS and OS X stores are different, and you effectively have to pay for the same app on both stores for your Mac or iPhone/iPad, the idea with Windows 10 is to have a unified store where the developer can write an application once and target a wide range of devices all at once. Technically, this will also include the Xbox One (ie. There should be no reason why the touch-first versions of Microsoft Office would not work on an Xbox One for example, or any other “Modern” app).
This should appeal to users and developers for what I believe to be the following 2, simple reasons:
- Developers can now write an app once and with minimal effort tweak it for all these platforms in a single go. No need to write multiple versions for multiple architectures and multiple device screen capabilities.
- Users can buy an app once, and install it across all their devices. It remains to be seen how Microsoft will manage this, but it would stand to reason one of the unique advantages the platform would have over the Apple and Google/Android ecosystems are that you can buy once, run anywhere.
It will also enable a number of interesting cross device capabilities due to the common underlying OS.
Some of the key highlights of Windows 10 currently (as of the Technical Preview build 9926):
- Return of the Start menu.
- Cortana personal digital assistant.
- Action centre.
- Control Panel is now Settings.
- Charms are gone.
- Continuum (Switch between Desktop/Laptop or tablet mode easily and seamlessly)
- Modern Apps can now co-exist in Windows on the desktop with regular Win32 applications.
- Multiple desktops are now supported.
Not featured in build 9926, but of significant interest to developers, and with regards to Techsys Digital in particular for web developers will be the upcoming “Spartan” web browser and it’s new Edge rendering engine.
Spartan is expected to come in a future Technical Preview with the idea to match other popular web browsers like Chrome & FireFox for speed and simplicity, while allowing browser extensions. Primarily, Spartan will be more standards compliant than Internet Explorer, it will be faster, more compatible, more secure and offer better reliability. Microsoft aims for Spartan to dispense with the legacy of Internet Explorer and it’s backwards compatibility in favour of embracing the modern web and modern standards compliance.
Internet Explorer will of course be available for users who require backwards compatibility – but Spartan will be the new browser on the block. Spartan will replace Internet Explorer on the Windows 10 for Phones SKU entirely as the default web browser.
Currently Microsoft provides access to Windows 10 for free via a Technical Preview program for Windows PC’s and Laptops. Windows 10 for Phones is also available in preview form for a limited range of devices via the Windows Insider App on the Windows Phone Store.
I would strongly recommend for those users who would like to try the Technical Preview to run it in a VM or a test-bed machine and not on a production box. As one can imagine, this is a Technical Preview and as such brings with it an OS which is very much still undergoing development.