Microsoft sees Windows 10 as Swiss Army Knife of computing

Can the next version of Windows be all things to all people? That's the big question for Microsoft, and the entire computer industry.

Ian Sherr Contributor and Former Editor at Large / News
Ian Sherr (he/him/his) grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area, so he's always had a connection to the tech world. As an editor at large at CNET, he wrote about Apple, Microsoft, VR, video games and internet troubles. Aside from writing, he tinkers with tech at home, is a longtime fencer -- the kind with swords -- and began woodworking during the pandemic.
Ian Sherr
3 min read

Microsoft's answer to the ever-changing world of mobile devices? More of the same.

The Redmond, Wash., software giant offered up some tantalizing details about Windows 10 on Wednesday, the highly anticipated upgrade to its operating system designed for both computers and tablets. Unlike past versions, which have straddled a line between annoying and stale, Windows 10 will power new features and capabilities that could change how people use all their devices.

New features span from the mundane to the gee-whiz, beginning with a revamped start button and ranging to a video game social network and holographic headgear that brings the visions of Hollywood science fiction a step closer to reality. And everything delivered a new twist on Microsoft's ongoing strategy to create software that works on all devices, be they laptop, desktop, tablet or smartphone.

"We want people to love Windows on a daily basis," Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella said during an event held at the company's headquarters.

To make Windows 10 too compelling to ignore, Microsoft will offer the upgrade free to anyone using the past two iterations of Windows dating back six years.

Microsoft is at the center of one of the technology industry's biggest debates. At stake is the way consumers use devices, what they can expect them to do and how app developers design their programs. What's even harder for the world's largest software maker is that it's largely alone in this pursuit. Nearly every major tech company has focused its energies on silos of technology -- each with unique software and look -- that tie together using Internet services.

So far, customers haven't bought in to Microsoft's approach. While Windows is one of the most used computer programs in the world, mobile operating systems from Apple and Google command far more users and apps. The Apple approach, in particular, completely diverges from Microsoft.

The iPhone maker mandates separate software for its tablets, smartphones and computers. And though mobile devices have become powerful, with many features similar to a laptop or desktop, the company still draws a sharp distinction between how people use the two devices. It's one thing to quickly cut together a clip for YouTube on a phone, and another when editing a Hollywood movie on a computer.

Not at Microsoft.

Microsoft said many of its programs have been written using the same code whether for a desktop or a phone; It's just a matter of how they're used or displayed. Even the company's Xbox video game console, one of the most popular products the company sells, is being revamped with new Windows software and programs that can run on a desktop or mobile device. The company said it would release more details in March.

Underscoring its commitment to the one-Windows strategy, ""="" shortcode="link" asset-type="article" uuid="c1692188-80aa-4d3d-af2e-520557921f5a" slug="microsoft-officially-introduces-its-spartan-browser" link-text="Microsoft showed a new Web browser called " section="news" title="Microsoft's 'Spartan' browser makes official debut" edition="us" data-key="link_bulk_key" api="{"id":"c1692188-80aa-4d3d-af2e-520557921f5a","slug":"microsoft-officially-introduces-its-spartan-browser","contentType":null,"edition":"us","topic":{"slug":"laptops"},"metaData":{"typeTitle":null,"hubTopicPathString":"Tech^Computadoras^Laptops","reviewType":null},"section":"news"}"> The new browser's most touted feature: Its ability to work across smartphones, tablets and computers.

Many of the company's other software programs offered a strikingly similar look and feel to their cousins on other devices. Outlook, the company's widely used email and calendar app, is a mere list of messages on a phone. Tap one of the messages and it fills the screen. Tapping on that list of emails on a tablet or a computer opens a message to the side, exploiting those devices' extra real estate.

Microsoft also gave a glimpse of its futuristic efforts, including a touch-enabled TV-like display, called a Surface Hub, intended for videoconferencing and whiteboard brainstorming. It also offered a new spin on virtual reality with its HoloLens headgear. HoloLens marks Microsoft's entry into the 3D virtual reality market, pitting it against Google Glass, which lets people see images and text layered onto their view of the world, and the more immersive Oculus Rift, from Facebook.

Whether Microsoft will ultimately succeed with this all-inclusive strategy is still unclear. It will be up to Microsoft to attract customers back into the fold when it releases Windows 10 later this year.