Microsoft billed its Wednesday event as an introduction to Windows 10. But what everyone’s going to remember are the holograms.
That’s because Microsoft finally found a secret it could keep. A little more than halfway through its presentation here in Redmond, Wash., executive Alex Kipman took the stage to unveil an entirely new Windows project: Windows Holographic, a new software architecture for displaying virtual holograms.
Of course, Holographic requires special hardware, and Microsoft unveiled that, too, in the form of self-contained smart goggles it calls HoloLens. This is a self-contained computing system that can project holographic images onto surfaces and into space that the user can then manipulate, save, copy and share.
See also: What Windows 10 Will—And Won’t—Do
The HoloLens demos were unquestionably impressive. In one, a Microsoft employee used software called Holo Studio to build a model of a virtual drone—one that could be 3D-printed and built (at least up to a point). In others, NASA scientists used the technology to “walk” on Mars and a related app to control a Mars rover.
HoloLens sort of stole the show, although the presentation raised far more questions than it answered. Kipman described the headset as the “first untethered holographic computer,” noting that it requires no cables, no associated smartphone or computer and no external cameras. It does, of course, work with Windows 10; holographic APIs will be included in every version of Windows 10.
But basics like pricing, battery life and availability are yet to be determined, although the device will supposedly be available around the time Windows 10 ships. Which will be at some unspecified point later this year.
The Rest Of The Story
Of course, there’s lots of news as well on Windows 10, the long-awaited replacement to the enormous kludge that was Windows 8.
The new OS is a reboot of Microsoft’s tentpole Windows franchise worthy of J.J. Abrams. It effectively undoes most of Windows 8’s most egregious errors—specifically its clumsy mishmash of desktop and mobile-oriented interface features—and aims to lay the groundwork for the company’s mobile ambitions.
Here’s a quick runthrough of those further announcements:
- Windows 10 will be free! For the first year after launch as an upgrade to existing, older OSes, at least.
- Cortana is everywhere: Microsoft’s new personal assistant—i.e., a rival to Apple’s Siri and Google Now—debuted last year in Windows Phone. It’s now moving everywhere in the Windows universe, serving up voice command for PCs, personalized information like your flight schedules and so forth, and taking over many search functions from the desktop home screen.
- This. Is. SPARTAN! The rumored non-Internet Explorer browser is a reality. It has three aims: Enable notetaking and annotation of Web pages that users can share; standardize the experience of reading on the Web by making many Web sites look more like book pages (something sure to be popular with publishers), and integrate Cortana into browsing.
- Across the Continuum: It’s finally showtime for this feature, which reconfigures the Windows 10 interface between desktop and tablet modes depending on what peripherals—i.e., keyboard and mouse—are attached to a given device. This feature could be key for making “hybrid” PC-tablet devices truly useful.
- Surface Hub: A new device CEO Satya Nadella likes to call “enterprise TV,” the Surface Hub is an 84-inch video whiteboard and meeting device. It offers nifty features for sharing presentations and documents and allowing team-based annotation.
- Xbox integration: Xbox chief Phil Spencer unveiled new features that will draw Windows 10 PCs closer to the Xbox gaming console. It’ll be possible, for instance, to stream Xbox games to your PC, to have multiplayer sessions across local PCs and Xboxes, and to save snippets of gameplay on a PC-based “game DVR.”
Screencap of Holo Studio demo courtesy of Microsoft