From a new Start menu to Cortana to the Internet of Things, Microsoft previewed the future of Windows this week at Build.
accounts. Cortana visualizes the data it collects in a virtual "Notebook," which the company says will keep users in control of how the app stores and uses personal data.
Currently, Cortana is only a Windows Phone 8.1 product -- and a beta, at that. But if Microsoft has preached a theme lately, it's been personalized experiences that span devices. The concept was a major talking point in recent Office announcements, for example, and it underscores large parts of the company's OneDrive and Bing strategies. It's likely only a matter of time until Cortana extends to Windows devices and the Xbox.
4. Modern apps will look more like legacy apps and will eventually run in windows on the desktop. Tuesday's Windows 8.1 update includes a number of tweaks to make Modern apps behave more like legacy titles. The new titles can be pinned to the desktop taskbar, for example, and once they're launched, they can be minimized just like traditional desktop applications. The update also modifies the Start screen to make it friendlier to mouse-and-keyboard users; for example, context menus surface when users right-click Live Tiles. But thanks to the taskbar changes, users can now run Modern apps completely from the desktop, without ever accessing the tiled Start screen.
The Modern UI will soon include right-click context menus.
Eventually, Microsoft will take this effort further by enabling Modern apps to run in windows on the desktop. Microsoft execs told developers this strategy will expose their apps to new users, and in an interview, Microsoft product manager Brad McCabe said the changes challenge the notion that Modern apps are driven exclusively by touch. As was the case with the Start menu, Microsoft would not say when windowed Modern apps might arrive.
5. Windows is coming to the Internet of Things. Processors are smaller and more powerful than ever, which means they can be placed in almost anything. Microsoft demonstrated this point with a giant piano -- played via stomping feet, a la the movie Big -- that runs Windows.
Windows is coming to the Internet of Things.
What's the point of such a device? Right now, mostly to show off. But CEO Satya Nadella, echoing remarks he made last week when introducing the Office suite for iPads, said new form factors will emerge that challenge how we define computers. These devices, perhaps even pianos, will collect data about their users and environments, allowing us to quantify virtually everything, and to extract new insights via big data technologies.
In his few appearances as CEO, Satya Nadella has preached the potential of data-driven personalization.
Microsoft is hardly the only company harboring this interest. Cisco has been evangelizing many of the same talking points for the last year, Intel dedicated its CES presence largely to the Internet of Things, and Apple and Google have shown interest in translating their operating systems from conventional computing devices to "things" such as cars and clothing accessories. But with Nadella at the helm, Microsoft appears ready to ramp up this agenda.
A Build attendee tests out Microsoft's Windows-powered piano.
6. Universal apps are finally here. Since launching Windows 8 and Windows Phone 8 in 2012, Microsoft has worked to unify the code across its various platforms. With enough unification, or so the running commentary has gone, developers would be able to write a single app and deploy it across the entire Windows ecosystem, from phones to PCs.
At Build, Microsoft announced that these benefits are no longer theoretical. Thanks to new tools, developers can now target any device type with a single
Michael Endler joined InformationWeek as an associate editor in 2012. He previously worked in talent representation in the entertainment industry, as a freelance copywriter and photojournalist, and as a teacher. Michael earned a BA in English from Stanford University in 2005 ... View Full Bio
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