After a preview at last September's BUILD conference, today Microsoft hosted a press event in Redmond to show more of what to expect from the next version of Windows, and a few more things to boot.
First up, pricing. Describing Windows as a service, Windows 10 will be a free upgrade for Windows 8 users. Windows 7 users will have one year to upgrade to Windows 10 for free, as well. (Microsoft said they would clarify later what the upgrade options would be for Windows RT and XP/Vista users.) While there was some initial confusion about what this actual meant, in a post-conference Q&A session, it was explained that this isn't a change in business model for Windows--don't expect user subscriptions for the OS, although I wouldn't be surprised to see Microsoft push Windows users harder to sign up for Xbox Live Gold-style subscription-only upgrades and enhancements to the OS, including additional storage space on One Drive and the like.
As originally shown at Build, Windows 10 will integrate the two disparate halves of Windows 8, the Start Screen and the traditional Desktop. You'll be able to run Modern-style Start Screen apps inside a window on the Desktop, the task switching utilities will be unified, and things like system settings applets will be available on both interfaces. That means that things like settings to control Windows will all be in one place, not split willy-nilly between the Desktop-only Control Panel and the Start Screen PC Settings app.
At the same time, Microsoft is promising a more unified Windows across devices, including both mobile and large-scale collaborative touchscreens. In addition to syncing your files between devices using OneDrive, Microsoft claims that universal applications will behave in a standard, expected way across platforms. Microsoft is leading this initiative with its own for the OS running as universal apps. They demoed the Outlook app running on phone and a PC. While this sounds good on paper, the actual execution requires deftness that Microsoft didn't show on the Windows 8 side, so I'm waiting to see this in person before I render judgment. If the Desktop versions of universal apps are just reskinned versions of the mobile apps, without the added functionality I expect on a Desktop app, I'd be disappointed.
Microsoft also showed its voice assistant, Cortana, running on multiple platforms, including Desktop Windows. Along with information similar to Google's Knowledge Graph, Cortana seems to learn from your behavior. If you ask the software to track an incoming flight, it will let you know if that flight conflicts with other events in your calendar. If you ask it about something that you mentioned in a written note, it will reference that info in its answer to you. The on-stage demo was a bit rough around the edges, so I'm interested in seeing this in person too. It seems odd that we're moving toward a world where I'll have three or four voice agents running in my presence at any given time.