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Opinion

Windows 10: Start menus, and Microsoft's holographic vision

For most users, it will be a new browser – and the return of the start menu in Windows 10 – which are most welcome

 Inside the Enterprise: Microsoft, these days, is a company with more than one personality.

 There is the desktop application, operating system and cloud services arm. Dull and worthy, but generally reliable.

But then there is the company's other, more adventurous side. The company that bought Nokia's mobile phone arm, developed the Surface tablet and of course, the Xbox. Sometimes, these seem to be products of entirely different organisations.

This week's consumer event at Microsoft's Redmond HQ certainly had more of the air of an Xbox or a phone launch, than one for the update of an operating system. Despite this, though, there was plenty for enterprise IT users to take stock of.

Microsoft's upcoming Windows 10 operating system is widely viewed as a critical launch for the company. It will need to succeed, if Microsoft is to claw back some of the market share the PC business has been losing to tablet devices.

Microsoft hopes that Windows 10 will boost sales of tablets and smartphones as well as PCs, even though analysts predict that this could be a long haul.

This is one reason that Microsoft has announced that Windows 10 will be a free upgrade to users of Windows 7 and Windows 8, at least in the first year of its release.

This is a smart move, as the take-up of Windows 8 has been slow so far, although of course Microsoft has not been helped by a global recession, which has depressed global sales of computers.

A free upgrade path to Windows 10 should also boost take up of Microsoft's new browser codenamed Spartan which was also on view this week.

A new browser presents both challenges and opportunities for businesses, as it brings new features, but can also require rewriting of applications and websites to ensure compatibility. Browser (in)compatibility is one reason operating systems such as Windows XP have remained in service in business for so long, even after the software officially went end of life; Microsoft is right to release details on Spartan now, so businesses can at least start to prepare.

Other innovations, such as adding Cortana voice recognition to the desktop version of Windows 10 it will be there "from day one", according to Redmond open up the possibility of voice control for enterprise applications and devices too. There are plenty of industrial applications where voice control could be useful, and it is much more practical for developers to work with it, if it is built in to the operating system's core.

Microsoft's proposed HoloLens system coming just after Google announced the end of development of Google Glass is another interesting proposition.

This brings the ability to overlay information from an application, or Windows itself, over a transparent headset to create an augmented reality (AR) system.

Again, it's easy to see how this could find a niche in science and engineering, as well as simulation and training, even if Minecraft was perhaps not the most relevant choice of demo apps for business.

The HoloLens system is due to come out with Windows 10, and NASA, apparently, is already using it. And its announcement certainly brought Microsoft's more playful, inventive side to the fore.

For day to day users of Windows 8, though, the return of a proper start menu may still be Windows 10's standout feature.

 Stephen Pritchard is a contributing editor at IT Pro.

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