Windows 10: release date, price, news and features

15th Oct 2014 | 13:18

Windows 10: release date, price, news and features

Everything we know about the future of Windows

Windows 10: what we know so far

Update: How many Technical Preview testers have (smartly) installed the beta build on virtual machines? Scroll along to catch the most up-to-date info on Microsoft's next operating system!

With Windows 8 and now Windows 8.1, Microsoft tried – not entirely successfully – to make tablets part of a continuum that goes from number-crunching workstations and high-end gaming rigs through all-in-one touchscreen media systems and thin-and light notebooks down to slender touch tablets.

The general consensus is that it still has a long way to go to produce a unified OS. Recently, Microsoft publicly made the first steps to doing just that, with Windows 10. Skipping the Windows 9 name entirely, the Redmond, Wash. firm aims to step into the next generation of computing with the right foot forward.

You will soon be able to download Microsoft's Windows 10 Technical Preview by venturing over to its Windows Insider Program website. You'll need a Microsoft account to get it, and it's worth bearing in mind that it's not the finished article so may be a bit rough around the edges.

While there is little information regarding the Windows 10 Road Map currently available following the event and the Technical Preview, this is what we know so far regarding the stymied release of Windows 10:

  • The event on September 30 announced the release of the Technical Preview of Windows 10 for laptops and desktops, often referred to as WTP, DP (Developer Preview) or CTP (community technology previews). This is just over three years after Microsoft unveiled the first public beta build of Windows 8, known as Windows Developer Preview).
  • Microsoft released its Windows Insider Program on October 1st, designed to keep early adopters up to date with the latest preview builds of Windows 10.
  • Starting with Technical Preview for laptops and desktops, the preview build will extend to servers short after.
  • As of October 7, the preview build is available to Windows 7 users as well.
  • Consumer preview builds will not be available until early next year, according to Microsoft's Terry Myerson.
  • The Technical Preview will end sharply on April 15 of next year, which conveniently leaves right off at...
  • Microsoft's Build 2015 conference next April, at which the company will talk more about Universal Apps and likely issue a Windows 10 release date.
  • Finally, the company promises that Windows 10 will ship to consumers and enterprise "later in the year" in 2015, Myerson said.
Cut to the chase
What is it? A complete update of Windows
When is it out? It will launch "later in the year" in 2015
What will it cost? We really have no idea. Microsoft will not comment on pricing yet.

A million testers in and...

Microsoft announced on October 13 that over 1 million folks are currently testing out the Windows 10 Technical Preview. So far, the testers have been "a vocal bunch," according to Redmond's Joe Belfiore.

The Corporate VP of Operating Systems went on the reveal that a cautious 36% of users have installed the OS on virtual machines. The remaining 64% have gone whole hog and just installed it right on top of their existing Windows PCs. Fortune favors the bold?

Unfortunately, we still know nothing about exactly when the final version of Windows 10 will release, save for "later in the year" in 2015. Luckily, Microsoft teased plenty of details on what the next version of Windows will be like when it lands next year. Here are the highlights.

Shooting for the cloud(s)

Given Microsoft's focus over the past few years – Office 365, SkyDrive, you know – you better believe that Windows 10 will be more integrated with the company's cloud computing strategy than ever. So, we wholly expect to hear how the cloud will empower the OS at Microsoft's October 20 event.

"Join us to hear what's ahead for Microsoft's Cloud," reads an invitation with the date October 20. This event will also be broadcast live, and feature CEO Satya Nadella, intimating that this announcement has much more consumer-relevant news than the reveal of Windows 10 itself.

It's also interesting that Microsoft is so keen on hosting events come 2014. Previously, that hadn't been the company's style, which leads us to believe that this is just the start of more frequent updates on Windows up front and in person.

... and for your data?

Less than a month out, and already Windows 10 has been pegged for collecting user data. While this is a beta preview, and as such should be collecting feedback data, claims from a number of news outlets point to more even more sensitive information.

The Technical Preview reportedly has the capability to track and log keystrokes, capture voice data and more. This may be cause for caution, but keep in mind that almost all, if not all, modern operating systems track and log some level of usage data. Though, it's almost always anonymized.

Windows 10 release date

It's still all about unity

Windows 10 will be "one application platform" for all the devices that run Windows, according to Microsoft Windows head Terry Myerson, with one store to rule them all. (So to speak.)

While on stage at the event, Microsoft showed images of the new operating system running on everything from desktop PCs to smartphones. In fact, Myerson confirmed that Windows 10 will be the driving OS behind its smartphone platform as well.

Myerson was mum on the naming conventions (e.g. whether Windows 10 on phones would be known as Windows Phone 10, et. al). But what matters is this: Windows 10 will be behind every device that Microsoft has a hand in, save most likely for the Xbox One.

Windows 10 release date, news and features

Yes, even the Internet of Things

Based on CEO Satya Nadella's recent comments during Gartner's Symposium ITxpo, Windows 10 is almost certainly being developed with the Internet of Things in mind.

"Windows 10 is a very important step for us." Nadella said on stage. "It's the first step in a new generation of Windows as opposed to just another release after Windows 8. General purpose computing is going to run on 200 plus billion sensors. We've architected Windows where it can run on everything."

Microsoft still cares about enterprise

In fact, the crux of the September 30th event was to speak to enterprise users and get it in front of them first. "Windows 10 is a very novel approach of separating corporate and personal data across all devices," Myerson said on stage. "Windows 10 is going to be our greatest enterprise platform, ever."

Microsoft didn't exactly please its enterprise audience with Windows 8.1 – adoption has been awfully slow. (And now will likely halt with this new version on the horizon.)

To that end, Microsoft's Windows Phone guru Joe Belfiore even noted that the company is "looking to find the balance, so that all the Windows 7 users get a familiar experience on the devices they already have."

Windows 10 release date, news and features

The Start menu: bigger, better, stronger

The return of the Start menu that Microsoft teased during its Build 2014 conference earlier this year was shown off in full force at its Sept. 30th event. Replete with a merging of the traditional Windows 7-style interface and Windows 8 Live Tiles, the new Start menu is designed to please both camps: touch and mouse users.

"They don't have to learn any new way to drive," Belfiore said, referring to Windows 7 business users. That said, customization will also be featured throughout, first with the ability to resizing the Start menu itself along with the Live Tiles within.

The Start menu features empowered search capabilities as well, able to crawl your entire machine, not to mention web results. (Through Bing and not Google, we'd imagine.)

Windows 10 release date, news and features

Snap to it, will ya?

The traditional Windows 7 Snap View works in Windows 10's desktop mode with classic and universal apps, enhanced by a new "Snap Assist" interface. Snap Assist works in tandem with Task View, a new feature that allows users to create multiple desktop environments within a single instance of Windows 10.

You can now grab apps from different desktops and group them together using the Snap Assist UI, all of which is mouse or touch controlled. These features seem more designed for face-level multi-taskers, or people that rely more on visual computing. Of course, this comes in addition to enhanced keyboard shortcuts for power users.

Keeping in touch

Microsoft is keen on maintaining the ground it achieved in touch-based computing through Windows 8 while reintroducing the intuitive desktop interface of Windows 7. To that end, many of the new multitasking features will be optimized for touch devices as well, like Task View. But it doesn't stop there.

The Redmond firm teased a hybrid interface mode for 2-in-1 laptops and other hybrid devices. Containing elements of both the current Windows 8.1 Start screen and the desktop improvements, this new touch-focused start screen will switch based on the input used.

Think of a home screen that allows for both touch input, with large icons and response to gestures or swipes, and more traditional mouse or touchpad interaction, with smaller buttons and list-like interfaces. Belfiore called the approach "continuum" on stage, and the philosophy makes sense at least on paper.

Click on through for a detailed look at the rumors and leaks leading up to the recent Windows 10 announcement. On the third page, we projected what Windows 9 – err – Windows 10 would be like, or at least what we had hoped. Read on to see how much we got right.

The news and rumors leading up to Windows 10

Right up until September 30th, the rumor mill churned with tidbits of info regarding what we all expected would be called Windows 9. What follows is our collection and informed opinions on all the rumors and leaks leading up to the unveiling of Windows 10. Enjoy!

Despite rumors of an aggressive development and shipping schedule, there's no official word about what's in the next version of Windows, but there are plenty of rumors (many of them from Chinese enthusiast sites that claim to have leaked builds), plus more reliable information from job postings for the Windows and Windows Phone teams.

There are also patents, which may or may not be relevant, and some rare comments from developers on the Windows team. Here's what we've heard about Windows 9 and what we think is happening.

Windows Blue turned out to be Windows 8.1 rather than a completely new version of the Windows OS – Windows 9 will be that new version.

As for interim releases, we'll probably also get Windows 8.2 before we get Windows 9; Windows 8.3 though is likely to be a non-starter. And we have already seen the initial update to Windows 8.1, called Windows 8.1 Update 1.

Windows 8.1 Update 1

The new update features improvements to the Start Screen including the ability to boot straight into the Desktop, the return of shutdown on Start and a more familiar task bar to unify the old and new user interfaces. The update was announced at Build 2014, along with features teased for Windows updates to come.

It certainly seems there's a new development cadence for Windows in action. It seems that Microsoft is set to put out new releases of Windows, Windows RT and Windows Server every year, the way it already does for Windows Phone.

While still just a codename, Windows 9 was referenced by Microsoft in a job posting, spotted by MSFT Kitchenon March 13, 2013 and a senior Microsoft VP let the name slip during a live-stream presentation.

The next complete version of Windows is being referred to as Windows 9, though this may change. And a new codename has appeared, Threshold, possibly alluding to the shift from our reliance on the traditional desktop to a new world where the Start screen is at the heart of how we use Windows.

The term "Windows TH" (possibly for Threshold) appeared on Microsoft's website, referring to a technical preview, before being removed, just days before the September 30th event.

The ad, for a Bing Software Development Engineer, says that the team will be delivering products "in areas including Windows 9, IE11 services integration, touch friendly devices including iPad and more."

Windows 9 release date

As of right now, we expect to see Windows 9 in a preview build (otherwise known as Windows Technical preview) to appear on September 30. The latest report from The Verge and Recode cite sources close to the matter with knowledge that a press preview event will take place on that date.

Recode's Ina Fried said that the event - geared towards developers and an enterprise audience - will take place in San Francisco with our own sources confirming that invites have apparently gone to relevant media houses and tech analysts.

Microsoft has confirmed that it won't be live streaming the event. The company has sent a statement to Winbeta.org stating that "There will be no live stream of the keynote" although one can expect news and content to be posted across all of Microsoft's MSDN blogs.

Microsoft communications chief Frank Shaw said the company wasn't ready to talk about how often Windows might come out when we spoke to him in January, but he agreed "you have certainly seen across a variety of our products a cadence that looks like that; Windows Phone is a good for example of that, our services are a good example of that".

We don't know if Windows 9 will be available as an upgrade from Windows 7 that you can buy as a standalone product or if you'll have to have Windows 8 to get the upgrade. But it may not be with us for a while yet – Windows business chief Tami Reller has talked about "multiple selling seasons" for Windows 8, meaning that we'll likely have several versions of it.

Some rumors have suggested late 2014 or early 2015 for a Windows 9 release, though the former seems wide of the mark. While claims and reports are all over the place, it seems like Windows 9 should drop before September 2015 at the latest to coincide with the back-to-school season and in time for the lucrative holidays season.

In January 2014, well-known Microsoft blogger Paul Thurrott said he believes the company plans to release Windows 9 (codenamed Threshold) in April 2015, less than three years after Windows 8.

The thinking appears to be that the Windows 8 name is now too tarnished and that – in contrast to Reller's comments above – Microsoft wishes to clear things out by releasing Windows 9 instead.

ZDNet's Mary Jo Foley recently echoed these reports, citing sources pointing toward a spring 2015 release for Windows 9.

In May, prolific Microsoft leaker FaiKee released two separate documents that he or she claims to be Redmond's full roadmap for Windows 9 and other products. The first of which, released to the My Digital Life forums, pointed to text reading "Windows 9 Windows Preview Release @ 2015 02-03."

That appears to point toward a preview release of either February or March 2015. The second leak was caught by Myce.com, and is a bit more vague in timing but less so in the actual text. That alleged official document detailed a preview release between Q2 and Q3 2015, so by September of next year at the latest.

In June, we learned from a ZDNet source that Microsoft would launch a preview build of the latest Windows in the fall. But most recently, WZOR struck again with a rumor that Windows 9 in full will launch in that same time frame. Naturally, a Microsoft representative snapped back at the rumor on Twitter.

How much will Windows 9 cost?

Not a cent. At least that's what Russian leaker collective WZOR claims to have heard. The group reports that Microsoft is considering pushing out Windows 9 for free, but cannot confirm at this time. They also mentioned that upgrading from Windows 7 to Windows 9 would cost you about $30 or £20, which is sounds pretty reasonable.

What the collective has heard exactly is that a prototype version is in the works in which a barebone version of Windows 9 will be available for free. For additional functionality, users would have to pay up through a subscription.

That said, ZDNet's Foley has heard the opposite: different SKUs of Windows will be offered for free or at different prices to OEMs and consumers, but that the desktop version will indeed have a sticker price. A recent, subsequent leak provided by WZOR seems to not only corroborate Foley's sources, but render its previous report moot.

Microsoft has learnt to be flexible though given the changing business environment. Google's Chrome OS was barely a blip on Microsoft's radar when Windows 8 launched. Now it is seen as a growing threat to Microsoft's low-end market, so much so that it is giving Windows 8.1 for free on devices sporting an 8-inch (or smaller) display.

It is very likely that Microsoft will do the same for Windows 9 (although it could also choose to keep Windows 9 as a premium SKU). Last but not least, the president of Microsoft Indonesia has inadvertently disclosed that Windows 9 would be free for Windows 8 users.

What we thought Windows 10 would be like

Will Windows 9 focus heavily on cloud computing? What is Bing's role in the new OS? How much of a power drain will this new version be? We know about as much as these leakers and reporters claim, but have collected all the latest rumors and scuttlebutt below.

Cortana: your new best friend?

Microsoft's answer to Siri and Google Now just busted out the gate on Windows Phone 8.1, but already Microsoft seems keen on expanding its reach to the company's desktop and tablet OS. Microsoft scoopers at Neowin seem to have inside sources that claim Cortana is not only up and running on internal Windows 9 builds, but its performance is improving.

Charms lose their luster

Could one of the more controversial additions to Windows 8.1 be on its way out? Paul Thurrott's points to the fact that it is still there in the latest build to date, 9841. Earlier rumours were at loggerheads with Thurrott's findings. A leak snapped up by Winbeta claims that the Charms menu of the current OS will not be included in the desktop and laptop versions of Windows 9. And, according to ZDNet's Mary Jo Foley, the feature is on the chopping block for Windows 9 tablets and 2-in-1 laptops as well.

One Windows 9 to rule them all

Not so much a rumor as it is a confirmation, newly-minted Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella commented on the future of Windows recently, painting a picture of a unified operating system across all platforms.

"In the past we had multiple teams working on different versions of Windows," Nadella said. "Now we have one team with a common architecture. This allows us to scale, create Universal Windows Apps."

So, will Windows 9 spur the beginning of a single OS for all Microsoft devices, ultimately ending the fragmentation between Windows Phone, Windows RT and Windows proper? We can only hope.

It is worth however considering what Apple and Google are doing when it comes with their mobile and desktop offerings. Apple has subtly started to integrate some aspects of iOS, like Mac App Store, into OS X while Google already confirmed years ago that it would be merging Android and Chrome OS at some point.

Windows 9: Return of the Start Menu

Teased during the Build 2014 keynote address, the long-missed Start is basically guaranteed to make its return in Windows 9. Since that preview of the Start menu, replete with both Desktop and Modern UI elements, a screenshot (seen below) of an updated version of the feature has surfaced – ba-dum, chhh – through the MyDigitalLife forums.

Regardless of whether the snap is legit, since Microsoft has publicly promised the return of the Start menu, it should be safe to expect its debut in Windows 9 ... whenever that is. Subsequent leaks, the latest being from Winsupersite, confirm the fact that a new version of the Start menu will be back.

Windows 9 release date, news and rumors

Truly windowed Modern UI apps are coming

We already know that the new Start menu will be alive and well in Windows 9, but the latest leak points to yet another quality-of-life improvement: truly windowed Modern UI apps. Today, Modern UI apps can be opened and managed from the desktop UI, but immediately switch to that interface when selected.

No more, claims Myce through a newly-leaked screenshot (seen below). The image, allegedly pulled from Threshold build # 9795, shows a Metro, or Modern UI, app opened in a windowed state on the (likely) Windows 9 desktop.

Windows 9 release date news and rumors

Machine learning is the future of Windows?

That's at least what Microsoft Research lead Peter Lee wants out of Windows 9. He said as much in an in-depth interview with Digital Trends recently, pointing to Microsoft's Azure cloud computing platform and Bing to hopefully be the drivers behind the next versions of Windows.

"Using machine learning to extract relationships, entities, key ideas being worked on and bring those to the surface in tools. Maybe even digital-assistant tools to make companies more productive and smarter. That's one area we're going at" for Windows 9, Lee said.

"If I write a document and I want to say, share this with the appropriate people that work with Vikram from the meeting, or say, 'what's trending around me at work,' not in my personal space but at work … answering questions like that requires a very different kind of machine learning," he said.

Windows 9 to be smaller, with more apps

In the last Microsoft earnings call CFO Peter Klein made it clear that Microsoft has got the message that Windows 8 tablets need to be cheaper; "we know that our growth depends on our ability to give customers the exciting hardware they want, at the price-points they demand."

Another revealing Microsoft job advert talks about having Windows Phone and Windows RT apps run on both Windows Phone and Windows – it's no secret that Microsoft wants to unify things in this area.

"Do you wish the code you write for Windows Store apps would just work on the Windows Phone and vice versa? If so, then this is the role for you! We are the team leading the charge to bring much of the WinRT API surface and the .NET Windows Store profile to the Phone."

That sounds like a longer term goal, given that the job advert was on the Microsoft Careers site at the beginning of February 2012, and it's being driven by the Windows Phone team, but it could give developers an incentive to write apps for the Windows Store and give Windows 9 users more to choose from. Scaling apps to fit different size screens would help here too.

Windows 9 reaches for the cloud

A vision for a smaller version of Windows with more apps sounds like it lines up nicely with rumors that Windows 9 will focus heavily on cloud computing. WZOR claims to have information that supports this idea, pointing toward a Chrome OS-like operating system that requires an internet connection.

According to the leaker group, the core of Windows 9 will live in the given system's BIOS, while the rest of the OS will reside in the cloud, ready for picking via various apps and services. Exactly how much of the standard Windows functions would be left out is what's worrying about this rumor.

Reports have also highlighted some fundamental changes in the way developers within Microsoft are assessing, coding, deploying and actually fixing Windows 9. Of particular interest is the way Microsoft is now considering Windows-as-a-service rather than a project with fixed deadlines, in the traditional start-stop development process. Another intriguing rumour is Asimov, a name that has been floated around and refers to a near real-time Telemetry service that allows Microsoft to peer into your system, a remote desktop connection on steroids.

Windows 9 power management

Back in January 2013, a Channel 9 video featuring Bruce Worthington, who leads the team working on Windows power management fundamentals, included some rather technical details about saving power in Windows and the improvement in Windows 8.

"If you look at the number of times we would wake up the CPU per second," he explained, "for Windows 7 you would typically see numbers on the order of one millisecond. We would literally be waking up the CPU a thousand times per second. If you look at Windows 8, on a clean system, we have numbers that are better than a hundred milliseconds. "

Now that Windows Phone 8 is based on the Windows Phone kernel, power management has to get better. "Now we're looking forward to the next release and we can get even farther – especially as we start interacting more and more with our phone brethren.

"They want us to be quiet for multiple seconds at a time. They even talk about minutes in some scenarios which is pretty far afield for us, to be thinking about minutes of being completely quiet. At least getting into the multi-second we're definitely ready to think about that."

Especially with Intel Haswell bringing Connected Standby to Core systems, not just low-power Atom tablets, saving power looks like a priority for Windows 9 (especially if it comes out at the same time as Intel's new chips.

"For the next release there's all kinds of things we've already identified that are going be quite challenging but at the same time the user is going to get a tremendous boost forward," Worthington promised.

Windows 9 gestures and experiences

There are features we predicted for Windows 8 based on Microsoft patents and technologies we've seen demonstrated by Microsoft leaders like CTO Craig Mundie that didn't make it into the OS. There are features Microsoft plans for every version of Windows that get cut to ship on time; sometimes they reappear, sometimes they don't.

Kinect-based 3D gestures might be on the cards this time around, especially as we hear that some notebooks will soon get 3D cameras – although from other suppliers rather than Microsoft.

Using two cheap webcams rather than an expensive 3D camera could make gesture recognition hardware cheap enough for laptops and then you could wave at the screen from a distance.

And maybe Direct Experience will arrive in Windows 9. The patent explains this as a way of starting Windows to play media files in a special purpose operating system and there are improvements in Hyper-V for Windows Server 8 that Microsoft could use to make Windows 9 work better for this, like being able to move a virtual machine from one place to another while it's running.

Windows 9

One obvious question is whether Windows 9 will be 64-bit only – something that Microsoft alluded to even before Windows 7 shipped – but that's going to depend on what chips are in PCs. Given that even lowly Atom processors are now 64-bit capable, it would make sense for Microsoft to go full 64-bit.

On that note, perhaps a sign of things to come but Microsoft has resurrected WinHEC, a hardware-focused event centered around Windows, that was canned six years ago. The event will be held in Shenzhen China next year and is a clear sign that Microsoft wants to reconnect with a community that it now considers to be pivotal to its success. No surprise then that it substituted the original C for "conference" in WinHEC for "community".

Dan Grabham and Désiré Athow contributed to this article
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