The latest game-changer

With a slew of new features and apps, the soon-to-be-released Windows 10 is set to put Microsoft back in the game.

After ceding ground to Apple and Google, Microsoft is back in the game. No question about it. And it’s all thanks to Windows 10, which makes its debut this summer as a free upgrade for a full year to genuine licensed Windows 7, Windows 8 and Windows 8.1 users.

When Terry Myerson, Microsoft’s executive vice-president of operating systems, introduced Windows 10, he said it “represents the first step of a new generation of Windows, unlocking new experiences to give customers new ways to work, play and connect.” After testing an insider preview version, I certainly see the potential. If all goes to plan, it could be a universal operating system, with the ability to work across all devices: computers, tablets, phones and, of course, the Internet of Things.

This is a big deal made possible by a feature called Continuum, which detects and adapts to the type of device you are using, allowing you to move freely from one to another. Whether you are working in desktop-mode with keyboard and mouse or in tablet-mode with touchscreen, the user experience adapts seamlessly. This is useful when you are working on a two-in-one convertible notebook/tablet. For example, when you want to use the touchscreen, the tablet-mode changes so apps go full screen and you use touch to move about. Reconnect to a keyboard and mouse and voilà, you are into desktop-mode with resizable windows and your familiar desktop is back again.

Windows 10 is also taking on Apple’s Siri and Google Now with Microsoft’s own digital virtual assistant: Cortana. Unless you are one of the very few Windows Phone users, you likely don’t know about Cortana. Thanks to Continuum, Cortana is talking its way over to Windows 10. Voice is a much simpler way to search, set calendar appointments and, especially for me, set reminders. Now it will be easy for me to set a reminder to ask my wife where she’d like to go for our anniversary dinner.

Another key feature of Windows 10 is Edge, Microsoft’s new browser. Edge is not an Internet Explorer (IE) upgrade. Microsoft cut out the security-riddled, virus-plagued, slow-responding IE for a completely new app. It’s a slick new browser that provides some nice markup tools for web-page note taking, team-collaboration enhancements and the new Hub for information collection. Combine these with Cortana and you’ve got a good recipe for an informed, chatty conversation.

Want to play Tony Stark from the Iron Man movie? The future is almost here with a little something Microsoft calls “Holograph.” It works with HoloLens, an augmented reality headset that blends the real and digital worlds. These goggles will let you experience Windows 10 from holograms viewed through the headset. It layers the data you see with your surroundings. Soon car designers, for example, will be able to design on their desktops and see the full-blown 3-D holograph right beside them.

Windows 10 also introduces Windows Hello and Windows Passport — these are Fast Identity Online (FIDO) apps. FIDO is an emerging standard that is looking to rid the world of typed passwords. It uses biometric information to validate your credentials. Once properly authenticated, you will be able to use your face, iris or fingerprint to sign in.

Bottom line: Windows 10 is head and shoulders above Windows 7 and has some wonderful refinements over Windows 8.1. The Start menu is back, as is my much-revered Desktop, so it should be easy to be right at home with this upgrade.

Should you go out and upgrade immediately? For now, I say we stay true to the conservative-by-nature stereotype of the profession and see how Windows 10 works in the real world, but be prepared to use it within the next year for sure. You don’t want to miss out on your free upgrade.