Microsoft Makes Windows Play Nice With All Your Other Gadgets
Windows 10 might be “the last version of Windows,” but Microsoft’s not done updating the thing. This week, two months after the big so-called Creators Update, Windows chief Terry Myerson announced another set of upgrades, coming this fall. It’s also called the Creators Update, for some reason. This time, rather than improving the built-in Windows apps in the hope that you won’t need so many third-party downloads, Microsoft’s focusing on making Windows 10 a more functional part of your entire gadget ecosystem. It’ll also be the first version of Windows to feature a new design language, called Fluent, that uses blurring and transparency to bring a more futuristic vibe to Windows.
Above all else, the next version of Windows will work to be a more accepting part of your entire gadget ecosystem. A new feature called Pick Up Where You Left Off (that’s really the name) will automatically save your document or current website on your phone, for instance, and let you get right back to it on your computer. If you’re reading a news article on your computer, and pick up your phone, it can prompt you to, well, pick up where you left off. It sounds a lot like Handoff for iOS and Mac, but this works on Windows and Android too. Another new feature, called Timeline, takes the notion of task-switching and turns it into a searchable, cross-platform history of everything you’ve done on your computer. Think of it like browser history for all your devices and apps.
There’s even a cross-device clipboard now, so you can get truly copy-and-paste crazy. Microsoft seems to have finally grasped that it didn’t win in mobile, and that your phone’s a crucial part of your computing life, so the least Windows can do is play nicely.
Going forward, Windows will also be a better citizen of the cloud-first universe, thanks to a new feature called OneDrive Files On-Demand. You’ll be able to save files in the cloud, and browse them on your device as normal without ever having to download them. It’ll be just like they’re on your computer, except they won’t be on your computer taking up space. You’ll be able to select files and folders to keep offline, but everything else will stay in the cloud until you need it.
Since this is a Creators’ Update, Microsoft built a new app for making fun stuff. It’s called Story Remix, and sounds like a souped-up version of Apple Clips or iMovie. You can edit photos and videos, add special effects and augmented-reality fun (like dinosaurs!), and automatically curate stories out of your existing stuff. Anyone with Google Photos can tell you this is a hard thing to do well, but Microsoft’s demo was pretty remarkable.
Ultimately, though, the biggest new change will be from the Fluent design language, which will begin with the Creators Update but will likely take a while to fully change Windows. It’s Microsoft’s version of Google’s Material Design or Apple’s infamous Human-Interface Guidelines, a set of tools and ideas meant to help developers make apps that work on laptops, tablets, VR headsets, AR glasses, and all the other places Windows work. It preaches depth, motion, light, scale, and material. It all still looks like Windows, but more like Windows is a real thing, not a bunch of software on a screen.
What Microsoft is trying to do is both wildly ambitious and incredibly difficult. It’s trying to build software that works everywhere, plays nicely with others, and turns your computing life from a series of disconnected devices into something more seamless and simple. In that world, it wouldn’t matter that you don’t have a Windows phone. Windows would still be at the center of everything you do, even when you don’t notice.