Microsoft has unveiled its next Windows operating system, Windows 10, and gave a first look at an early technical preview for the PC at a press conference in San Francisco on Tuesday.
Initially thought to be called Windows 9, Microsoft has opted for the 10 moniker to prove that the operating system will be a fresh start, and not just an offspring of the struggling Windows 8 platform. The move has echoes of Apple’s shift to the OSX name in a 2001, marking a decided shift in style and features.
Microsoft highlighted many advancements that are centered around the business world, including updated security and management capabilities.
Terry Myerson, exec VP of operating systems, said that Windows 10 represents the first step of a new generation for Windows.
"This will be our most comprehensive operating system and the best release Microsoft has ever done for our business customers, and we look forward to working together with our broader Windows community to bring Windows 10 to life in the months ahead."
Windows 10 will also be a unified operating system, adapting to customers who use devices that range from the Xbox to PCs and phones, to tablets and ‘gadgets’ – presumably wearable devices.
Windows 10, which is due to be rolled out en masse in mid-2015, also heralds the return of the Start menu, a feature which was absent from Windows 8.
"Start menu: The familiar Start menu is back, but it brings with it a new customizable space for your favorite apps and Live Tiles."
Microsoft said: "Windows 10 builds nearly everything that businesses need right into the core of the product — including enterprise-grade security, identity and information protection features — in ways that can reduce complexities and provide better experiences than other solutions."
Unlike Windows 8, users will no longer have to switch between desktop and the live-tiled screen, but rather the look and feel of the OS will be different for each type of device. Live tiles, uses to showcase apps or functions will still be a feature, however. A version which was demonstrated on stage by Joe Belfiore, a Windows VP, shows the switching between a mode optimised for touch control and a mode ready for mouse and keyboard use.
In a technical preview video, Belfiore said: "We hope to involve tech enthusiasts like you in our software development process over the next few months so that your feedback becomes part of the next version of Windows."
Belfiore also explained that one of the areas Microsoft is looking for feeback in is multi-tasking. He said that a new task view button has been added to quickly look through different tasks that are open – known as snapping.
"We’ve improved the way windows snap, so it’s easier and more powerful. When you snap a window, Windows  will make smart suggestions on filling the available screen space with other open apps. You can also now have up to four apps snapped on the same screen."
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Belfiore also said that phones are a "natural step forward" for Windows, so it is assumed that Windows Phone 10, or a platform similarly named, will be introduced alongside Windows 10.
Windows 10 is a critical milestone for both Microsoft and CEO Satya Nadella. According to research firm NetMarketshare, just 12.2% of desktops globally run Windows 8 or 8.1. That figure comes in contrast to Windows 7 and Windows XP adoption, which hold a 52.7% and 23.8% share respectively.
Microsoft shares fell 8 cents to $46.36 on Tuesday as investors reacted cautiously to the announcement.
Operating system market share on desktops for August 2014. Courtesy: NetMarketshare
Microsoft faces further battles with the rise of operating systems such as Android and iOS on mobile devices, and Chromebooks running on Google’s Chrome OS. The once omnipresent face of Windows has been replaced by a plethora of alternative operating systems as devices have move forward, and its the aim of Windows 10 to regain that presence across the device landscape.
Annette Jump, operating system analyst at research firm Gartner, told CBR: "I think the Start button is very important for both business and consumer users. It is what they were used to."
Referring to Windows 8’s slow adoption rate, Jump said: "In Europe, Windows 8 adoption has been slow because there was so much use of Windows XP. For consumers, the potential upgrades will happen quickly from the second half of next year, but business adoption will be slower as companies will have to do testing.
"Microsoft will be learning from the mistakes made on Windows 8. It has offered a preview version much earlier. It all depends on how easy it will be to roll out, which is something we need to hear more about."
From October 1st, the technical preview of Windows 10 for desktops and laptops will be available for users who are signed up to the Windows Insider Program. Details of how to sign up are here on the Microsoft website. However, more consumer orientated applications and programs for Windows 10, such as Internet Explorer 12, won’t be ready until early on in 2015.