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Microsoft pitches 'new category' of computing with Windows 10

Will Microsoft's Windows 10, with a dusting of magic from HoloLens, reel enterprises and consumers back in? Also in Searchlight, President Obama targets cybersecurity in State of the Union speech; the most common password of 2014 was '123456.'

At Microsoft's Windows 10 announcement Wednesday, which included the unveiling of a holographic headset, personal digital assistant Cortana, security enhancements and the Continuum interface, users and pundits were dished more innovation than they no doubt expected from a company that, of late, has been playing catch-up with Apple and Google. The question is, will businesses and consumers eat it up?

The whole new thing-ness of the announcement started with the name of the OS, (skipping "Windows 9" altogether) and was reinforced by Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella. "Our industry's progress is punctuated by moments of category creation. Windows and holographic computing is one such moment," the still-making-his-bones CEO asserted at the event.

The device-agnostic OS will support a broad swath of devices, from smartphones, to PCs, to the Xbox One, and even to an 84-inch meeting room display -- a big plus for software developers looking to adapt apps from PCs to mobile. What does it mean? Considering 1.5 billion PCs worldwide are powered by Windows, while at the same time, current versions of its OS power only 15% of new devices sold, including phones and tablets, Windows 10 could "re-establish Microsoft's dominance in personal computing with a mobile extension," according to Frank Gillett, principal analyst at Forrester Research.

Not that Microsoft is taking that dominance for granted. Another surprise from the show was that Microsoft, taking a hint from Apple, is offering free upgrades to customers using Windows 7 and Windows 8.1 in the first year of the software's availability. And this is right, argues Dan Frommer of Quartz. Windows 10 can only succeed if users bite, and fast: Many of its new features -- such as its universal apps, its new Web browser Spartan, Cortana (which was previously only available on Windows Phone), and holographic computing for starters -- can only take off with wide adoption, he contends.

And the recent past had better not be prologue, if Windows 10 is to succeed. "Overall, we know that about only about 10% of computers are running Windows 8 and the adoption rate among companies is similar or lower," Forrester's Gillett told BBC News. Adoption is critical if Microsoft wants to live up to what its Executive Vice President Terry Myerson called Windows 10 as a service, or using the new OS as a means to sell other services such as Office 365 and cloud storage.

A little magic dust doesn't hurt

Not everyone is convinced that enterprises and consumers -- particularly the latter -- will be persuaded to make Windows their mobile go-to provider. "Merely moving up to the starting line isn't a strategy for changing the direction of consumer sentiment," argued Wired's Marcus Wohlen. But one feature that could push it over the edge, particularly with businesses, is holographic computing, which is embedded into Windows 10.

Microsoft's reveal of HoloLens -- the headset that, among other things, allows users to interact with virtual 3-D images in the real world, known as augmented reality -- caused the most buzz at the event. And that's no surprise -- holographic computing radically changes customer experiences and, if nothing else, we customers love novelty. Indeed, CIOs and CMOs need to take note, Forrester analyst James McQuivey wrote in a report. "The headsets will be expensive for the next several years, but we estimate that 3.6 million people will likely buy one by the end of 2016," the report stated. Industries most prone to mobile and Web disruption, such as entertainment, retail and education, should brace for more disruption as a result.

McQuivey and fellow analyst J.P. Gownder claim that holographic computing will bring huge changes, not just in how people interact with technology, but how businesses and their brands interact with customers. This (yes, new) category of computing could give rise to another company becoming the most relevant in this type of interaction, McQuivey said, just as Apple, Google and Facebook did in mobile. Two, and equally important, holographic computing will drastically change how people work (as mobile and the Web did before it), according to Gownder. And, he believes Microsoft has an edge.

"One reason is that while a variety of products can do parts of what HoloLens can do, none do so in the same comprehensive, productive and experiential way," Gownder wrote, such as enabling a Home Depot worker in another state to show you how to install a light switch in real time. And presumably, HoloLens will enable a whole lot more than that.

Before CIOs start worrying their heads over holographic headsets in the workplace, of course, they will need to read the tea leaves on Microsoft 10 adoption. Maybe our old love-to-hate mega-vendor is having another moment?

CIO news roundup for week of Jan. 19

Take a look at other tech news from the week:

  • Tech legislation was a huge focus of President Obama's State of the Union address Tuesday night, zeroing in on topics such as the preservation of Net Neutrality and an open Internet; new proposals on data privacy and cybersecurity, stressing information-sharing between private companies and the government; and transparency regarding NSA surveillance programs. Fitting, then, that the White House is using technology and social media on top of traditional media to communicate with the public regarding these policies.
  • The most popular password of 2014, for the second year running, was -- wait for it -- "123456." Yes, really. (Followed closely by, alas, "password.") Contrary to security experts' urging to use passwords of eight characters that use upper- and lowercase letters, numbers and special characters, it seems most users would prefer memorable over secure.
  • Google and Fidelity invested $1 billion in the Elon Musk-backed SpaceX Tuesday, in hopes of providing affordable Internet service to developing countries via satellite. Besides the astronomical cost of such a project, there's one small hitch: Google doesn't have the rights to use the radio spectrum on which to transmit data.
  • If Apple's Beats buy wasn't enough to convince you it's serious about subscription streaming, maybe this'll do it: The company just bought Semetric, the U.K. startup behind analytics service Musicmetrics, which tracks music data across iTunes, Spotify, social networks and other online services.

Check out our previous Searchlight roundups on the buzz around Docker's container software, and how IoT stole the CES show.

Next Steps

Head over to sister site SearchEnterpriseDesktop to see why the Windows 10 OS could be a huge leap forward for the tech giant. Then, read why Microsoft had the ill-fated Windows 8 in mind with Windows 10.

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Are you excited about HoloLens? Tell us why.
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In theory, yes - it could really change how we work. But as with video conferencing, I'm skeptical of how widely it will be applied and whether the technical hassles will be worth the payoff. I'd like to see some company take the lead in showing the application of the technology sooner than later. 
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I am impressed! The new feature doesn't just superimpose a web-like image compared to Google Glass. It has been designed to augment a realistic environment like where I live thus superimposing holographic images over real-world objects.

I can manage to walk around with the HoloLens goggles and still interact with virtual objects without connecting to a phone or PC. It provides options to have many virtual screens floating around the environment created by the HoloLens.
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I agree, I think augmented reality really takes it up a notch by not limiting our experience to a virtual sphere. I'm all for how, a few years down the line, holographic computing can improve various service industries, but I admit I'm most excited about how it can overhaul the entertainment industry. At Sundance, for example, Vice News plans on immersing the audience in news events through either a virtual reality headset or mobile app. And through a headset+goggles, viewers can experience the journey of the main character in Wild for themselves.
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