Microsoft's Windows 10 event on Wednesday should give us a chance to see what the company has planned for its future operating system. And while Windows 10 isn't expected until later this year, it'll mean we have a better idea of how well (or not) Microsoft's plans will fit in with the devices we're using now, and the slick-looking hardware we saw at CES 2015.
Let's face it: the Windows ecosystem is in a strange place right now. The majority of new PCs shipping today run Windows 8, but many of us haven't actually left Windows 7 -- to say nothing of those dedicated diehards still puttering around on older versions. Windows 10's success will hinge on whether or not those who steered clear of Windows 8 will find something to like. Here's what we want to see once we get there.
A release date, and a price
Windows 10 is expected to be released sometime this fall, but a concrete release date will go a long way towards filling us all in on how far along development is. The price tag is more important: Apple released OS X Yosemite to all Mac owners for free last fall, leaving the ball squarely in Microsoft's court.
I doubt Microsoft will follow suit. Apple can arguably afford to offer its operating system for free, as you need to own a Mac to get OS X Yosemite anyway. Windows users are free to build their own machines, to say nothing of businesses that will likely be deploying updates to large numbers of existing Windows PCs. But a competitive price will mean the difference between folks who were burned on Windows 8 taking a second chance, or holding on to earlier versions of Windows for a bit longer.
Some hands on time with Windows 10's Continuum feature
Continuum is easily the Windows 10 feature I'm most interested in checking out, as it attempts to address the PC and tablet divide that spawned Windows 8 in the first place. With Continuum, the operating system will intelligently switch between a PC and tablet mode depending on the device you're using. That means you'll get a proper PC experience on your Surface Pro 3 when it's perched on a keyboard, but it'll behave like a Windows tablet -- including switching to a full screen Start menu -- once you've plucked it off of its keyboard base.
A release date for the Consumer Preview
The Windows 10 Consumer Preview is going to be instrumental in convincing folks that Windows 10 is worth their time and money. It's essentially the Beta version of Windows 10. It should be less buggy (hopefully) than the Windows 10 Technical Preview that has been available since the fall, and is aimed at giving us a more robust idea of what it'll be like to use Windows 10 on our devices.
Some hands-on time with "Spartan" browser
Internet Explorer has long been my favorite browser to download another browser with. Microsoft apparently hopes to change that image by starting from scratch: Spartan will reportedly pack Microsoft's digital assistant Cortana (seen on Windows Phone), support browser extensions like the ones we've seen in Google Chrome and Mozilla Firefox, and loads more. I doubt I'll be parted from Chrome any time soon, but a fresh take could do wonders.
Some hands-on time with Windows Phone 10
Windows 10 is supposed to run on just about everything -- from the mightiest desktop to the teeniest tablet -- and that includes smartphones. Apps are supposed to be able to cross those divides too. But we haven't seen much more than mockups of Windows 10 on mobile devices.
Windows apps that play nicely on PCs, tablets and smartphones would sidestep a lot of the confusion of juggling multiple apps across multiple device ecosystems -- a problem anyone who owns and iPhone, iPad and Mac is likely very familiar with. And universal Windows apps already exist -- purchase Halo:Spartan Assault for Windows 8 and you can play along on your Windows Phone 8 device too, for example.
If Windows 10 were designed with this kind of multi-platform friendliness in mind, it'd be a huge win for those who hate juggling multiple versions of our favorite apps across multiple devices. Windows Phone hasn't seen stellar adoption rates since its inception as a smartphone platform, but the promise of a single, unified PC and mobile experience (promised before with Windows 8) could be the shot in the arm that Windows Phone needs.