Microsoft previews Windows 10, unveils new Web browser

Dina Bass
Bloomberg News

Microsoft Corp. Chief Executive Officer Satya Nadella is using the next version of Windows to try to win back consumers. The challenge is that he also has to keep business customers happy.

In a detailed look at Windows 10, the new iteration of the flagship operating system, Microsoft today took the wraps off a modern Web browser to succeed Internet Explorer, code-named Project Spartan. The Windows update will also bring Cortana, the company’s voice-enabled digital assistant, to PC desktops, and will have touch-enabled Office applications such as Word and Excel built-in for smartphones and tablets.

Nadella, who took the helm almost a year ago, is seeking to resuscitate Windows even as mobile computing continues to surge, PC demand sputters, and Microsoft focuses on versions of its Office applications for rival software platforms. He’s also tasked with revamping the product little more than two years after the last overhaul — Windows 8 — failed to jump-start consumer demand while alienating corporate customers.

“A lot of this is really about making a sharper message for consumer,” said Wes Miller, an analyst at Directions on Microsoft. “How do you appease the enterprise while making it a great tablet operating system and not one thing layered on top of another thing?”

The new browser Microsoft showed today lets users annotate web sites using a stylus and touch or mouse and keyboard and then send and share comments through e-mail and social media.

The company also said it will give free upgrades to Windows 10 to customers with Windows 8.1, Windows 7 and Windows Phone 8.1 for the first year 10 is on sale. The company will start distributing Windows software as a service, keeping customers’ versions up to date and supported, Executive Vice President Terry Myerson said at the event in Redmond, Washington.

“One can reasonably think of Windows as one of the largest Internet services on the planet,” Myerson said. “The question What version are you running?’ will cease to make sense.”

The company hasn’t said when Windows 10 will be available. Early test versions have already been released.

The new version of Word for Windows 10 has a review tab to look through changes from other people and aid collaboration. The recent document list can roam from device to device. There’s also a new Outlook app that mimics Apple Inc.’s iOS in letting users swipe left to delete or right to flag an e-mail message.

A new photo app aggregates a user’s entire photo collection from various devices and eliminates duplicates. Microsoft will also add support for storing music files in its OneDrive storage system, allowing access to music from all devices.

The Windows team has had to course-correct several times in the past decade. Windows 7 was a bid to recover after the debacle of Windows Vista, which was released more than two years late in 2007 and didn’t work well with popular apps and accessories. Windows 8 itself was a significant revamp — Microsoft called it “a reimagining of Windows”— designed to arrest sliding market share, which had dropped to about a fifth of all computing devices sold to consumers.

Windows 10 is a shift from the confusing Windows 8 design, which offered a new touch-screen interface alongside the traditional Windows style. Many users didn’t have touch machines, and corporate customers preferred to use a mouse and keyboard — so Windows 8 didn’t gain much share on tablets or win back consumers. Instead, it scared off corporate customers, many of which are still on Windows 7, which was released in 2009.