Software

Windows 10's next big update: A new look, closer ties between PCs and smartphones, OneDrive placeholders

Microsoft used its Build conference to detail the wide-ranging changes to the OS that will be rolled out to most users from October, as part of the Fall Creators Update.

microsoftfluiddesign.png

An example of the depth in Windows 10's new Fluent Design System.

Image: Microsoft

Microsoft offered a glimpse at the future of Windows 10 today, showing off the return of OneDrive placeholders and a new look for the OS.

The wide-ranging changes to the OS will be rolled out to most users from October, as part of the Fall Creators Update.

"We're building experiences for mouse, ink, touch, gesture and gaze, for an incredible range of devices, which include PCs, tablets, phones, TVs and mixed-reality headsets" said Joe Belfiore, Microsoft's corporate VP in the operating systems group, at the Microsoft Build conference.

Microsoft has an incentive to continue to improve Windows 10, as it tries to hit its target of one billion devices running the OS. Yesterday, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella confirmed that Windows 10 is now being used on 500 million devices each month, up from 400 million last September.

Here's what to look out for in Windows 10 come October.

Return of OneDrive placeholders

In Windows 8.1, placeholders, also called smart files, let users see all their files on Microsoft's cloud-based storage OneDrive, whether those files were stored on the device or not.

The feature was removed from Windows 10 but will essentially be bought back in Windows 10 File Explorer when users browse OneDrive. The returning feature, named Files on Demand, will work in a similar fashion to Windows 8.1's placeholders, showing users files stored both locally and on OneDrive, allowing them to download files and folders to the device and keep them in sync with OneDrive. It will also work on OneDrive on iOS and Android handsets.

Microsoft also announced that the OneDrive Offline Folders feature, which provides offline support for OneDrive files, is available on smartphones. The feature is available now on Android devices to Office 365 Personal and Home subscribers, and OneDrive business accounts.

Offline Folders will be added to the OneDrive iOS client in the coming months.

A fresh look with the Microsoft Fluent Design System

The Build keynote also showed off Microsoft Fluent Design System, the new design language that will shape the look of Windows 10.

According to Microsoft's Belfiore, the design adds light, depth, motion, and the quality of physical materials to Windows UI, as well as to its apps. As well as being more visually appealing, the new look is designed to make interfaces more intuitive to use.

Changes include the Acrylic feature, which will blur the background, sidebar or nav for apps, depending on how a Universal Windows App is being used, and new transparency effects that recall the Aero Glass design used in Windows 7.

Alongside the design overhaul, Microsoft is also updating the way digital pens interact with Windows, with the aim of allowing users to control the OS just using a pen, according to Belfiore.

Cross-device working

Those who regularly swap between a PC and a mobile device at home and at work should be able to more easily pick up where they left off.

Microsoft's Cortana on a Windows 10 PC or Android, iOS or Windows smartphone will be able to recognize which files, websites or apps a person was most recently using and make them available across devices, so users can continue what they were doing after they swap from PC to smartphone and vice-versa.

Users will also be able to copy images, links and text between a Windows 10 PC and Android, iOS or Windows smartphone, when using supported software such as Office or the SwiftKey mobile keyboard.

These new cross-device features make heavy use of Project Rome app-to-app communication layer, and Microsoft Graph, the unified gateway for multiple Microsoft programming interfaces and graph data.

Chris Voce, research director at Forrester, welcomed both the return of OneDrive placeholders and the pick up where you left off feature.

"Both features help people navigate the reality that most have multiple devices and need consistency as they engage with their work and use services through their day," he said.

"Microsoft focused more on how its solutions make people more productive - without making it all about Windows. They're striking the right balance between advocating for, and demonstrating innovation in Windows without closing the door on customers that simply choose another device.

"The single biggest change over the past couple of years is the broad realization across the company about what their platform is. They've really made leaps from being a Windows-centric company to a cloud-centric one."

Timeline

While Windows 10's Task View currently allows users to jump between apps and virtual desktops running at that moment, it will be expanded to include Timeline, which will allow users to search through files, apps and sites they previously had open.

The Timeline feature will also recognise activity from across different devices.

Windows Defender Application Guard

Revealed last year, the Fall update will see Microsoft introduce this business-focused feature, which is designed to help protect firms against online threats by adding container-based isolation to Windows 10's Edge browser, preventing malicious online content from interacting with the rest of the system.

New major Windows Store apps

Microsoft revealed a significant addition to the Windows Store, with the announcement that iTunes will be available this summer, with other notable new apps including Autodesk Sketchbook and SAP Digital Boardroom.

Another trumpeted new feature was Story Remix, which will provide a mix of automated and manual tools for editing together videos from footage, images and music, with the ability to draw on content stored in the cloud or on multiple devices.

Read more on Windows 10

About Nick Heath

Nick Heath is chief reporter for TechRepublic. He writes about the technology that IT decision makers need to know about, and the latest happenings in the European tech scene.

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