Microsoft’s new inking technology within Windows 10’s Anniversary Update, Windows Ink, has just begun to recognize what you write. Its next chapter? Equations.
Shortly before reviews of Windows 10’s Anniversary Update hit on Monday, Microsoft showed off a rather sophisticated update to OneNote: Microsoft’s note-taking app was able to interpret mathematical equations entered using Windows Ink and also solve them—and show its work. Microsoft will begin providing this technology to consumers in the coming months, the company said.
It’s almost here. Microsoft’s Anniversary Update (AU) for Windows 10 rolls out to users on Tuesday, August 2. The second major update to Windows 10, the Anniversary Update promises a ton of new features.
Everything you need to know
Windows Insiders have seen sneak peeks of AU features in preview builds over the past few months, including big changes like extensions for Microsoft Edge, the ability to run a third-party antivirus suite alongside Windows Defender, full-screen Game Bar support, multi-account switching for Skype’s Universal Windows Platform (UWP) app, and smarter inking features via Windows Ink.
Windows 10 is making considerable efforts to tighten up on the security front, and Microsoft has just announced changes to how it vets drivers for the operating system – all of these must now be digitally signed by Redmond.
As Betanews spotted, it was actually last year that Microsoft announced that all kernel mode drivers would need to be submitted to the Windows Hardware Dev Center portal in order to be digitally signed.
But at the time, Microsoft didn't enforce this as a rule – due to various 'technical-readiness' issues, it was only implemented as policy guidance.
However, from now on, starting with installations of Windows 10, version 1607, this will be fully enforced and any drivers not signed off by the aforementioned Dev portal won't be loaded by the OS.
Note that this doesn't apply to old drivers, just to new ones going forward. Also, the new policy only applies to fresh installations of Windows 10, so systems upgraded from previous versions of Windows will still allow the usage of cross-signed drivers.
The idea of the new policy is to make users less vulnerable to rogue drivers potentially laden with malware, as Windows 10 obviously won't accept any driver that isn't signed off by Microsoft in the future.
Redmond is also making a number of improvements to security with the incoming Anniversary Update, including enhancements for Windows Hello, and fresh anti-malware measures for Windows Defender. The update starts to roll out tomorrow.
Introduction and Continuum advantage
Microsoft has never had much success with its mobile phone business, and buying Nokia for $7.2 billion (around £5.5 billion, AU$9.7 billion) back in 2013 didn't help Redmond claw its way to relevancy, either.
Revenues from its phone business, which includes Lumia-branded handsets, dropped over 70% in the three months leading up to July, on top of a 50% decline in the quarter before that, and a similar drop in the previous quarter.
Research firms, such as Gartner and IDC, peg the market share of Windows 10 Mobile at somewhere between zero and 1%, a figure that could also be described as a rounding error equivalent to BlackBerry's share of the market.
The company hasn't been releasing many new handsets of late and recently revised its stated goal of getting Windows 10 onto one billion devices by 2018 because of "the focusing of our phone hardware business."
The "focusing" in question is, by and large, a mystery. Microsoft declined to show off any new Windows 10 Mobile details earlier this year at its Build conference, and after this was picked up on by the media, Redmond was subsequently forced to release a statement clarifying its commitment.
The platform the company built with Windows 10 has been growing and now has 350 million active users across a range of devices, including Xbox, PCs, tablets, and (some) smartphones. But the downward revision of the big billion goal – and its reasoning – is embarrassing for Microsoft and signals just how far its mobile ambitions have fallen.
There is, however, a way to turn this around.
Deep and meaningful relationships
Microsoft has always had the best, by which we mean the deepest, relationships with big enterprise customers who run Windows, use Office, and most likely have some kind of Azure setup humming in the background.
While Amazon has snapped up growing startups with its Amazon Web Services platform, Microsoft has retained many big clients, which are defined as companies with over 100,000 employees, $10 billion (around £7.5 billion, AU$13.5 billion) in revenue per year, or both.
According to Gartner, Microsoft software and services are used in these kinds of companies the majority of the time, and the dominance only starts to fade as the organisations become smaller than 250 employees or generate less than $50 million (around £38 million, AU$67 million) in revenue.
As you'd expect, the bigger the company the more money Microsoft generates from it. Office 365, the cloud version of its productivity software, is used by over 23 million people, many of which are employees of big firms.
These relationships – which are likely years old – could be used to sell Windows-based smartphones.
"In the enterprise segment, Microsoft has a chance," said Francisco Jeronimo, a senior researcher at IDC, in an interview earlier this year. "They are looking at selling a bundle of products and services, rather than just the operating system, and when they go to a client and offer a device that comes with Continuum, the docking station, and Windows 10, it can be quite interesting."
The features that Microsoft has developed for its mobile operating system are some of the best-in-class. Continuum, for example, uses a $99 (around £75, AU$133) dock – called the Display Dock – which attaches to a mouse and keyboard to turn a Lumia smartphone into a fully-fledged computer running Windows 10.
Demos of a smartphone turning – literally – into a computer are really impressive and, more importantly, represent something only Microsoft is doing currently. Apple, which makes the iPhone, chooses to keep its desktop and smartphone operating systems separate, and Google, which develops Android, has chosen never to merge Chrome OS and Android in any meaningful way.
So, either by design or by accident, Microsoft has a huge, marketable advantage that would be uniquely beneficial to enterprise customers.
Avoiding phone pain
The other advantage that Microsoft has is a realisation by big businesses that letting every employee carry their own smartphone is a pain. iPhones are okay because there are a finite number of versions, but Android is open to anyone who wants to make a handset which means there are a host of different screen sizes, features, OS versions, and so on.
"Companies have realised it costs a lot more to manage very different versions of phone OSes, hardware, etc, and it's easier just to roll out corporate phones on one platform," said Jeronimo. "Many companies are going back and giving employees the phone they want, or allowing them to choose between a set."
This change, which is happening over time and will likely continue in the future, is of huge benefit to Microsoft. The relationships it has so carefully nurtured with companies who will feel the pain of BYOD can be leveraged to sell handsets of a specific type, design, and software version.
Microsoft can go to a company which is frustrated by the process of supporting 30 different types of Android phone, or five types of iPhone, and say: "We have two handset types across the low- and high-ends which run Windows 10."
That, Microsoft should be hoping, is a compelling proposition, especially as company computers will soon be upgraded to Windows 10 and are running Office.
There is, of course, a lack of native apps on Windows 10 Mobile – including ones like Snapchat – but the Universal Windows Platform alleviates many of these problems.
Essentially, Microsoft managed to get Windows 10 fully unified across devices which means that apps developed for a PC, running Windows 10, work on a smartphone, tablet, or Xbox. Basically, any device that runs Windows 10.
This has meant that some big developers, like Uber, have produced a single Windows 10 app that is then available across multiple platforms, and Microsoft hopes others will do the same.
For enterprise, however, the number of popular apps is irrelevant (and fewer is most likely a good thing). What is relevant is that the company's software team can use one version of its software – and that's it. From here, it will run on a smartphone, PC, tablet, and so on.
Apple has also been pushing the iPhone into the workplace by partnering with IBM, Box, and others but its solution – beautifully designed enterprise apps – still requires hard work on the part of each individual company to bring its app onto iOS, not to mention that similar versions also have to be made for Android.
It's unlikely that 'winning' enterprise will yield the same kind of profits that selling phones to consumers does – as Apple discovered – but it will be some repayment for the time, money, and energy that Microsoft has consistently dedicated to Windows on smartphones over the years.
Selling the complete package – an operating system, productivity software, hardware (including the Surface), and infrastructure – is a very compelling offering, and Microsoft is uniquely positioned to do just that. The company best take full advantage of this fact.
- Also check out how Satya Nadella just fixed a massive problem at Microsoft
Windows 10 feature wishlist
The Windows 10 Anniversary Update is here at long last and while it brings improvements to digital pen usage and Cortana with a slew of new features, we still want more Microsoft! Call us greedy, but Windows 10 isn't perfect yet and we think there's still room to improve with even more features and UI tweaks.
So here's a quick wishlist of the future upgrades and updates that are just begging to come to Windows 10 and don't forget to hit the comments with your thoughts on what's still missing.
This article is part of TechRadar's Windows 10 week. Microsoft's latest operating system turns from a free to a paid upgrade on July 29, and we're looking to answer the question of whether it's good for you.
Streaming PC games to Xbox One
Right now you can stream your Xbox One games to a PC, but what we want to really do is the reverse. Microsoft is already investigating the idea, but it hasn't set a timeline of when the feature might possibly come out.
The biggest hurdle in the process is finding some way of translating games you can only play with a mouse and keyboard. However, Phil Spencer has also said such peripheral support is already in the works with Xbox One's developer kit. For now though, it seems mouse support isn't quite there yet and won't likely be there until months away.
Given that Razer, Valve and Nvidia have figured out technical part PC game streaming, we can't imagine this would be impossible with the Xbox One.
Windows 8.1's Start Screen
I know what you're thinking but hear me out before you call me crazy. There's actually still some design elements that were better on Windows 8.1 than Windows 10. The biggest one namely is the way Windows 8.1 rendered all your applications on Start Screen.
Live Tiles on Windows 10 are great and all, but if you want to scroll through every application you have loaded on your system, you're relegated to a small list on the side. Windows 8.1 on the other hand gave you a full-screen slate of apps with larger icons to tap on. It's great that Microsoft focused on improving the desktop experience of its OS, but it could still use a few touch-friendly tweaks.
Better display scaling please
High-resolution displays are quickly becoming the norm on Windows machines, but some applications still have yet to scale properly. For the most part, if you want to display your desktop at 4K that's no problem. Just set your scaling higher to increase the size of text, apps, and other items to 200% – which also happens to be the default scaling set on Microsoft's self-made Surface Book and Surface Pro 4.
The problem is everything outside of Microsoft's software portfolio doesn't follow the same model. Everyday applications from Photoshop to Hipchat have comically small and unusable interfaces at higher resolutions. It's high time that Microsoft made a plugin or worked directly with software developers to make display scaling universal across both first- and third-party applications.
Account management within Windows 10
Our use case with Windows 10 is a bit extreme, having to review a ton of laptop and desktop, but we're tired of having to go through Microsoft's websites to (de)authorize devices connected Office 365 and the Windows Store. We could easily see the same settings being slipped into the account options in settings and it would also be a fairly easy tweak.
Tabbed file browser
Tabs have around for over a decade since they hit the street in Opera and Firefox, but in 2016 we still don't see a single tab in the Windows 10 file explorer. Just like browser tabs, they would make opening more than one folder and switching back and forth between them so much easier.
Apple adopted a tabbed version of Finder back in 2014 with OS X Yosemite, but Microsoft hasn't even hinted at the thought of introducing the helpful feature. What gives Microsoft!?