What comes next for Windows 10? If 2015 was a year of revolution, 2016 promises to be a year of consolidation for Microsoft's operating system.
Windows is now delivered "as a service", meaning incremental updates with new features as well as security patches, but Microsoft still seems works internally to a schedule of milestone releases. Windows 10 has had two so far, the initial July 2015 release codenamed Threshold, and the November update called Threshold 2.
Next up is Redstone, rumoured to arrive around the anniversary of Windows 10, midway through 2016, but with Insider previews available earlier. What will be in Redstone is not yet known, though there is plenty on the to-do list, at least some of which is likely to be included.
One of these is some sort of fix for OneDrive cloud storage, currently less useful in Windows 10 than in Windows 8 thanks to the removal of the "placeholder" feature that showed users what was online in via the File Explorer, downloading the contents only on request. There are hints that placeholders will return, though with modification to avoid confusion both for users and for applications.
Users can also expect delivery of some or all of the Windows Bridges announced at the April 2015 Build conference. There are four of these:
- Bridge for iOS (Project Islandwood)
- Bridge for web apps (Project Westminster)
- Bridge for Windows desktop apps (Project Centennial)
- Bridge for Android (Project Astoria)
The goal of these technologies is to make it easier to port applications to the Windows Store, both on Windows 10 Mobile and on PCs or tablets. Of the above, hosted web apps are already supported, while the Android bridge is said to be on hold. Microsoft's declining focus on Windows Phone makes Android compatibility less important. The Bridge for iOS is essentially a compiler project, allowing Objective C applications to be compiled for Windows, and may arrive independently of Windows updates.
That leaves Project Centennial or Project C, which is key to Microsoft's strategy for Windows in business. The project shares technology with App-V, Microsoft's enterprise app virtualization product that lets you deploy applications as a package without any other dependencies. Currently the Windows Store only supports applications designed for the Windows Runtime, the touch-friendly, sandboxed app platform introduced in Windows 8 and redesigned for Windows 10. Project C lets you package desktop applications as Store apps. In theory, this would let businesses standardise on Store delivery for all their line of business applications, making Windows more secure, more stable and easier to manage.
Microsoft is also talking about OneCore. What's that?
"We're also working on some structural improvements to OneCore, which is the shared core of Windows across devices. Essentially, OneCore is the heart of Windows, and these improvements to OneCore make building Windows across PC, tablet, phone, iOT, Hololens and Xbox more efficient,"
says engineering VP Gabe Aul.
2016 should also include the release of Windows Server 2016, though Microsoft has yet to commit to a date. In the past, Windows Server releases have been matched with near-simultaneous Windows client releases that share the same core code, so it is plausible that Server 2016 will appear alongside a Redstone update. Server 2016 includes updates to the Hyper-V virtualisation platform, support for Docker-style containers, and a new cut-down edition called Nano Server.
At a high level, Microsoft will continue with its effort to shift as many users as possible to Windows 10, with both carrot (free upgrade) and stick (annoying nag screens). The presumed goal is to make Windows 10 the standard version, so that the Windows Store is more attractive to developers, and enabling new technology to be introduced quickly. Currently Microsoft says that 2016 will see the end of its free upgrade offer, which must be taken up "within one year of availability", but it would not be a surprise if this were extended.
Following the November update, which fixed some severe bugs including a limit on the number of Start menu entries, Windows 10 is a solid upgrade. Traces of the Windows 8 split personality remain though, with Store apps behaving differently from classic desktop apps, and purely as an application launcher the new Start menu is not the equal of its Windows 7 predecessor. Another common complaint is the way Microsoft has woven web search into the desktop, whether or not users want it there. Windows 10 is getting better, but while such issues persist you can expect Windows 7 diehards to continue holding out in 2016 and beyond. ®