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What to expect from Microsoft's next Windows 10 event

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After taking big swings with Windows 8 and 8.1 -- how big a miss they were is open to interpretation -- Microsoft's trying to redefine how we work with computers once more. We're going to get a much closer look at Windows 10 at 9AM PT/12PM ET tomorrow (which we'll be liveblogging, naturally), and all the usual suspects will be on hand to wax poetic about Windows' next steps: There's CEO Satya Nadella, of course, along with Windows chief Terry Myerson, mobile impresario Joe Belfiore and Xbox czar Phil Spencer. Let's take a moment to look at what we know -- and what we expect -- Microsoft will show off in Redmond very soon.

A rose by any other name

You know where we're going with this: Microsoft outed the (well-meaning, if misguided) Windows 8 back in 2012, and followed up with a solid 8.1 update about a year later. Now, here we are with Windows 10. Since it officially broke cover last September, we've seen a slow, inexorable current of leaks and brief updates outlining Redmond's modified vision of computing. So, what's on the docket for tomorrow?

Well, expect a more thorough outline of the consumer-friendly features that'll pepper the new OS. We're almost certainly going to get a closer look at the shape-shifting Continuum feature for one, which sadly wasn't ready in time for the original tech preview release. In case you missed it the first time around, Continuum modifies how Windows 10 looks and feels based on how you're trying to interact with it. Running Windows 10 on a tablet? You'll deal mostly with those big, finger-friendly tiles and icons. It's a totally different beast when a keyboard and mouse are added to the mix, though, as it's back to the more traditional Windows desktop for you. Then there's Spartan, Microsoft's other web browser. The Verge reported earlier this month that the new, more lightweight app would live alongside Internet Explorer -- which has finally been relegated to legacy/compatibility status -- and features better support for note-taking with a stylus and the ability to play nice with Cortana. Throw in a slew of UI tweaks that range from the substantive (like that new spin on the Start menu) to the seemingly minute, and you've got the sort of high-level overview we expect from Microsoft tomorrow.

Now that the world's techies have had ample time to put that first Windows 10 build through its paces, it's high time for Microsoft to push out another preview build for us to tinker with (hopefully not long after the event wraps). Some techie prognosticators will also be chomping on their popcorn and waiting for word on what Windows 10 will actually cost, but that seems just a tad premature -- as far as we know, Win10 is still slated for a launch later this year, and Microsoft only let official Windows 8 pricing slip a few weeks ahead of its general availability window. Still, we won't complain if the folks in Redmond want to surprise us with a detailed pricing breakdown toward the tail end of the event. It's nice to know where our wallets stand, right?​

A better, deeper assistant

Apple's Siri is strictly a mobile entity. Google's Now voice-recognition and search chops are oozing into Chrome OS proper. And Microsoft? We've known for a long time that Cortana -- its digital assistant with the familiar name -- will make the leap from your Windows Phone to your desktop, and tomorrow's likely the day we're going to see how it all works. Of course, that's not to say we haven't already gotten a glimpse. Last month, WinBeta posted a video of a very early version of Cortana running on a (naturally) pre-release build of Windows 10 that works about as well as you'd expect: Some of the juiciest bits, like Xbox Music integration and navigation directions, weren't in working order yet, but she could still take notes and fire up Skype for calls without much verbal prodding.

Still more reports claim that she'll be baked directly into the Windows search interface, which you'll recall now occupies its own space in the taskbar -- no more jumping between the desktop and Microsoft's beloved tile-centric UI when you need to scour your hard drive. With a debut expected in Redmond tomorrow, we just might see how much smarter Cortana has gotten since those initial leaked videos first got Her fans worked up. What's more, ZDNet's seemingly prescient Mary Jo Foley posited that Cortana could eventually replace the traditional search interface completely. A bold move, if true, and we sort of can't wait for someone to usher in the age of controlling our computers by barking natural-sounding commands.

The mobile-friendly future

While it's unclear how much of Windows 10 for mobile we'll actually get to see tomorrow, some of the biggest changes are happening under the hood anyway. As far as Microsoft is concerned, the future of the desktop is inescapably intertwined with that of the smartphone in your pocket -- a vision that's been talked up in a big way since the introduction of the Universal app concept at the company's Build developer conference early last year. Microsoft's end goal? To create a single, unified app store that desktop, mobile and even Xbox users can tap into without forcing developers to craft code for each disparate platform.

And the mobile nitty-gritty? Details are still sparse, but at this point it looks like the really-quite-nice Lumia Camera app will transcend device boundaries and become a stock Windows 10 app for all Redmond-friendly gadgets. That Spartan browser will almost certainly get a shout-out too, though early reports indicate it's not actually a Universal app -- separate versions will apparently be available to desktops and mobile devices. Meanwhile, early appearances by devices like the Lumia 532 suggest that the version of Windows 10 meant for your phone will be called... Windows 10. Anticlimactic, sure, but if true, the name speaks to the sort of unity that Microsoft has been keen to craft among all its devices. After all, if your Windows Phone and your Surface tablet can run the same apps as the tower sitting on the desk in your office, why differentiate between platforms? Like Steve Ballmer famously declared, we're quickly approaching the age of One Microsoft, not just in corporate structure, but also in a sweeping ecosystem that encompasses most (if not all) of the bits of silicon on you rely on daily.

Make no mistake: Microsoft's mobile ambitions will definitely get some time in the spotlight tomorrow, but don't be surprised if the company saves some juicy tidbits for MWC come early March. Don't fret: You might get a taste of the phone-flavored Windows 10 before yet another trade show rolls around. ZDNet chimed in earlier today with word of a preview program that's due to kick off (if everything goes according to plan) sometime next month.

Gaming without boundaries

No, you read the list of guest appearances right: Xbox head honcho Spencer will be there, too. Within the past few weeks, Spencer has said that Microsoft is gearing up to show off the "best operating system we've ever created for gamers" on Wednesday -- the sort of uber-vague corporate bombast that stokes curiosity without actually satiating it.

"This is the beginning of our discussion with our fans about bringing gaming to the Windows 10 operating system," he noted in a video interview with Microsoft's Xbox Wire. Very enlightening.

But really, expect him to trumpet the ability for developers to create games that play nice across multiple kinds of devices, accessible from one united store. It's sort of a dream for certain gamers: You buy a game once and pick up where you left off (hopefully without much of a performance hit) no matter what Windows device happens to be within reach. Our fingers are crossed, but we're not convinced he'll get too much more detailed than that. Oh, and a bit of DirectX 12 discourse is par for the course. Given that it's been designed to help improve gaming performance on Microsoft's gadgets across the board, not to mention how it'll supposedly keep your battery from being run into the ground too quickly, we don't much mind the recap.

And then we've got the really pie-in-the-sky stuff. Microsoft's also working on (or at least, gearing up to work on) a new service code-named "Arcadia" that's reportedly meant to stream full-blown games and apps to compatible devices, though it's probably way too early for that to get anything more than a shout-out at tomorrow's show. There's also word of a Microsoft "gaming helmet" of sorts referred to internally as Project B that could make an appearance onstage. Researchers at Microsoft have been plugging away at the concept for years now, and perhaps it's finally the right time to throw down against Oculus, Samsung and Sony. We'll see.

[Image credit: Michael Kappel/Flickr (Microsoft logo)]

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