Microsoft finally shows off Windows 10 for phones and small tablets

Right, so, we already know that Microsoft is making sure just about everyone -- from desktop owners to Windows Phone 8.1 aficionados -- get a Windows 10 upgrade for free within the first year, and we've gotten a look at how Windows 10 has evolved since we last saw it. Now it's time for the mobile nitty-gritty we were hoping for, as Microsoft's Joe Belfiore demoed a version of Windows 10 for phones and tablets smaller than eight inches.

Belfiore first dug into the core of the Windows 10 mobile experience, and at first glance it doesn't look all that different -- the Start Screen experience is nearly identical to its predecessor, with a grid of furiously blinking Live Tiles and the ability to set a fullbleed background image. The further you dig, though, the more you'll find things have changed.

Recently installed apps live at the top of your app launcher for easier prominence, and the new Action Center and Settings screens bear a striking resemblance to their desktop counterparts. If anything, the Action Center seems the more exciting improvement since it syncs with your PC -- that's right, dismissing a notification on one device dismisses it from all of them. On a big-screen phone like the Lumia 1520, you can move that (usually pretty lovely) keyboard around too, just to better suit your thumb-typing habits. That'll come in handy when you're futzing around with Microsoft's improved Messaging workflow, which folds IP-based messaging services like Skype right into the stock Messages app. Oh, and Cortana's still around and willing to help despite her newfound home on the desktop, and she seems to have gotten better at transcribing your messages. Are you the type to actually use the word "hashtag" unironically in conversation? She'll ably add those to your voice-transcribed missives without batting a virtual eyelash.

Of course, a big part of Microsoft's mobile future hinges on what it calls universal apps -- apps that developers craft using a single codebase that'll run on desktops, phones, tablets and the Xbox. Naturally, app makers haven't had a ton of time to get cracking on that universal software, so Belfiore started with demos of cross-platform versions of those Office apps you love (or love to hate). Since the same Word engine powers the app on desktops and phones, for instance, you'll get the same Ribbon and rich formatting features across the entirety of device form factors. Yeah, we'd have liked a more exciting demo too, but that'll have to wait. In fact, we've only gotten a taste of what Windows 10 will ultimately mean for its phones and small tablets, and it'll stay that way for a little while longer. The upshot? Belfiore has spent a considerable chunk of his time talking mobile hyping up a preview release that should get here sooner rather than later.