Windows 10, inspired by Apple's OS X

Apple has reshaped the destiny of the PC, and Microsoft appears to now be following its lead

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Microsoft's deeper reveal of Windows 10 today was marvelously weird. Not only did the live-streamed event have the same delivery hiccoughs as Apple's live streams, but so much of what Microsoft is doing to Windows 10 is following the footsteps of Apple's OS X, which in turn has been following the footsteps of iOS.

Part of that similarity reflects industry-wide changes, particularly around supporting multiple devices. But a surprising amount of what's new in Windows 10 is based on Apple's view of that world. It's clear that Microsoft has decided that if you can't beat 'em, join 'em.

First up, Continuum -- that's Microsoft's label for workflows that automatically move from touch mode to keyboard mode for hybrid devices -- and a bunch of data-adaptation capabilities such as Reflow and recents syncing in Office that contextually adjust workflows as you move among your devices.

Apple's had the latter concept for several years, which it now calls Continuity. The Handoff feature is a well-known example of Continuity, as is the iPhone's ability to route calls and texts to and from your Mac and iPad. 

Next is Cortana, which is an amalgam of Apple's Siri personal assistant and Spotlight contextual search. Cortana is coming to the Windows 10 desktop, a place Siri has not ventured. (I'm not sure that many people will want to talk to their computer or have it talk to them at their desk -- talk about unsocial behavior.)

Windows 10 also will have the Action Center, similar to the Notification Center that debuted in Android and that Apple enhanced and made more interactive in recent versions of OS X and iOS. However, Action Center is more integrated with Cortana than Notification Center is with Apple's personal assistance technologies -- it's more like Google Now.

The notion of an intelligent assistant is now widespread. Siri was first in 2010, and Google has been doing the same in Android, Chrome OS, and Chrome browsers via Google Now. But Microsoft's Cortana demo today had the kind of interaction feel of OS X's mute personal assistant.

For years, OS X has combined its Spotlight search engine with a technology called data detectors to understand your context better, such as by using your contacts, calendars, search histories, and so forth to build a profile of you. Apple has integrated iOS into that holistic view of you, and on mobile devices Siri becomes the hands-free interface to it. But the underlying innovation isn't about voice but contextual analysis, and Cortana is all about that, too.

Third, there's the notion that Windows is not an OS but a service that is continually kept current. OS X has been in that state for several years, as has iOS. It's a major break from Microsoft's big-bang release mentality, but a necessary one in a fast-changing, complex world. And Apple has shown that customers love it. 

One caveat, though, is Windows Update. In Windows 10, Microsoft recommends that even enterprises turn on autoupdate for practically all PCs. Yet as my colleague Woody Leonhard has been chronicling for the last 18 months, Microsoft has had a constant parade of bad updates that routinely brick PCs. I agree that autoupdate is how OSes should be handled most of the time, but only if the updates consistently work.

Microsoft also spent a lot of time today promoting Universal Apps, its common IDE to enable single development of responsive apps across Windows devices, from mobile to desktop. In the Apple world, that's been the norm for years, thanks to the common Xcode IDE for iOS and OS X.

The new Project Spartan Web browser shamelessly copies longtime Safari behaviors, such as Reading List (including its local save capability) and Reader mode.

OSes have long copied each other. Much of the original Windows UI was based on the original Mac OS, and over the years Apple, Microsoft, and Google have all borrowed from each other. Apple in fact has grown more daring about it in recent years, both in OS X and in iOS

But it's striking how Microsoft, after the debacles of Windows 8 and Windows Phone, has stepped away from the troubled path it was on and instead looked to learn lessons from Apple, the only PC vendor that is still growing in sales and whose mobile technology has changed the rules for everyone.

Copyright © 2015 IDG Communications, Inc.

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