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Microsoft has unveiled the first details of its next operating system (OS) – Windows 10.

The new OS’ name is a surprise, bearing in mind it represents a jump from the last version – Windows 8.

The software will run on a wide range of devices, from phones and tablets to PCs and Xbox games consoles, with applications sold from a single store.

Windows 10 also marks the return of the Start Menu, which had been removed from Windows 8.

In addition to offering a list of the user’s favorite applications, the menu also brings up resizable tiles – similar to those featured in Windows 8’s touch-centric interface on PCs and tablets.

These provide a quick view of notifications from relevant applications, such as details of new emails, Facebook messages and weather forecast updates.

Microsoft said the facility was intended to make the software seem familiar to both users of Windows 8 and Windows 7.

The behavior of the OS will depend on the type of device with which it is being used. Unlike its predecessor, users will not need to switch between Desktop Mode and the touch-focused alternative.

Windows 10 will run on a wide range of devices, from phones and tablets to PCs and Xbox games consoles, with applications sold from a single store

Windows 10 will run on a wide range of devices, from phones and tablets to PCs and Xbox games consoles, with applications sold from a single store (photo Microsoft)

However, they can still spread a number of “live tiles” across the screens of two-in-one laptop-tablet hybrids to make them easier to use with both a mouse and finger presses.

Windows 8 had been criticized for being too different to the previous version, which deterred some organizations from introducing it.

It initially lacked a Start button altogether, and when one was introduced it only switched to the touch-centric tiled interface or – if a long mouse press was used – provided access to the system’s control panel and other functions.

Businesses typically wait about a year after a new operating system’s release before offering it to workers to give IT staff a chance to get to grips with the new technologies involved.

It has been nearly two years since Windows 8 first went on sale and adoption is still low.

Across desktop PCs as a whole, only 13.4% currently run Windows 8 or Windows 8.1, according to research firm NetMarketshare.

By contrast, it says 51.2% are powered by Windows 7 and 23.9% by Windows XP, a version that is no longer supported by Microsoft.

Microsoft will offer a “technical preview” of Windows 10 to early adopters later this week, which will run on laptops and desktops.

The company said it would provide details about the introduction of “universal apps” – individual programs that tailor their functionality to different types of devices – at its Build conference in April, and would aim to release the completed OS before the end of 2015.

There was no mention of offering Microsoft’s voice-controlled digital assistant Cortana to PCs, or when Windows 10 would supersede the Windows Phone OS.

Microsoft’s smartphone code is designed for ARM-based processors, unlike the main Windows 8 and Xbox operating systems that are built for x86 chips – including those made by Intel and AMD.

While Microsoft confirmed that Windows 10 would be released for both types of chip architecture, it did not disclose whether there would be a staggered release.

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Microsoft has released Windows 8.1 – an update to its Windows 8 operating system – during a keynote speech at its annual developers conference in San Francisco.

The free test version of the update is available to download now and the full version will be released to Windows 8 users later this year.

Microsoft’s CEO Steve Ballmer also confirmed that the start button has been reinstated in Windows 8.1 after it was controversially removed from Windows 8 last October.

“Let’s make it easier to start applications in the way we are used to,” said Steve Ballmer, to cheers from the audience.

“We will bring back the start button, and you can boot straight to the desktop if you want to.

“We have refined the blend of our desktop experience and our modern app experience.”

Microsoft came under fire for its controversial “start screen” in Windows 8, which gave users a series of tiles instead of a traditional desktop PC menu with a start button.

This left many confused, and caused a slower than expected uptake of the new software – which also faced increasing competition from Apple and the tablet market.

However, Steve Ballmer said Microsoft was not abandoning its start menu and said it was slowly beginning to attract app developers to Windows 8.

“Within this month we’ll pass the 100,000 app mark in the Windows store,” said Steve Ballmer.

Flipboard, Facebook and the NFL all revealed new apps.

The new Windows 8.1 includes a vastly improved “search” function, which lets users search for documents, apps, or items on the Internet from a single search bar.

The feature resembles Apple’s Spotlight feature.

Microsoft has released Windows 8.1 during a keynote speech at its annual developers conference in San Francisco

Microsoft has released Windows 8.1 during a keynote speech at its annual developers conference in San Francisco

Another new feature in Windows 8.1 also allows users to easily see a list of all their apps simply by swiping up on the screen.

“This update shows how much more responsive our engineering has become,” said Julie Larson-Green, head of Windows at Microsoft.

“We’ve had over 800 updates to Windows 8 since we launched it.”

Julie Larson-Green showed off a new Acer 8.1inch tablet running Windows 8.1 – designed to take on the iPad mini.

It uses new gestures such as being able to slide along the screen’s space bar to select menu items.

Julie Larson-Green also showed off a range of touchscreen PCs running Windows 8.1.

“Pretty much every screen you own is going to be touch,” she said.

She demonstrated a convertible Windows 8 laptop that also works as tablet, and large touchscreen machines.

There were also laptops with touchscreens plus an 18inch tablet from Dell that doubles as a desktop computer when docked.

Microsoft has additionally built direct support for 3D printers and even Lego robotic kits into Windows 8.1.

During her speech, Julie Larson-Green unveiled a redesigned the Xbox Music app, a music-streaming service, integrated into all versions of Windows 8, too.

The Spotify-killer app lets owners stream and buy music from anywhere in Windows.

Elsewhere, users can customize the start screen much more easily, changing sizes of app icon “tiles” or controlling which apps appear.

For the first time, it will be possible to open two windows simultaneously in the new-look interface.

Steve Ballmer promised the firm would continue tweaking the software to make it easier to use.

“Rapid release is the new norm for everything we do, from Windows to hardware,” he said.

Windows 8.1 includes Microsoft’s latest browser, Internet Explorer 11, and lets the user restore the address bar and tabs to the screen view.

Earlier this month Microsoft released a preview video showcasing all these new features.

Microsoft removed the button from the Windows 8 operating system when it was released last year but many customers complained and demanded it was put back.

Screenshots leaked in May suggested that Microsoft would be reinstating the button and an official preview video at the start of June confirmed it – albeit not directly.

During the preview demonstration, Harris swipes between screens and lands on the Desktop view.

A Windows logo is shown in the bottom left-hand corner.

Although it will not be labelled “start”, the leaked screenshots suggested that Windows logo would takes the user straight to a grid of applications.

To catch a glimpse of the button, skip to 2.11 in the video above.

That feature was missing in the initial version of Windows 8, which was designed to make the most of limited screen space on a tablet but tended to disorient traditional mouse and keyboard users.

Executives say the plan is now to update Windows periodically, rather than waiting three years or so between big releases.

The world’s largest software company is hoping to kickstart sales of its latest Windows version, which has not made the splash with computer users it was hoping for.

Although Microsoft has sold more than 100 million Windows 8 licenses since October, broadly in line with Windows 7 three years ago, the company must tackle a dwindling PC user base and its inability to make a mark in the exploding tablet market.

Shipments of traditional PCs – the most reliable gauge of Windows’ popularity – are expected to fall almost 8 percent this year, while Microsoft’s Surface has taken less than 2% of the tablet market.

Windows 8 was designed to be used both on touch-screen tablets and traditional PCs.

But while touch-screen users tend to like the new “tile”-based interface, many mouse and keyboard users complained that the new design was confusing.

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