Microsoft CEO Nadella Details Windows 10, New Cortana Analytics Suite, The 'Mind-Blowing' HoloLens

Microsoft is cool again.

At least that seemed to be the message that CEO Satya Nadella and his lieutenants wanted to convey Monday on the first day of the Microsoft Worldwide Partner Conference in Orlando, Fla.

The CEO, in his keynote, talked about "going back into our history and rediscovering our core sense of purpose" in a mobile-first and cloud-first world.

[Related: Riled Partners: Microsoft, With FastTrack Migrations, Will Be Our Competitor]

Sponsored post

The product demonstration that best drove home that message, and generated the most awe among the 12,000 Microsoft partners in attendance, was probably the least relevant to most of their businesses for the time being -- the HoloLens virtual reality headset.

While much of Nadella's keynote focused on Microsoft's upcoming Windows 10 operating system, Nadella's time on stage was mostly spent taking a more high-level view of the changing nature of personal and enterprise computing.

The cloud will act as the control plane, he said, for the applications, data and experiences generated by all our devices and the ubiquitous sensors that will increasingly be worn by us, recognize us, and interact with us.

Nadella talked about blending business processes with productivity and communication tools into one extensible set of core services that other vendors can integrate with.

The same tools should be used with "no dissonance" between home and business settings, he said.

A large part of Microsoft's focus is on building an intelligent cloud, he said, with Azure servers forming the core of the distributed computing fabric.

A new suite of products, some existing and others just coming to market, represents a major step in that direction.

The upcoming Cortana Analytics Suite, named after Microsoft's personal digital assistant, will bundle together as a monthly service for Microsoft's data-focused solutions: big data stores, information management, machine learning, deep analytics, and new visualization tools that will go live next week as a product called Power BI.

It "will allow each one of you to take very sophisticated technology and enable any business to transform themselves through the power of data," Nadella said.

The CEO pivoted to talk about Windows 10, Microsoft's flagship product that will be introduced in three weeks, ushering in a new era for the company.

"It's not just the technology, but what Windows means for this ecosystem is what's humbling and what's driving us," Nadella said.

Users can interact with Windows 10 through touch or voice or keyboard or ink, he said. The new Windows sets itself apart through a design that lets it run natively on just about any device, from a Raspberry Pi, to phones, tablets, PCs and the new HoloLens.

"That natural interaction is going to be a unique capability of that one operating system that spans all of these device types," Nadella said, adding Microsoft will "of course lead the way when it comes to management and security of Windows devices."

Nadella also noted that the history of personal computing has been punctuated by changes in input/output. The holographic output he went on to discuss most excited the room.

Engineers twice demonstrated Microsoft's holographic computing capabilities, with HoloLens visuals displayed on a screen as the headset-wearing user sees them.

The engineers showed how the HoloLens can overlay holograms on the real world and create an interactive, totally immersive three-dimensional experience through which users can move objects, navigate through a room, and even design motorcycles.

"It's really, truly mind-blowing," Nadella said after the demo.

HoloLens is the first product to market in which a computer allows users to blend the digital and real worlds, he said. And since the product was unveiled in January, Microsoft has fielded inquiries from interested enterprises and developers.

Terry Myerson, executive vice president of the Windows group, led some demos of the much-anticipated new operating system. Windows 10 will "pay tribute to this renewed spirit at Microsoft," Myerson said.

The new product will also inspire customers to update their operating systems, he said, and with 1 billion Windows-powered devices out there, that will drive considerable business to partners.

Windows 10 offers a common experience on any device in an effort to create "more personal computing."

It's "going to take several years to achieve, it’s a multiyear journey, but Windows 10 is our first step," he said.

The new Windows also will introduce enterprise-grade security as a standard feature.

Attackers have evolved from "script kiddies" to organized crime to nation-states and terrorist organizations. For that reason, Myerson said, Microsoft designed security into the core of the platform, all the way down to the silicon, for all devices, especially those that will be running Internet of Things.

Roanne Sones, general manager of Microsoft's partner ecosystem, said the millions of IoT devices to be introduced in the near future create security challenges.

"This is data that you do not want to share. And this is data that attackers will want to steal," Sones said.

Windows 10 will also offer a flexible updating model to regularly integrate new innovations and security patches. Consumers can think of it as Windows-as-a-service, Myerson said, and the enterprise version, Windows Update for Business, comes with full IT controls.

A Microsoft partner from the Netherlands told CRN the features and "usability" revealed in the Windows 10 demonstration were the part of the keynote that most interested him.

Erik de Weerd, a sales manager at Ilionx, said the soon-to-be-released operating system was especially exciting because of the possibilities it creates across multiple devices.

Windows 10, with its elegant user interface, looks more "like something from Apple," he said. "Microsoft makes a big step with that."

Another announcement that generated excitement perhaps only surpassed by the HoloLens at the Orlando Convention Center was that new Lumia phones designed for Windows 10 would soon hit the market.