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Microsoft jumps into holographic computing with new ‘HoloLens’

At a product unveiling event on Wednesday, Microsoft detailed an array of new features for its Windows 10 operating system while offering a glimpse at a new direction for the technology giant: holographic computing.

The first new version of Microsoft’s (MSFT) Windows operating system will become available sometime later this year and will initially be free for most Windows users. For up to a year after Windows 10 is released, the new software will be available as a free update to users of Windows 7, Windows 8, Windows 8.1 and Windows Phone 8.1. The move is likely an attempt to encourage widespread adoption of the new operating system — something that never happened with Windows 8, the last iteration of the software to hit the market, in 2012.

At an event that was streamed live online, a parade of Microsoft executives touted new Windows 10 features that include the addition of Cortana — a digital assistant in the same vein as Apple’s Siri — to Windows PCs and tablets. Cortana was previously available only on Windows phones.

Meanwhile, Microsoft dedicated much of the latter portion of the product event to what the company called in a press release “the world’s first holographic computing platform,” and its new device, the Microsoft HoloLens. The HoloLens is a wireless holographic computer headset with see-through lenses and advanced sensors that lets users see and manipulate three-dimensional computer-generated images. Microsoft showed off the device’s potential applications related to 3D gaming, Skype messaging and design.

The device will be available around the same time as Windows 10 this fall, a Microsoft executive told Reuters, and the product will be priced in a way to make it attainable for both businesses and individual consumers.

The HoloLens is a surprise move by Microsoft into the virtual reality market, where Facebook (FB) has already made inroads with its $2 billion purchase of virtual reality gaming company Oculus VR last year.

Microsoft also offered a look at its new Internet browser, which is still in development under the code-name “Project Spartan.” The new browser offers users the ability to annotate text on a webpage while sharing annotations and other text with contacts via screenshots. The browser will also work with Cortana through voice commands to assist in web searches.

Windows 10 will work with Microsoft’s gaming program, Xbox Live, to let gamers record, edit and share moments from their own games while also streaming games from an Xbox One console to any PC or tablet within their home.