Windows 10 comes with holographic computing built into it. And to prove that it’s serious about holography, the company announced Microsoft HoloLens, a headset that lets people interact with holograms in the real world.

Wait, what?

I know what you’re thinking. Microsoft has a credibility problem when it comes to launches of future tech. Remember that this is the company that tried to launch touch-based tablet computing in 2000. Microsoft launched a smartwatch years before anybody else that also came to naught. I’ll spare you a longer list of Microsoft’s mislaunches. It all adds up to a fair bit of earned skepticism. Surely Microsoft can’t be expected to create the computing interface that will do to graphical user interfaces what the mouse did to the text-based user interface.

Except that’s exactly what the company did. Holographic computing is now official, and it’s coming soon to a Windows 10 device near you. In fact, the Microsoft HoloLens headset is such an important development that we at Forrester wrote two reports about it on day one for Forrester clients. My colleague and collaborator, J.P. Gownder, wrote a piece explaining how HoloLens and holographic computing will be useful in an enterprise context  similar to his insightful work making the same argument for wearable computing more broadly. He blogged about his report moments ago; read the blog post here, especially if you want to get more of the details of how HoloLens works, what it is, and what it isn’t. (If you're interested in the likely implications of Microsoft's other Windows 10 event announcements, see blog posts from my colleagues Frank Gillett and Philipp Karcher.) 

Once you’ve read J.P.’s blog post and report, read my report, which is targeted at CMOs, the people who need to understand what holographic computing will do to their customers. In the report, I write that:

“Mixed reality will change the way that brands interact with consumers. The headsets will be expensive for the next several years, but we estimate that 3.6 million people will likely buy one by the end of 2016. Holographic mixed-reality computing will similarly affect the industries that were most susceptible to web-based and then mobile-based disruption. Smart CMOs in those industries will plan to address it by 2017, and the rest, no later than 2020.” Source: "Microsoft HoloLens Changes Everything With The Next Natural Computing Interface."

I stand by what I said on stage in 2010: “Change The Interface, Change The World.” (See a low-res capture of that speech here, and go forward to minute 17:40 for the beginning of my speech.) What the mouse did to text; what touch did to the mouse; what voice, gesture, and now holograms are doing to everything that preceded them — these step changes in user interface always lead to dramatic expansion in the amount of computing that people do. By making computing mobile, for example, touch-based phones and tablets have not only put computers in hands that wouldn’t otherwise have used them (think the very young and very old) but also given the rest of us reasons to compute in places and at times we wouldn’t have before. This has resulted in more possible interactions with  and ultimately more relationships with  consumers of every sort. The winners have been those that made themselves relevant in those interactions Apple and Google, certainly, but also Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp.  

Holographic computing is going to succeed even if HoloLens as a device fails. And though it’s easy to look at Microsoft’s past and skeptically suggest its vision of holographic computing won’t last, as one who has spent an hour demoing the technology, moving with it, and being moved by it, I have to say that Microsoft has truly delivered a mixed-reality experience that will delight. It's on everybody else  from Apple to Samsung and Oculus VR to Magic Leap  to match Microsoft's opening bid. 

Forrester clients can read my full report here: "Microsoft HoloLens Changes Everything With The Next Natural Computing Interface."

James McQuivey, Ph.D., is a vice president and principal analyst at Forrester Research and the author of the book Digital Disruption