What to expect from Microsoft's most important event of the year

Build starts Wednesday and it's going to be big


For Microsoft, 2015 is a year of adjustment. While the software giant focuses its efforts across multiple platforms, Windows is gearing up for big changes. That change will be on full show at Microsoft’s Build developers conference on Wednesday, and it’s a key moment for the company to prove it’s got what it takes to keep Windows relevant in a mobile era that continues to ignore Microsoft’s efforts. With Windows Phone increasingly squeezed out by Android and iOS, this year’s Build conference feels like a last chance for Microsoft to woo mobile developers and get the apps it needs for a successful future.

Microsoft is returning to its roots to bring back the Start Menu and a more PC-friendly version of Windows, and many changes that move it away from an obsession with touchscreens on PCs and laptops. The software maker is also looking toward Office and its Azure cloud for the future of how it delivers key applications and services across Windows, iOS, and Android. Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella has always talked about a mobile- and cloud-focused company, and that has been emerging clearly over the past year. Below is everything we expect Microsoft to talk about on Wednesday.

The event starts Wednesday at 11:30AM ET / 8:30AM PT. We'll be in San Francisco covering the event, and you'll be able to follow along with our live blog for up-to-the-second reports.

Build stock 4

Developers, developers, developers

Developers are key to Microsoft’s current and future platforms. It’s fair to say the company hasn’t made it easy for its loyal community over the years, with constant changes, reversals, and just a lack of key developer APIs to create apps that really shine on Windows. With Windows 10, it’s Microsoft’s opportunity to correct some prior mistakes and really align all of its various products to a single mission. That mission is universal apps, or Windows Apps as they’re now known today. The key to getting a Windows Store full of Windows Apps will be convincing developers to build them, and that’s the biggest task Microsoft faces at Build this week.

Microsoft has re-engineered its new Windows Apps so they’re no longer fullscreen and they work across PCs, tablets, phones, and even the Xbox One gaming console. We’ve seen a few examples of how this could work in Microsoft’s own previews, but this week it’s time for the company to demonstrate the power of Windows Apps and why developers should care. Expect to see universal apps running across all platforms, including the Xbox One, and a clearer idea of when consumers will get access to Windows 10 across PCs, phones, tablets, and the Xbox One.

Windows 10

While Microsoft has been previewing the vast majority of Windows 10 to the public, there’s still some parts not everyone has seen. Terry Myerson, the chief of Windows, will be on stage at Build on Wednesday to talk about the progress of Windows 10 and the company’s app strategy. Last year, Myerson revealed the new Start Menu before Microsoft was even ready to talk about Windows 10, and we expect this year to be similarly forward-looking.

Recent rumors have pointed toward a Redstone wave of releases next year that are designed to be updates to Windows 10, and Microsoft previously hinted at a "Windows as a service" model to provide regular updates to the operating system. We expect Myerson to detail this service model more fully, with a look at how Microsoft plans to update Windows 10 once it’s ready this summer. Part of that updating will involve the company’s plans for Project Spartan, its new Internet Explorer successor. Microsoft has not yet named Project Spartan, but we understand the company has a name in mind that it has been trialling in market research. It’s likely that Microsoft will finally name the new brand for Internet Explorer on Wednesday, and clarify how the old browser will exist in enterprise copies of Windows.

Elsewhere, Microsoft has to name the date of when Windows 10 will be available. The company previously said summer, and AMD’s CEO recently revealed it’s likely to be late July. With speculation mounting over the launch date, it’s time for Microsoft to clarify and provide a timeline for when the new operating system will reach devices like the Xbox One or Lumia phones.

Windows Phone

Myerson will also focus on what might become the biggest news of the day: Microsoft eyeing Android apps for Windows 10. While the software maker has been investigating many methods of bringing Android apps to Windows, it has found a solution. Myerson will unveil a series of ways Microsoft is making it easier for developers to bring their code to Windows universal apps from Android, iOS, or elsewhere. Part of that will include better tools for developers and new ways to closely map the functions of Android to Windows so it’s easier for developers to port their apps with small changes. It might not be the ideal solution, but it could be enough to convince Android developers to list their apps in the Windows Store without a lot of effort.

Getting more apps on Windows Phones is key, but Microsoft also needs impressive hardware to really spur interest in its platform. A new flagship Lumia won’t be available until Windows 10 is available on phones, but that might not stop Microsoft from detailing some of its hardware ideas for the future of Lumia — in particular, how Windows 10 will work on bigger phones or 7-inch tablets. Some leaked screenshots suggest it scales up the Windows Phone UI, and we expect Microsoft to discuss its plans for these devices. Microsoft may also address the idea of allowing hardware makers to create phones that turn into tablets or full PCs, thanks to the versatility of Windows 10 and the new universal Windows Apps.

Microsoft’s work with Windows 10 on phones is very basic in its preview state right now, and many will be looking to see if the company shows more future plans or an updated preview that includes greater changes. With Microsoft preparing at least four new Lumia devices for Windows 10, we expect to hear some details of what unique features Windows 10 will enable. Those include new gestures using a variety of phone sensors, and even the new Windows Hello feature that allows you to sign into a device with just your face.

Microsoft HoloLens


Microsoft promised more HoloLens details at Build, and it’s about to deliver. We expect HoloLens will feature in the Windows part of the keynote, with a big, flashy demo on stage. Microsoft has been gradually providing developers more details about HoloLens, but at Build it’s time to show how Windows Apps (universal apps) can also work as holograms in the future. Expect to see a demonstration of a Windows App running natively on HoloLens, and a lot of details on how developers will get access to HoloLens.

Speaking of demos, it’s likely that Microsoft will let developers get actual hands-on time with HoloLens. While media outlets were able to sample an early development kit back in January, this week’s potential hands-on time could involve a near-final retail headset.

Office and the cloud

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella is planning to talk about Office as a platform at Build on Wednesday. Microsoft has been increasingly using Office as a key part of its cross-platform strategy, with various apps on Windows, iOS, and Android. Microsoft now wants to discuss how it can open up the power of Office to developers, and the company’s Office Graph could play a key role here. While we don’t expect Office to go open source, Microsoft could open up more of the data from its Office Graph to bring machine learning to every app.

Likewise, this machine learning powerhouse will be extended to Microsoft’s Azure work. Microsoft has been making huge investments in data and machine learning, and extending those to developers to use within apps and services could be a key way to position its cloud as a support tool for companies to rely on.

iOS and Android

While Microsoft usually focused on Windows at Build, it’s a different kind of company now. We’ve increasingly seen that over the past year — and even with the debut of many Apple Watch apps recently — and we expect Build to focus on Microsoft’s cross-platform plans, too. We’ve heard rumors of a dedicated iOS and Android app built to connect these devices to Windows 10, and Microsoft has previously hinted at Cortana arriving on rival platforms. Build feels like a good time for Microsoft to explain why you might really want a Windows 10 PC, but still use an iPhone or Android handset to connect to it closely without needing to opt for a Windows phone straight away.

It’s all part of getting consumers using Microsoft’s services across every device, and we expect to hear some announcements around this core idea at Build.

raspberry pi

The future of Windows devices

Microsoft is investing heavily in Internet of Things (IoT) devices, and that will be demonstrated at Build. A free version of Windows 10 will be available for Raspberry Pi 2 devices, but we haven’t yet seen how this will look and work. If a Raspberry Pi 2 can run universal Windows Apps, then that could open up Microsoft’s platform to millions of devices in future. Microsoft promised more information on its Windows 10 IoT plans "in the coming months" back in February, so it’s definitely time to hear about the future of Windows.

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