Microsoft returned to San Francisco for its annual Build conference. This year, Microsoft unveiled its plans for the future of bot conversations, and revealed a Bot Framework to help everyone build their own chatbot. We also got word on new Windows 10 universal apps, plus details on HoloLens and Xbox One.
There was a fish in the bathtub. That was one of the first things we saw in the hotel room after we put on Microsoft’s developer-ready version of HoloLens, the augmented reality headset it believes will transform the way we learn, work, and play.Read Article >
We had the chance to use HoloLens for a couple of hours earlier this week in San Francisco, where Microsoft was hosting its annual developers conference. The $3,000 headset just started shipping to Microsoft developers and commercial customers, though it’s not yet widely available to consumers. For now, Microsoft still sees this primarily as a device for business or educational use, with some gaming thrown in for good measure.
The one giant of the American tech industry that's transforming faster and more violently than all the others is Microsoft. Today's Build 2016 event was a marathon two-hour affair, but it was almost completely devoid of incremental or iterative improvements. Dead-end projects like Windows Phone didn't even get a mention. Everything Microsoft showed was about addressing the next big change in how we interact with technology, whether that comes in the form of virtual and augmented reality, the development of more natural inputs like handwriting and conversation, or the eyebrow-raising concept of AI bots talking to other AI bots. It was an event filled with uncynical enthusiasm for the potential that lay beyond the immediate horizon.Read Article >
Microsoft very deliberately gave equal stage time during its Build keynote demonstrations to Android, the iPhone, and its own Windows 10 for mobile. Each device was just the background on which Microsoft's innovations were being staged, whether they were machine-learning APIs for helping the blind get around or a smarter and more capable Cortana. It was a signal from the Redmond giant that its core service proposition is going to be ubiquitous and unaffected by the underlying operating system. Having failed to be the cardinal mobile platform, Microsoft is erecting cloud-based service platforms that inject themselves between the user and the device.
Every year, Microsoft holds a developer event called "Build." And recently, those events have gone from snoozers to exciting showcases. Microsoft has a winner with Windows 10 (as long as you ignore the phones), a robust personal assistant in Cortana (that works just fine on a laptop), and a wild holographic future to plan with HoloLens. It's a lot to take in, and at this year's Build Microsoft we got updates on all of it. And a few surprises.Read Article >
Going in, we weren’t totally sure what would be coming next for Windows 10, but it turns out there’s a lot that Microsoft has planned. It’s not just that there are new apps, there are also new bots, which will help people handle all sorts of small tasks. In fact, those bots and Microsoft’s vision of how they should work stole the entire show. Windows, Xbox: you’re cool, but the future is bots.
The future is going to be full of people talking to chatbots, says Microsoft, and it wants to help you build one. Today at the Build developer conference, the company unveiled what it calls the Microsoft Bot Framework — a set of tools that will let anyone create a bot that they (and their customers) can chat to, in the hope that these programs might replace web and app interfaces.Read Article >
To demonstrate this system, Microsoft assembled a chatbot on stage for Domino's, showing how a conversational interface could replace the standard online ordering forms (e.g. selecting from a drop down menu to choose your pizza toppings). This is vision of chatbots we've heard before, but Microsoft wants to give the tools to build these bots to everyone.
Mar 30, 2016
Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella, a respected leader of one of the world's largest and most important technology companies, speaks as if humanity lives on the cusp of science-fiction. At today's Microsoft Build press conference, Nadella said of the not-so-distant-future, "It’s not going to be about man versus machine, it’s going to be about man with machines." The line addresses a sincere concern held by esteemed scientists like Stephen Hawking that artificial intelligence could one day eliminate human life.Read Article >
Nadella points to Microsoft's own artificially intelligent assistant Cortana as a positive example of our early coexistence with AI. The tool follows its users across Microsoft platforms, solving problems over the course of a day. It can find the name of a store you once shopped at, name the director of a classic movie, or tell a joke.
You'll soon be able to use Skype to books trips, shop, and plan your schedule, just by chatting with Cortana. During its Build conference, Microsoft demoed how Skype users will soon be able to start a chat with Cortana and get things done just by having a conversation.Read Article >
"Cortana is brokering the conversation with a third-party bot," says Lilian Rincon, Skype's program manager. Essentially, Skype will know which company or service you want to talk to, bring a new bot into your chat to help out, and then get rid of the bot when you're done.
Microsoft today announced a number of new features for its virtual personal assistant Cortana. The company is extending Cortana's abilities with greater integration into the Outlook email and calendar apps, as well as smarter recognition of specific time and activity requests. Other new features include the ability to reply to text messages from an Android phone on a Windows PC and smart tasks, such as automatically submitting expenses based on incoming email.Read Article >
Developers will be able to integrate Cortana into their apps, so you can perform actions with voice commands and other automated functions. Cortana is also getting integrated into Skype, providing assistance via a chat interface and interacting with third-party bots from other services. Microsoft is positioning Cortana as the center of a bot-filled universe, where machines assist us with everyday mundane tasks much more than they do now.
Microsoft's AI chatbot Tay may have grabbed headlines last week when it went rogue on Twitter, but Microsoft has far bigger plans for its bots. At the Build developer conference, CEO Satya Nadella unveiled the company's grand vision of "conversation as a platform" — making bots that understand natural language the next big way to use computers.Read Article >
"[It's] a simple concept that's very powerful in its impact," said Nadella, adding, "We think this can have as profound an impact as the previous platform shifts have had." By this, he means that conversations could follow the graphical user interface, the mouse, and touch screens, as the next big way to interact with computers. Microsoft is not thinking small here.
Mar 30, 2016
Microsoft has officially announced that its HoloLens development kits are shipping today, and a new example project will be available for buyers. Microsoft opened preorders for the $3,000 kits last month to qualified developers in the US and Canada, who will be able to develop and deploy extremely realistic holograms on the self-contained platform. They'll also be able to play with the Galaxy Explorer Project, which visualizes planets and shows off the HoloLens' features.Read Article >
Microsoft first announced HoloLens in January of 2015 and offered hands-on demos of the headset at that year's Build, and it's been opening up the headset to more and more people since then, sending a unit into space and showing off new augmented reality applications like a Star Wars-esque holographic communicator. We don't know when a consumer version might be available, but getting developers on board is the first step toward making it a real platform — and Microsoft is already listing quite a few, from companies to universities to government agencies like NASA.
Microsoft is bringing together its Windows and Xbox app stores. This summer, with the release of Windows 10's Anniversary update, the two stores will be combined into one, creating "a single unified store across devices," says Xbox lead Phil Spencer.Read Article >
It's a natural next step for Windows 10. Microsoft has been planning all along to have apps that run across everything from the desktop to the phone to the Xbox — if that's going to be the case, there's no reason it should separate Xbox apps out into their own store.
Microsoft is finally ready to deliver on the promise of Windows apps running on the company's Xbox One gaming console. Today at its Build 2016 keynote, it was announced that universal apps will arrive on Xbox with this summer's Anniversary Update. Cortana, Microsoft's personal assistant, will be coming then, too — and other oft-requested features like background music playback.Read Article >
"Windows is the best platform for the vast community of game developers," said Xbox boss Phil Spencer. "Windows is and will continue to be an open development ecosystem where anyone can build, deploy, and service their games and applications." And those games will run on the whole ecosystem of Windows devices, from smartphones to desktop PCs and the Xbox console.
Microsoft is reaching out to Linux developers in a way that the company never has before. "The Bash shell is coming to Windows. Yes, the real Bash is coming to Windows," said Microsoft's Kevin Gallo on stage at today's Build 2016 keynote. The announcement received an uproarious applause from the crowd. The new functionality will be enabled as part of this summer's Anniversary Update to Windows 10.Read Article >
"This is not a VM. This is not cross-compiled tools. This is native," he said. "We've partnered with Canonical to offer this great experience, which you'll be able to download right from the Windows Store." Third-party tools have enabled this sort of thing for years, but a direct partnership between Microsoft and Canonical should offer even more flexibility and convenience for developers who prefer using these binaries and tools.
Microsoft is trying to put styluses "front and center" with its next update to Windows 10. To do that, it's introducing something called the Ink Workspace, which appears to be a hub within Windows for launching apps meant for writing and sketching. To help people fill that section out, Microsoft is also highlighting pen-enabled apps in the Windows Store.Read Article >
Though stylus use is usually associated with graphic artists and design professionals, Microsoft thinks it can appeal to people who still use pen and paper. Its research showed that 72 percent of people still use pen and paper for at least one hour a day, which theoretically means there's a large base of people it can try to win over.
Microsoft's Redstone update for Windows 10 is being detailed today at the company's Build conference, with Windows chief Terry Myerson announcing it will be coming this summer, for free to all Windows 10 users. Myerson also took a friendly jab at Apple, saying Microsoft welcomes everyone to Windows 10, "whether they have a new PC, a 5-year-old PC, or a brand new Mac." Dubbed the Windows Anniversary Update, it is coming to Xbox One too, turning any retail Xbox One into a dev unit and bringing Windows 10 apps and Cortana to Xbox One.Read Article >
Windows Ink is going to be "front and center" in the newly updated version of Windows. It's intended to help people "ideate and collaborate better," according to Microsoft's demo maestro Bryan Roper. There's a new Ink workspace, including your most-used Ink apps along with tips, tricks, and suggested other apps. Cortana and Bing are integrated with Microsoft's handwriting recognition, so that when you write a note for "tomorrow," Cortana will identify the date on your calendar, and Bing is also able to look up locations to help automate everything. The Ink workspace also includes extra tools, such as a digital ruler you can rotate and resize, plus the ability to work above the lock screen — so that you can sketch and take notes without needing to unlock your Windows device.
During its keynote address at the Build 2016 conference today, Microsoft announced that there are now 270 million computers running Windows 10. The latest version of Windows was released publicly last summer, after a prolonged public test period. Since launch, Microsoft has regularly issued updates to the operating system, giving the impression that Windows 10 is still very much a work in progress.Read Article >
There are, of course, many millions more PCs out there without Windows 10, so Microsoft still has work cut out for it. But given the relatively short time since the new platform's release, this pace of adoption is pretty good and better than it was for Windows 8. In fact, Microsoft says it's the fastest adoption pace of any version of Windows ever.