The biggest tech companies hold annual developer conferences, and Microsoft's has just kicked off.
Every year Microsoft spends a few days trying to bring developers and software engineers into its fold with a developer conference called Build. While at the conference, the company typically also announces updates for its services and platforms - whether that be Windows 10, Office 365, or the Azure cloud computing platform. Here all the major updates Microsoft announced at Build 2017.
- Microsoft unveils the Surface Laptop, a Windows 10 S device
- Microsoft will now release major Windows 10 updates twice a year
- Windows 10 S is a streamlined version of Windows for education
What is Build 2017?
Build is Microsoft's developer conference. This year's conference - Build 2017 - is from 10 May to 12 May. The show started off a little different this time around, as the company used its Day One main keynote to focus on developers. Normally, it'd be all about updates to consumer products like Windows 10 and Surface devices. But Microsoft likely got all that out of the way with its event earlier this month.
So, discussions during the Day One main keynote primarily ranged from Microsoft’s artificial intelligence efforts to talk about its growing Windows 10 user base. Thrilling stuff, right? No worries. Microsoft has also wrapped up its Day Two keynote, and this one was filled with news that’s more exciting to consumers. It revealed details about the upcoming year for Windows 10, its mixed reality efforts, and more.
Can you watch Build 2017 online?
Here's the Day One main keynote:
Here's the Day Two main keynote:
To stream videos from the entire conference, go to this Microsoft site.
Build 2017: Day One announcements
Windows 10 users
Microsoft announced that Windows 10 is now running on 500 million "monthly active devices." That metric includes not only Windows 10 installed on PCs, tablets, and phones, but also on Xbox One consoles, HoloLens, and Surface Hub devices. Remember, though: at the Build 2015, Windows boss Terry Myerson claimed Windows 10 would be installed on one billion devices within three years (so by summer 2018).
One year later, however, after Microsoft sold its Nokia subsidiary, Myerson admitted that getting to one billion Windows 10 devices would take longer. And by judging by this announcement, we're guessing it still won't meet that original 2018 deadline. Still, Windows 10 did get a boost in adoption - likely due to the year-long free upgrade offer that began with the operating system's launch in July 2015.
ZDNet noted the 500-million milestone is the first numbers-related announcement in more than seven months, and that Windows 10's growth pace has slowed significantly in the last couple years, though historical comparisons of such milestones are difficult.
Office 365 and Microsoft Graph
Speaking of usage numbers, Microsoft also announced that commercial Office 365 is running on 100 million monthly active devices, whereas as of October last year, there were 85 million commercial users, meaning 15 million have joined since. While talking about Office 365, Microsoft mentioned it is adding new functionality to Microsoft Graph, an API that gives developers access to tools and data from Office 365 services.
Microsoft Graph is the basis of many applications built on top of Office’s services. It helps those apps understand more about the data we have in our systems. Previously, Graph could only provide user and activity data, but now, developers can leverage device data as well. Microsoft has also added a series of new core capabilities into Graph, including Delta queries and custom data.
New Insights APIs are coming too. They'll be available in preview form and will allow developers to collect more data, for instance, on the most widely shared documents on OneDrive.
More Cortana devices and skills
In an effort to trump rivals, Microsoft announced it has signed partnerships with HP and Intel to bring more Cortana-powered devices to market. Microsoft explained that HP is planning to integrate Cortana into devices, while Intel will focus on reference platforms. Either way, expect Microsoft's assistant to become much more ubiquitous. Microsoft also launched a Cortana Skills Kit in public preview.
The company basically gave developers the ability to create skills - or even port existing Amazon Alexa skills - over to Microsoft's platform. This should drastically improve Cortana and make any upcoming Cortana hardware more useful. Microsoft revealed Cortana is being used across 141 million monthly active devices. While discussing Cortana, the company said it wants to bring artificial intelligence to all its products. That includes Xbox, Windows, Bing, and Office.
Microsoft has launched its Visual Studio coding platform for the Mac.
It allows developers to code apps using Microsoft's development environment on Apple's MacOS platform. They can sync across both Windows and Mac devices and build native mobile apps for iOS, macOS, Android, and the web. Microsoft said it enables MacOS and iOS developers "to use Microsoft’s development tools, since they will no longer need a Windows computer or virtual machine to do so."
There are actually three different versions of Visual Studio for Mac available at launch: Visual Studio Community, Visual Studio Professional, and Visual Studio Enterprise. All three have been designed natively for macOS, and developers can manage their code hosted by any provider, including GitHub and Visual Studio Team Services. As for programming languages, the C# and F# languages are supported.
Build 2017: Day Two announcements
Windows 10 Fall Creators Update
Microsoft already revealed it will update Windows 10 twice a year - in the spring and in the autumn - with new features and noteworthy upgrades. The last major update, which arrived in March, was the Creators Update. While at Build 2017, Microsoft confirmed the autumn update will be called the Fall Creators Update, and it includes a focus on bringing Windows experiences to iOS and Android devices.
Technically called the Windows 10 Fall Creators Update, it is an upcoming major software upgrade for existing Windows 10 users. Microsoft is detailing the update for the first time while at Build, its annual developers conference. The company has announced six key additions included in the update: Story Remix, Timeline, Pick Up Where You Left Off, Clipboard, OneDrive Files On-Demand, and Fluent Design.
Check out Pocket-lint's guide to see a breakdown of the features.
Story Remix is part of the Fall Creators Update, but it's a pretty big deal, so we'll explain it a bit in full here. It's basically a successor to, or even a replacement for, Windows Movie Maker, an app that let you create videos on a Windows XP or Windows 7 machine. It works in the cloud and lets you pull in images and video from iOS, Android, or Windows devices. So, it provides a true multi-platform experience.
You can start making a video with Story Remix on an iPhone, but if you want to finish creating it on a Windows 10 PC, you can do that too. The app also supports 3D models and lets you pin objects in scenes. It therefore combines Microsoft's Remix 3D and Paint 3D technologies and borrows from Snapchat's AR effects. It also lets you add soundtracks, including ones from Microsoft's Groove music service.
VR headsets and motion controllers
After rebranding its augmented reality system to Windows 10 Mixed Reality, Microsoft is expanding the ecosystem with motion controllers to interact with experiences. Different manufacturers, including Acer and HP, are making their own Mixed Reality headsets that run Microsoft's software. But to standardise input there will be a unifying control system that will work with both.
The Windows Mixed Reality Motion Controllers are similar to devices available for other VR headsets. That includes the Daydream controller from Google and Oculus controller for the Samsung Gear VR and Oculus Rift. Microsoft's new controllers do not require any additional hardware. The headset itself does the tracking, and sensors built into that device will tell the controllers where they are in the virtual space.
Microsoft also revealed that its Mixed Reality system does not require room configuration - it should work install-free. And finally, Microsoft is opening preorders for the first Windows Mixed Reality development kits from HP and Acer. They will ship this summer and can purchased from the Microsoft Store. Acer’s will cost $299, while HP’s version is $329. Keep in mind these products are basically like VR headsets.
iTunes in the Windows Store
Apple is releasing a version of iTunes in Microsoft’s digital store by the end of 2017, so it might not be there in time for next month’s launch of the Surface Laptop. Remember, Microsoft’s new Windows 10 S operating system can only run apps available in the store.
Microsoft made a watch that helps people with Parkinson’s disease write more legibly. Called the Emma Watch, it sends vibrations to the brain and and can control hand tremors. Symptom of Parkinson's are shaking and loss of motor control. The disease is incurable and affects more than 10 million people. Microsoft's watch is a prototype, but it demonstrates how wearables could aid people with different conditions.
The watch was actually named after Emma Lawton, a graphic designer with Parkinson’s. She's a friend of Microsoft Research innovation director Haiyan Zhang, who created the watch just for her. He loaded it with tiny motors that rhythmically vibrate to distract Lawton’s brain and calm her muscle movements. This makes it easier for to write, a necessary thing for a graphic designer.