The company’s annual developers show is a forum where those who build software on Microsoft’s platforms learn about the company’s plans and key details of its products. Follow our coverage live.
What you need to know:
- Microsoft to spotlight Windows 10, Azure cloud-computing platform, Office and HoloLens
- Expect updates from top execs and lead engineers during the three-day conference
Artificial intelligence, futuristic robots aside, is something of an abstraction.
Microsoft closed its Day One keynote speeches with an inspirational demonstration of what that kind of technology could mean to people’s lives.
A video showed Saqib Shaikh, a blind Microsoft engineer who built a tool to help him identify his environment.
Tapping on glasses equipped with voice and image recognition skills, a software program told him aloud the noise ahead was a skateboarder. It also read a lunch menu and identified the emotion of people across a meeting room table.
The video, and Shaikh’s appearance onstage, drew the loudest applause of the day from the audience of thousands of developers.
Update, 10:40 a.m.
The next user interface, Microsoft says, is your voice.
Satya Nadella came back to the stage to share a story told to him by Qi Lu, who leads Microsoft’s Applications and Services Engineering group.
Lu’s mother, an octogenarian living in China, was befuddled by the Web and modern computers. But she found chatbots and text messaging accessible, because they used her natural communication skills.
“Human language is the new (user interface),” Nadella said, touting intelligent assistants activated by voice as an advance as revolutionary as graphical user interfaces were in the 1980s or Web browsers in the 1990s.
This vision, for now, is more aspirational than reality, though Microsoft introduced some steps on the road to get there.
Microsoft’s Cortana, the voice-activated digital assistant introduced two years ago, is getting new capabilities and integrations to applications.
In one demonstration, Cortana found a business expense receipt in a user’s email and suggested putting it into an expense reporting program. In another, within the Skype chat service, Cortana engaged with a hotel booking service on a user’s behalf to book a room.
Nadella also introduced a set of tools for developers to build Cortana’s capabilities — speech understanding and machine learning, for example — into their applications, and design intelligent chat bots.
And in an effort to head off concerns about runaway artificial intelligence and privacy, Nadella outlined a set of principles for intelligent computing. The software should augment human abilities, be trustworthy, and be inclusive and respectful.
Intelligent language should be designed “so that it gets the best out of humanity, not the worst.”
Addressing the flap around Tay, Microsoft’s chatbot that was shut down last week after racist statements, Nadella said the bot “was not up to this mark. And so we’re back to the drawing board.”
Update, 9:52 a.m.
Microsoft HoloLens creators Alex Kipman and Kudo Tsunoda came on stage with a black and green, shiny box containing one of the headsets tailored for developers
“I have waited for this moment for a very long time,” Kipman said.
The augmented reality headset, developed in secret and introduced at an event in January 2015, will make its way to developers starting on Wednesday, they said. Development editions cost about $3,000, and their release is a key milestone on the road to boosting commercial interest in new hardware.
Microsoft tried to tout progress on that front, showing a slide of partner companies, governmental and educational institutions interested in pilots with HoloLens, including Volkswagen, Airbus and NASA
Update, 9:29 a.m.
Microsoft spent some time touting arguably its most important developer initiative — the Universal Windows Platform, Microsoft’s new application framework for Windows 10.
The pitch is that UWP lets developers write an application once and, with relative ease, repurpose the code for desktop, tablet, and mobile-optimized variants of Windows.
The question for developers, though, is why build a new app instead of trying to reach users through a Web browser or traditional Windows desktop app? Microsoft’s tiny sliver of the smartphone market doesn’t make the ease of reaching that audience quickly a compelling hook, analysts say.
So far, “Microsoft has made it as easy as possible,” said Al Hilwa, an analyst with researcher IDC. “But not easy enough” to justify the expense in many cases.
Windows and Devices chief Terry Myerson said the 270 million Windows 10 users had visited the Windows Store -– the home for UWP apps -– more than 5 billion times, or about 18 visits per user. The number of developers targeting the platform “is growing,” Myerson said.
He also defended the openness of UWP, likely a response to the worries among some in the technology industry that the Windows Store was an effort by Microsoft to control what has been an open world of software on Windows.
Kevin Gallo, who heads Microsoft’s Windows developer program, introduced a tool designed to get developers to sign onto WUP. The software converts existing desktop app code to modern, Windows Store-ready apps.
Update, 8:59 a.m.
About 270 million devices are running Windows 10, Terry Myerson, the Microsoft executive overseeing the Windows and Devices group, said.
That’s up from 200 million as of the company’s last update, in January.
Myerson also announced a coming anniversary update to the operating system, which was first released in late July. Features coming in the update include support for biometric logins to applications and enhanced support for stylus input.
The anniversary update will also go out to Xbox video game console and the in-development HoloLens augmented reality headset.
Update, 8:55 a.m.
Chief Executive Satya Nadella kicked off Build with a joke about marking his life with Microsoft events -– dropping in a crack about what technology the company was pushing when each of his children were born.
He quickly got more serious, waxing philosophical about the growing role of technology in people’s daily lives and the debate about whether it is fundamentally a good or bad thing. “It’s embedded in our daily lives, and economies, and countries much more so than ever before,” Nadella said.
Unsurprisingly, Nadella said he’s an optimist about the role of technology.
Update, 7 a.m.
Microsoft Build, the annual developer show where the company lays out its technology plans for the year ahead, kicks off Wednesday morning in San Francisco.
We’ll be updating this post with news from the show, set to start at 8:30 a.m.
Chief Executive Satya Nadella and the leaders of Microsoft’s engineering teams are expected to outline the company’s plans for Windows 10, the Azure cloud-computing platform, Office and HoloLens, the augmented reality headset making its way to some developers this week.
Analysts expect to hear about new features coming to Windows 10, and perhaps a tally of how many people are using the new operating system. (The latest figures, which Microsoft released in January, had 200 million devices running Windows 10).
Also expect updates on the company’s plans to stay relevant to developers flocking to smartphone platforms owned by Google and Apple, as well as Web-native cloud-computing software makers. Microsoft, with its acquisition of smartphone app development tool maker Xamarin and a program to put some of its software on Linux and into the open-source community, has promoted itself as a ready partner on platforms it doesn’t own.
But as shown by our story on some sharp elbows Microsoft has wielded recently, the company sees the success of its own platforms — Windows and its cloud computing footprint — as critical to its future.
Build is one of Microsoft’s highest-profile opportunities to make that case.