Microsoft Corporation (NASDAQ:MSFT) is on a roll these days, with new Surface tablets about to hit stores, Office apps on tablets, a quarter that beat analyst expectations for both revenue and earnings and excitement continues to build for Windows 10. Today the company kicked off Microsoft Build 2015, the developer conference The Verge calls “Microsoft’s most important event of the year.”
Microsoft Build is a developers conference, and that’s what makes it so critical to the future — Microsoft has to get developers excited. Getting them to ramp up their software for Windows 10 is obviously important, but new technology like HoloLens and cross-platform iOS and Android initiatives need developer support if they’re to succeed.
The key note was schedule for two and a half hours, but actually went for three. It included not just Windows 10 updates and developer-centric technical jargon, but also peeks at some exciting new Microsoft products.
Here’s what you need to know about Microsoft Build 2015.
Microsoft Build: All About Platforms
Three platforms were spiked out as being a focus for the company going forward:
- The intelligent cloud — Azure
- Productivity and business process
- Personal computing
The stats around Azure, Microsoft’s cloud platform, were impressive: 50 trillion objects stored in Azure, 1.4 million databases and a growth rate of 90,000 new customer subscriptions/month. Big reveals on the intelligent cloud front included a free, cross-platform Visual Studio Code editor for Windows, Apple Inc.’s (NASDAQ:AAPL) OS X and Linux. Also getting the spotlight were Azure’s machine learning and analytics capabilities.
With Office, the message was that Microsoft is moving away from the idea of Office as a series of standalone apps, toward the concept of Office as a platform. With 1.5 billion users, it’s a big platform.
It’s the idea that you can open an Excel spreadsheet in Windows 10, then open the same thing in Excel on an iPad or other device with all the data just magically appearing. Microsoft has been pushing this concept for a while now, but the platform idea is getting deeper. For example, developers can now write add-ons for Office apps, which will work in iOS, Android and online, as well as on the native Windows software.
Personal computing was all about Windows 10. It’s being pushed as a unified operating system that spans multiple classes of devices (including mobile and PCs) with a single app store for minimized developer effort and maximized revenue. Universal Windows 10 apps will run on all these devices, unlike the Apple approach that requires iOS and OS X apps to be developed separately.
Among the promises made to developers:
“Integrate Cortana into your apps, integrate Xbox Live into your apps. Add natural user interactions to your apps like pen of speech, and turn your apps into holograms.”
Microsoft pledged a goal of having 1 billion devices running Windows 10 within a two-to-three year window after release.
New ways of releasing apps to the Windows Store were demonstrated. Websites can register with the Windows Store to be opened on a PC as an app, and existing Win32 and .NET apps can be offered (they’ll run in isolation in Windows 10 for safety).
The biggest news was on the mobile front. Android developers will be able to port their apps to Windows 10 with the code remaining largely intact — Windows’ navigation services are used instead of Android’s, but that’s the only real difference. In addition, Microsoft’s Visual Studio will support re-compiling iOS apps for Windows 10. On the smartphone and tablet front, this could go a long way toward solving Windows’ app disadvantage compared to the two big mobile platforms.
Naturally, the latest features of the Windows 10 operating system were showed off, including transparency in the Start Menu, the return of Jump Lists, Windows spotlight and new Cortana capabilities.
The new Windows 10 web browser (formerly known as Spartan) finally has an official name: Microsoft Edge. Microsoft’s next-generation browser also supports extensions, like Chrome and Firefox do now — in fact, an extension written for Chrome then recompiled for Microsoft Edge was demonstrated.
Continuum was demonstrated again, this time on a smartphone showing how a Windows 10 phone can scale up to a PC — plug it into an external monitor, use a Bluetooth mouse and keyboard, and it’s basically a desktop experience.
Windows HoloLens stole the show in terms of visual displays. While the entertainment possibilities of the technology seem endless, the company showed video illustrating its use in business and brought out a professor to explain how it’s being used in medical education.
HoloLens runs universal Windows apps, so all the new Windows 10 software will run within HoloLens.
Microsoft Build: New Hardware?
Microsoft gave away a free Hewlett-Packard Company (NYSE:HPQ) Sceptre convertible laptop to attendees — dissing the MacBook Pro in the process — but that was it for hardware. A new Lumia flagship smartphone and Surface Pro 4 had been rumored, but didn’t make the cut.
Wrapping up the keynote, Nadella said his goal as the company celebrates its 40th anniversary is to move users away from needing to use Windows to wanting to use Windows. Based on the Windows 10 and HoloLens demonstrations at the Windows Build keynote, the company is definitely on the right track.
As of this writing, Brad Moon did not hold a position in any of the aforementioned securities.