This morning, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella, Windows honcho Terry Myerson, and an array of supporting personnel delivered an impressive series of product demos and rollouts that left observers -- even jaded ones, present company included -- amazed at what awaits the Windows milieu.
As always, it’s important to filter out the promises from the reality. Here’s a brief overview of what’s actually available today and what we expect to arrive in the Windows 10 Anniversary Update -- better known as Redstone 1, possibly numbered build 1607, likely scheduled for release in July.
Surprisingly, several of the new features we’ve been anticipating -- extensions for Microsoft Edge, Live Tiles, Notification/Action Center improvements, OneDrive fixes, Skype changes being the primary examples -- weren’t discussed in the keynote. Windows phone was seen in only one demo and mentioned not at all. But many other announcements were seemingly on target for release with Redstone 1 -- er, “Windows 10 Anniversary Update.” The official word is in Myerson’s new blog post.
Windows Hello, the face-recognition and fingerprint-recognition technology, will become available to Windows apps and to Microsoft Edge -- thus, apparently, to Edge extensions. The exact mechanism of the interaction isn’t yet described, but presumably it’ll work much like fingerprint recognition in Android and iOS apps. (LastPass has had fingerprint recognition in Android for many months.)
Windows Ink stylus support gets integration into Maps -- draw a line between two locations and Maps will bring up directions. The demo showed an Ink Workspace page that simplifies navigation with the pen and makes it easier to buy ink-friendly Windows Store apps. Interaction with a pen is simplified, with a “click” bringing up the previous Workspace page. Even Cortana gets into the act, interpreting what’s been scribbled on StickyNotes. An on-screen ruler makes inking much more precise.
Cortana has taken on new prominence, with a landmark 1,000 apps now hooked into speech recognition. “She” will appear on the Win10 lock screen, apparently enabling voice logon (and, pundits will note, listening to everything happening in the room whether Windows is logged on or not). Cortana integration with your email, Skype, your Photos collection, calendar, locations tracking, and more are expanding greatly -- though the demo of Cortana working with a calendar used a program I’ve never seen before.
Cortana is at the forefront of the drive to “conversations as a platform” -- a buzzwordy recognition that voice is well on its way to becoming the next input and output medium, in a world of "OK Google" and "Siri" and "Alexa." It isn’t clear how much CaaP we can expect in the Windows 10 Anniversary Update.
Xbox One, now a Windows 10 device, takes on new prominence as both the recipient of Windows Store apps and a new home for Cortana. In theory, every app that you run on a Windows 10 PC will also run on the Xbox and vice-versa. You can even transform your Xbox One into a development machine.
HoloLens shipped to developers. There’s still a lot of hope for the future of HoloLens -- even some functioning source code you can download on GitHub -- but commercial reality is still down the road.
Xamarin is already out, integrated into Visual Studio 2015 Update 2. Xamarin makes it easy to share code among Windows, iOS, and Android apps, while still letting developers customize for each platform.
Finally, I was most impressed with the demo of Bash -- the Ubuntu Linux shell/command processor -- running in native mode under Windows 10. It's not a VM, not wrapped around an emulator, but native, running in the Windows Subsystem for Linux. Hey, it only took Microsoft 25 years to get with the system. Scott Hanselman has the technical details on his blog. My colleague Serdar Yegulalp explores why this is so freakin’ amazing in a Tech Watch post.
That’s what we know -- or at least expect -- will happen in the Windows 10 Anniversary Update. For developers, it’s a considerable accomplishment. As Myerson puts it:
The Universal Windows Platform… brings together the openness that is part of Windows’ history, as well as everything that you expect from a modern application platform -- like robust install, uninstall, and seamless updates. Our goal is for Windows to be the best platform for all developers -- making Windows their home and getting the best return on their investment in their code.
That’s only the part we expect in July or so.
Microsoft announced the Cortana Intelligence Suite shortly after the keynote ended. The new smarts in Cortana can tap into data that Microsoft has accumulated and massaged. The Intelligence Suite is “powered by cutting-edge research into big data, machine learning, perception, analytics, and intelligent bots. Built on Microsoft Azure, these capabilities can be used by developers and businesses to create intelligent end-to-end solutions, including new apps that learn about our world and bots and agents that interact with people in personalized, intelligent ways.”
Both during and after the keynote, we saw amazing demonstrations of how this newly evolved Cortana can intelligently parse speech and analyze real-time photographs to aid the visually impaired. There are two powerful parts of the Intelligence Suite:
- Microsoft Cognitive Services is a collection of intelligence APIs that allows systems to see, hear, speak, understand and interpret our needs using natural methods of communication.
- Microsoft Bot Framework can be used by developers -- programming in any language -- to build intelligent bots that enable customers to chat using natural language on a variety of platforms, including text/SMS, Office 365, Skype, Slack, the Web, and more.
Both the Cognitive Service and the Bot Framework are “in preview.” Whether they’ll appear in 2017 or later is anybody’s guess. Preliminary versions of the Skype Bot API and Skype Bot SDK are available. The previews only work with messaging for now, but expect voice and video in the future.
Microsoft claims 270 million “active users” of Windows 10 so far, likely a count of the number of monthly active users, spread across a wide variety of platforms, including (presumably) Xbox, phones, and IoT devices. That’s up about 25 million a month from the last Microsoft-provided data point of 200 million from December. Windows 7 added about 20 to 25 million users a month for most of its lifetime, although the numbers now are calculated differently (Win7 shipped copies versus Win10 monthly actives).
The latest Windows 10 beta test version, build 14295, has been released to the Windows Insider Slow ring. Frequently, release to the Slow ring is accompanied by release of full ISO images of the build -- useful for those creating virtual machines and helpful for those who want to perform a clean install. At this point I don’t see the files available for download, but Windows spokesperson Gabe Aul points to the Windows Insider signup page. Bootlegs of 14295 have been available for several days.