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Windows 10 devs get an amazing array of new tools

Woody Leonhard | March 30, 2016
From Windows Ink to Cortana to HoloLens, the Microsoft Build conference unveiled a ton of stuff for developers, but time frames remain fuzzy

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.


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