Microsoft BUILD 2016 News Roundup – Universal Apps, Cortana + Ink

Microsoft kicked off their BUILD conference this morning with a keynote primarily aimed at developers, but it wasn’t all coding and nerdery. Coming this summer is the Windows 10 Anniversary Update, which will bring a bunch of cool features to Microsoft’s ecosystem. Windows Ink is a set of features that will deeply integrate pen support into a number of apps, but one of the coolest features is a digital ruler, to which you can snap objects and use to write in a given direction. The Sticky Notes app will recognize written places and times and can then set reminders, and drawing a line between two points in Maps will give you directions. Apparently, all it will take for developers to ena ble pen support in their app is 2 lines of code. So why all this stuff about pens? Microsoft claims that their “research” shows that 72% of “people” use a pen and paper for an hour a day. Let’s do our own survey – do you use a pen and paper anymore? At all? Leave a comment!

Ok, so maybe you can’t get behind the pen as a mainstream computer interface – that’s fine, because Microsoft thinks we won’t need pens, or mice and keyboards even. We’ll just talk to our PCs. The company announced big improvements to Cortana that will incorporate more natural language, as well as the “bot framework”, a set of tools to easily create bots that can integrate into apps and perform tasks for us. According to Satya Nadella, “Human language is the new UI layer.” Microsoft showed a demo of someone talking to Cortana within Skype, who, along with integrated bots, helped them plan a holiday to Dublin, book a hotel, and message a friend who lived there, all within Skype, using language as an interface. We could insert an obligatory comment about how AI could make this go horribly wrong, a là “Tay”, or we could just say, “Wow, so cool! Can’t wait to talk to robots instead of humans!”

In the real developer-ey part of the keynote, Microsoft announced the inclusion of the Bash command line from Ubuntu in Windows 10. It’s not a full instance of Linux running on top of Windows, but it’s still good news for system administrators and IT professionals. The anniversary update will also bring a “desktop app converter”, which can turn old programs into Universal Windows Apps. Lastly, Microsoft talked about Xbox One, making the announcement that all their games will now launch on Xbox One AND Windows 10, so it looks like no more Xbox exclusives. The Windows 10 anniversary update will also come to Xbox One, and with it, the ability to register the console as a “dev unit”, so you can test out any universal Windows apps on it. Cortana and background music will also be coming sometime this summer. Oh, and Microsoft is sending out the first Hololens dev kits, claiming that a bunch of big companies are working on official apps. Couldn’t be a Microsoft keynote without a Hololens demo.

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HOO! That was a lot of Microsoft news. Let’s get some other news in here, with SMALL TALK.

The Oculus Rift doesn’t come with the Lighthouse tracking stations that the Vive has, but Will Mason over at UploadVR tested the capabilities of the Rift’s single tracking camera to see if it could be used for room-scale VR, and while it’s kind of janky, it is possible! Watch the video, it’s pretty interesting.

Acer announced the Chromebook 14, which offers all-aluminum construction, a 14-inch, IPS screen, and 14 hours of battery life. I feel like they might have a thing for the number 14…

Sony is launching its 4K streaming service, called “Ultra” on April 4th. You’ll be able to buy 4K movies for 30 bucks… geez! They say they might add a cheaper rental option later. Yeah, I’d say just… get that going now.

Images showing what appear to be the cooler shrouds for Nvidia’s upcoming “GTX 1080” and 1070 have sprung up online, showing a slightly more angular design. We may see whether these were legit or not at GTC next week, when Nvidia is expected to give some news on Pascal.

And Taiwanese manufacturing company Foxconn is buying a majority stake in Sharp for 3.5 billion dollars, supposedly hoping to use the company’s display tech to compete with their rival, Samsung.