SAN FRANCISCO — I’m here in (almost) the front row at Microsoft’s Build developer conference. The company is getting ready to kick things off with a keynote address that will likely focus heavily on Windows 8.1, the major feature update expected to debut today in public preview. The event starts at 9 a.m., and I’ll be posting updates here.
We’re still waiting for the keynote to begin, but here’s my initial post with hands-on impressions of Windows 8.1 after using it overnight.
Ballmer takes the stage, says the company has quite a bit to show today.
Ballmer says the company will have a lot of Windows, Windows Phone and Windows Azure news today.
Microsoft is going through a transformation as a company to a “rapid release” approach. “Rapid release, rapid release, rapid release,” Ballmer says.
Ballmer invites crowd to download Windows 8.1. Preview is available at http://preview.windows.com
You can also watch the live stream of the conference at http://channel9.msdn.com/
Ballmer giving an overview of Windows Phone, announces that Sprint will be rolling out new Windows Phone support.
Ballmer: For the first time today, the company will show Windows 8 running on small devices. Ballmer says attendees at Build will all get an Acer Iconia 8.1 inch Windows machine. That gets the first big cheer of the day from the crowd.
Ballmer: “This small tablet form factor is very important. I wouldn’t call them PCs … but you’ll see a proliferation of Windows small tablet devices.”
Ballmer acknowledges that touch screen devices were too hard to find when Windows 8 launched over the holiday, despite company’s focus on touch technologies in the operating system. Says the company and its partners are fixing that, rolling out new touch devices.
Ballmer makes a subtle dig at the iPad, talking about people who bring tablets to meetings and end up taking notes on pen and paper, or can’t open a document. This is part of Microsoft’s attempt to make a case for Windows 8 as a hybrid PC and tablet operating system.
Ballmer announces that Facebook will be bringing an official app to Windows 8 — that also gets cheers from the crowd — as well as Flipboard and the NFL Fantasy Football app.
Microsoft will cross 100,000 apps in the Windows Store this month.
Ballmer: Since we announced and shipped Windows 8, suffice it to say we pushed boldly in Windows … and got a lot of feedback from users of those millions of desktop applications that said, in coffee terms, why don’t you go “refine the blend here.”
What we will show you today is a refined blend of our desktop experience and our Modern experience, he says.
Ballmer confirms return of Start button and boot to desktop options, getting cheers from crowd.
Ballmer teasing ahead to some of the features of Windows 8.1, including new options for having multiple screens open simultaneously. (See the GeekWire hands-on here for more about what the company will show today.)
Windows engineering chief Julie Larson-Green takes the stage, talking about the faster pace of feature releases in Windows.
Larson-Green is running through some of the new input mechanisms for Windows 8.1, including new gesture support.
The feature Larson-Green is showing now is called Smart Search. It’s probably the most eye-catching feature of Windows 8.1, which combines a universal search box with a new presentation of search results.
For example, you can search for ‘San Francisco’ and get a well-designed search results page that’s ‘an app built on the fly’ with images, app links, weather, and other information about the city.
Larson-Green is showing the new apps view inside Windows 8.1, which is accessed by swiping up from the Start screen. You can also set this app view to be triggered when you press the Start button.
New photo editing features in Windows 8.1 include the ability to boost or reduce the color in specific sections of the photo.
Here’s one of the coolest new features of Windows 8.1: A hands-free mode that uses the camera to recognize gestures. This works via the camera, and it’s implemented in the new Food & Drink app in Windows 8.1, so you can turn pages of a recipe with messy hands, without touching the screen.
The hands-free mode is relatively coarse, not as refined or accurate as a Kinect sensor. But good for things like turning pages with a broad gesture. It worked well when I was testing it last night.
Larson-Green showing the ability to use the same background for the Start screen and the desktop, which is surprisingly nice as a feature, giving you the feeling that you’re in the same context, not switching completely to a new area of the machine. Unifies the new and old Windows.
Larson-Green showed a preview of a new alpha version of PowerPoint, a Windows RT version. The company isn’t giving many details on this new version of Office.
Windows VP Antoine Leblond now on stage to give highlights for developers at the conference, including next wave of Visual Studio developer tools.
Leblond now talking about updates to Windows Store, including the end of manual app updating and the shift to automatic app updates by default.
Quick look at the new Windows Store, which includes new merchandising options for developers, such as the ability to show users related apps that they’ve made.
Good news for users of multiple monitors on Windows 8.1: The update supports variable scaling across different monitors, from the same PC, so the apps show in the right scale for the monitor. This is a common complaint on Windows 8, because visuals often look out of scale on the second screen.
Leblond now showing built-in support for 3D printing in Windows 8.1. More details here: http://www.geekwire.com/2013/dimension-windows-microsoft-adds-3d-printing-support/
Leblond is running through some of the latest Windows 8 notebooks, gets cheers when he says this new Samsung Ativ blows away the Retina Display on the MacBook. http://www.cnet.com/laptops/samsung-ativ-book-9/4505-3121_7-35796875.html
Another giveaway: Microsoft and Intel are giving a Surface Pro to all Build attendees.
Leblond on Windows 8.1: “We’ve doubled down on fundamentals, we’ve filled gaps, we’ve addressed feedback.”
Microsoft’s Gurdeep Singh Pall is on stage now to talk about Bing integration in Windows 8.1.
Singh Pall announces availability of Bing as a platform for developers, beyond its existing web search APIs and moving into natural user interfaces and other areas.
Singh Pall is showing some of the capabilities of these new Bing APIs, including a 3D imagery control that developers can build into their apps.
The idea is to let developers tap into Bing data in their apps. For example, a travel app can let users ask about the architect of a particular landmark, and it will pull up information that answers the question.
Another example of what developers can build into their apps: Optical Character Recognition, plus the ability to translate text.
The new Bing APIS are an interesting move by Microsoft, aiming to spread the reach of Bing and also improve third-party apps for Windows 8 and Windows Phone.
Here’s the new Bing developer portal: http://www.bing.com/dev/en-us/dev-center
Ballmer back on stage. “I hope at this stage you got a sense of the diversity of what we’re doing, and the speed with which we’re trying to do it.”
Ballmer sets up one last demo: Project Spark.
This is an “open world digital canvas” that lets people create their own games and worlds. Works on Xbox One, and also controllable via Windows 8 SmartGlass app.
Ballmer is back — says Project Spark really helps define what the new world of applications look like. Rich client software taking advantage of services, with ability for hundreds of thousands of people to build and modify it.
Ballmer acknowledges that developers have other platforms they can choose, but speaks to large volume of Windows devices, and rise of new form factors.
That’s a wrap from the keynote. Thanks for tuning in, and we’ll have more coverage from Build throughout the week.