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Microsoft Confirms Summer Release for Windows 10 'Redstone'

The first of two major Windows 10 updates, code-named "Redstone," will become generally available this summer, Microsoft announced Wednesday at its Build conference in San Francisco.

Redstone 1, which Microsoft referred to at Build as the "Windows 10 Anniversary Update," will be free to all Windows 10 users. The update promises to improve Windows 10's existing capabilities, as well as advance Microsoft's vision for developers hooking into Windows 10. While the update is arriving sometime this summer, developers that are part of the Windows Insider testing program can get the bits starting Wednesday, and they can also access its software developer kit, per Microsoft's announcement.

The summer release window isn't exactly a surprise; Windows 10's first pair of major updates ("Threshold 1" and "Threshold 2") followed a summer/fall cycle when they were released last year. However, Redstone 2, which would have been the fall counterpart of this summer's Redstone 1, has been delayed to the spring of 2017, according to reports earlier this month. Microsoft officials did not share any details about Redstone 2 in Wednesday's Build keynote.

Terry Myerson, executive vice president for Microsoft's Windows and Devices Group, said during the keynote that the Windows 10 anniversary update release will bring more personal computing to life. One of the benefits will be the ability to have "secure and easy" biometric access to applications. The Microsoft Edge browser will be the only browser to support secure and easy biometrics for all major Web sites, Myerson claimed. He was referring to Windows Hello, which uses things like fingerprints or facial recognition to grant system access.

Windows Hello is already available on Windows 10 systems, although it has some hardware dependencies. What's apparently new this time around with the Windows 10 anniversary update is its tie-in with the Edge browser. That detail didn't get much explanation during the Build keynote, though.

Microsoft also is planning to bring the Windows 10 anniversary update to its Xbox One gaming platform, as well as its HoloLens augmented-reality headset. Cortana, Microsoft's personal digital assistant in Windows 10, will get improvements with the anniversary update as well, Myerson promised. Much of the Build keynote was all about how developers could hook their apps or bots into Cortana to make them more "sticky" with personalized experiences.

Conversations as a Platform
For the developer crowd, Myerson briefly alluded to a new emerging platform called "conversations as a platform." He described it as taking the power of human language and applying it more pervasively to all computing devices via graphical user interfaces, Web interfaces and touch on mobile devices. Satya Nadella, Microsoft's CEO, later expounded on the conversations as a platform theme. He said that it was about infusing intelligence into everything.

The Build talk had a strong focus on how developers could teach their bots to better understand human conversations, which appears to be what the conversations as a platform concept is all about. Nadella offered a more generalized view, though, saying that conversations as a platform can be conceptualized as a platform where human language is the new user interface. The whole concept was centered on Cortana, which serves as an enabling app for other apps. In addition, Microsoft's Skype unified communications solution will be able to converse with bots. Nadella, in describing this sort of integration, said that Microsoft wants all conversational tools to become rich canvases for computation.

For more on this, see "Microsoft Doubles Down on AI."

Inking Improvements
The Build keynote also touted digital pen improvements with the Windows 10 anniversary update. Microsoft has integrated Windows Ink into Office, Edge and Maps.

Bryan Roper, a product manager on the Windows team, demonstrated how using a digital pen with a Sticky Notes app integrates with Cortana to schedule an event on one's personal calendar. In addition, he demonstrated Sketch Pad improvements, such as a pop-up ruler that lets users draw straight lines.

On a map application, drawing lines with the digital pen will map destination points and will show the mileage between them -- a sort of maps app integration with Window Ink. In addition, Windows Ink can be used to edit text. Crossing out passages with the digital pen will delete the text.

The notes application can be set to float above the Windows 10 lock screen for easier access. Cortana also can be set to float above the lock screen, if wanted, with the new Windows 10 anniversary update.

Kevin Gallo, a corporate vice president of the Windows and Devices Group, said that Windows Ink makes the pen come alive. Developers only need to write two lines of XAML code to add rich inking to their apps. More than 1,000 new APIs and features will be coming, he promised.

Other Announcements
Microsoft is bringing Cortana to Xbox One, where it'll serve as a "personal gaming assistant."

Microsoft is beginning to ship HoloLens, starting Wednesday. Shipments are commencing for Windows developers and partners, it was announced, so it doesn't appear that HoloLens is publicly available yet.

There will be a Visual Studio 2015 Update 2, plus a preview of the SDK.

Microsoft has created a brand-new platform, the Microsoft Bot Framework. It will work with Office 356, Skype, Slack, SMS and more. Microsoft will set up a bot directory soon and will have sample bots available for coders. It's easy to write code for the framework, contended Dan Driscoll, a senior software development engineer at Microsoft. Bots can be taught to recognize photos and language. Microsoft is bringing its machine learning understandings to the fingertips of developers with 22 APIs for cognitive services to get started with today, said Cornelia Carapcea, a Microsoft senior program manager. Microsoft developer Saqib Shaikh, who is blind, has built an application that uses special glasses to describe objects to the wearer, including the emotions of people around him. It will even read restaurant menus to him.

Microsoft announced it will be bringing the Linux Bash shell to Windows. Gallo described it as native binaries running on Windows. Microsoft is addressing the tools that developers want to use with hosted Web apps submitted to the Windows Store, he explained, saying that they are used to using open source tools. Gallo demonstrated the use of Bash to add camera capabilities to an app.

Microsoft also announced it's adding a desktop app converter, which will convert an existing app to a "modern app." The code continues to run with minimal changes, Gallo claimed. He showed the use of the desktop app converter to change a Sage 200 app (Win32) into a modern desktop app. The conversion gives the app access to the Live Tiles feature and Windows 10's toast notification feature.

Phil Spencer, a corporate vice president for Windows and Devices, Xbox Division, said during the keynote that the desktop app converter had been used to convert "The Witcher 2" game into a modern desktop app. There is a new "dev mode" for Xbox One, so it serves as a development platform. It's possible for developers to write captions for games by speaking the captions. That feature was described during the keynote talk by Ashlie Speicher, a Microsoft partner software manager. She said the new Windows 10 anniversary updates for Xbox One would be announced at E3 in June, which gives us a clue as to when this summer update will arrive.

Microsoft announced some statistics, too. The Windows Store has received over 5 billion visits. People have spent over 75 billion hours using Windows 10 and it's installed on "over 270 million active devices."

Myerson said in Microsoft's announcement that "We are on track to reach our ambitious goal of one billion Windows 10 devices in the next few years." However, that statement appears to suggest that Microsoft has abandoned its earlier stated goal of having Windows 10 on 1 billion devices by its fiscal-year 2018, which happens around October 2017.

About the Author

Kurt Mackie is senior news producer for the 1105 Enterprise Computing Group.