Microsoft’s largest annual developer conference, Build 2019, was kicked off today with a keynote from CEO Satya Nadella.
Microsoft, currently one of the world’s most valuable company, has a finger in every computing pie around, and at the heart of it all is, surprisingly, not Windows but Azure, Microsoft’s cloud computing platform.
Here’s everything that Microsoft announced at Build 2019:
Edge Chromium browser
Among the more interesting updates at Build 2019 was announced for Edge Chromium, Microsoft’s update to its Edge web browser that comes installed by default in Windows 10 PCs. The ‘Chromium’ in the name refers to Microsoft’s shift to Google’s open-source Chromium rendering edge, a version of which already powers the ubiquitous Chrome browser.
Collections: This brand new feature in Edge has us most excited. It’s something like a super-charged note-taking app built into Edge. You can drag and drop images, text, links and more into ‘Collections’. What makes it interesting is that images and text you copy will link back to the original website, leaving you with a well-organised set of references. Collections can be shared with anyone or even exported to Word, making for easy-to-generate plagiarism of sorts. The fun doesn’t stop there, you can even make a list and say, export it to excel. Perfect for those endless shopping lists.
IE Mode: The aged Internet Explorer is still around on Windows today, but that might soon change. Edge will now have an ‘IE Mode’ which will allow companies and developers to emulate Internet Explorer functions for whatever obsolete application or service they’re working on.
Oh, and Edge is coming to macOS.
Edge privacy: Taking a page from Apple’s book, Microsoft Edge will provide improved privacy features including limiting the ability of sites like Facebook to track your movements. This control will be provided as three modes: unrestricted, balanced, and restricted. Unrestricted will give you the default browsing experience, balanced will restrict the tracking abilities of sites you haven’t visited and restricted is the most secure option.
To be clear, ads won’t be blocked, but they won’t be able to track you.
Microsoft is yet to confirm a release date for these features.
ElectionGuard SDK for ensuring secure, auditable elections
The sanctity of the election process is essential to any democracy, but as we’ve seen several times in the past, this process can be manipulated with surprising ease.
Microsoft’s ElectionGuard SDK hopes to make this process a bit more secure, reliable and auditable. The open-source SDK will allow voters to, for example, track their votes and check if they’ve been registered and counted correctly. The tool will even allow news media and other third-party services to build their own election tracking tools to track votes. All of the data will be securely encrypted and even counting will happen with encrypted data. Election officials will also be able to randomly audit votes by comparing data with a paper record, for example.
If implemented, the system will even allow voters to research candidates and make their selection at home. The vote can be handed over to an election official in the form of a QR code.
Microsoft is already working with election system vendors to implement the SDK.
A friendlier, more open Cortana
If you thought Google’s Call Screen feature was cool, you need to see (or hear) the new Cortana.
Cortana, the default voice assistant on Windows, is apparently going to get a lot better at holding a casual conversation and deciphering instructions. Microsoft also intends to kill wake words, in other words, Cortana’s always listening, but it will respond contextually. In the demo shown off on stage, Cortana sounded a lot like a real human assistant, which is saying something.
While Cortana is already quite capable of performing basic tasks, Cortana will track everything you’re doing and saying and will pro-actively send you notifications. If you respond to a mail that you’ll follow up at a certain time, for example, Cortana will remind you to do so.
A Fluid web
Microsoft announced a brand-new web platform that will let developers create more interactive apps and experiences. Called Fluid Framework, this new platform will bring the “next generation of real-time colab to the cloud”, says CEO Satya Nadella.
Cortana will play a role here as well with suggested edits, translations and more. Integration with apps like Word and Outlook are also included.
Tables and lists, for example, can be shared via email or Teams and can be edited in real-time in that very same email or chat message. There will be no need for opening up Excel or Word to make edits.
A new command line app for Windows called Windows Terminal was announced. Think of it as a more powerful version of the good old command prompt or PowerShell. New features in Windows Terminal include tabs, emoji (!), theming options, and GPU-based text rendering and more. The app will be available in June.
People-centric experiences on Microsoft 365
Microsoft also announced a bunch of tools to help developers build better, ‘people-centric experiences’ across Microsoft 365. Microsoft 365 includes Word, Excel, OneDrive and more.
Some of the tools include an ‘Ink Recognizer Cognitive Service’ that works across mobile (Android, iOS) and desktop (Windows, macOS) platforms to recognise and respond to pen/stylus input. Features like XAML Islands will allow developers access to a “rich” new UI. Cross-platform code will also run better now.
Gaming: Xbox anywhere
Nadella announced on stage at Build 2019 that putting the gamer at the centre of is very important for Microsoft. All their innovation and tech is geared towards this goal. With that in mind, Nadella discussed two features that are core to gaming with Microsoft.
The first is Xbox Live. With 63 million users and counting, Xbox Live is one of the largest gaming communities around. Nadella mentioned that the service is already going cross platform and that developers can integrate Xbox Live features into their Android and iOS games.
The second thing is analytics, said Nadella. For game developers, this means subscribing to Azure PlayFab, which gives them insight into how their games are being played. “You want to learn through analytics and change gameplay,” says Nadella.
Bonus: Minecraft AR is coming on 17 May!