On Day One of its Build 2016 developer conference, Microsoft introduced a slew of new features, services and technologies including new innovations for Windows 10, new cognitive technology and new capabilities to help developers create smarter, more realistic games, among other things.
Both Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella and Terry Myerson, executive vice president of Windows and Devices Group, spoke about what Microsoft called a new era of conversational intelligence Microsoft is attempting to facilitate to enable developers to create more personal computing for every customer, business and industry.
Nadella said Conversations as a Platform is a new emerging platform that is at the intersection of all of Microsoft’s major ambitions, including cloud, Office Windows.
“It’s a simple concept, yet it’s very powerful in its impact,” he said in his keynote. “It is about taking the power of human language and applying it more pervasively to all of our computing—and to infuse into our computing and our computers, intelligence about us and our context. By doing so, we think this can have as profound an impact as the previous platform shifts have had—whether it be GUI, whether it be the Web or touch or mobile.”
However, perhaps the most applauded Microsoft announcement, at least early in the two-hour-long keynote, was the company’s news that it was bringing the Bash Unix shell and command language to Windows 10. Windows 10 has support for native Bash with access to the Windows file system and the universe of open source command line tools.
“Bash was the thing with the most response from crowd till the end when they had the video and appearance with the vision-impaired developer,” said Thomas Murphy, an analyst with Gartner. “That was strong motivational close.” More on that to come later.
During his portion of the keynote, Microsoft engineer Kevin Gallo announced that you can now run Bash on Ubuntu on Windows. This is a new developer feature included in the Windows 10 “Anniversary” edition update expected this summer Myerson said. It lets you run native user-mode Linux shells and command-line tools unchanged, on Windows.
“For users of popular command-line tools, Windows 10 now has great support for Bash running on Ubuntu as part of our partnership with Canonical, and growing support for the universe of open-source command-line tools,” Gallo said in a blog post. “Developers will be able to download the Bash shell from the Windows Store.”
Added Scott Hanselman, another Microsoft engineer who was positive about the news: “This isn’t Bash or Ubuntu running in a VM. This is a real native Bash Linux binary running on Windows itself. It’s fast and lightweight and it’s the real binaries. This is a genuine Ubuntu image on top of Windows with all the Linux tools I use like awk, sed, grep, vi, etc. It’s fast and it’s lightweight. The binaries are downloaded by you—using apt-get—just as on Linux, because it is Linux. You can apt-get and download other tools like Ruby, Redis, emacs, and on and on. This is brilliant for developers that use a diverse set of tools like me.”
For his part, Rob Enderle, a longtime industry watcher and founder of the Enderle Group, referring to the Bash news, said, “Perhaps the biggest announcement was their embracing open source broadly and Linux with the clear realization that this move is already allowing them to work more intimately with developers and customers. The result is, with this help, they are able to advance far more quickly. Microsoft was, at one time, one of the most aggressive opponents to open source and Linux was largely created as an anti-Microsoft platform. This is almost like the Pope suddenly standing up and saying, ‘you know what, women should be priests and be allowed to get married.'”
Microsoft Supports Bash, Ushers in ‘Conversations as a Platform’ Era
Meanwhile, back to the conversational kick, Nadella showed improvements to Cortana and announced previews of new cloud services and toolkits designed to understand the world around us and create intelligent bots.
“As an industry, we are on the cusp of a new frontier that pairs the power of natural human language with advanced machine intelligence,” said Nadella said in a statement. “At Microsoft, we call this Conversations as a Platform, and it builds on and extends the power of the Microsoft Azure, Office 365 and Windows platforms to empower developers everywhere.”
Microsoft introduced cloud services that understand things based on analytics and natural language. The company also introduced interactive bots and a new Cortana Intelligence Suite.
Well, the Cortana Intelligence Suite, formerly known as the Cortana Analytics Suite, is based on Microsoft research into big data, machine learning, perception, analytics, natural language and intelligent bots, Nadella said. It is built on the Microsoft Azure cloud and enables developers to create intelligent solutions, including new apps that learn about the world and bots and agents that interact with people in personalized, intelligent ways.
Microsoft also previewed two new additions to the Cortana Intelligence Suite. The new Microsoft Cognitive Services is a collection of intelligence APIs that enables systems to see, hear, speak, understand and interpret users’ needs using natural methods of communication. And the new Microsoft Bot Framework enables developers to use any programming language to create intelligent bots that enable customers to chat using natural language on a wide variety of platforms including text/SMS, Office 365, Skype, Slack, the Web and more, the company demonstrated.
As Murphy suggested earlier, Microsoft software engineer Saqib Shaikh closed out the opening day Build keynote with a demonstration of his Seeing AI application he built using components and services such as those found in the Cortana Intelligence Suite. In a video, Shaikh described the technology as transformative and showed how his project can help people who are visually impaired or blind better understand who and what is around them. One example showed Shaikh in a restaurant where the app directed him where to place his phone to snap a picture of the menu so it could read it to him and he could decide what he wanted for lunch. In essence, the app helps blind people better navigate the world around them.
Microsoft also released a preview of the Skype Bot Platform, which includes the SDK, API and Workflows all in the new Skype Bot Portal. With this platform, developers can build bots that take advantage of Skype’s multiple forms of communication, including text, voice, video and 3-D interactive characters, Microsoft said in a statement. Customers can get started with Skype Bots by downloading the latest Skype apps for Windows, Android and iOS, the company said.
“With this overall effort Microsoft is clearly showcasing they intend to be a big part of intelligent systems development for the future,” Enderle said. “They are aggressively moving with low cost capable offerings specifically targeted at developers. You can almost see the specter of a far younger Steve Ballmer [formerly Microsoft CEO] at the show screaming ‘developers, developers, developers’ because this is the most focused I’ve seen Microsoft on this group in years.”