With Windows 9, new developer tools, and a competitor to Apple's Siri, Microsoft could come out swinging at the Build conference.
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Microsoft's Windows franchise is in transition. Almost a year and a half after launching, Windows 8 is still an underperformer that's done little to prop up falling PC sales, compel upgrades from Windows XP users, or reverse Microsoft's also-ran status in the tablet market.
Thanks to this context, newly installed Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella garnered praise last week when, in his first press appearance since replacing Steve Ballmer in February, he announced native Office apps for iPads. Nadella impressed not because commentators credit him for the new products, whose development surely dates back for years, but because he so wholeheartedly championed cross-platform opportunities that iPads and other non-Windows devices pose for Microsoft's software.
Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella.
Those opportunities suggest Nadella doesn't consider Windows the cornerstone of Microsoft's future achievements -- at least not compared to Microsoft Azure or cloud-based services. But at least week's press conference, he promised that cross-platform opportunities are not a tradeoff. He said Microsoft continues to harbor "massive" ambitions for Windows. Though the company's Surface tablets have carved out only a niche following, Nadella also said the company is working on significant device innovations.
CEOs often make general promises about future products, Nadella but made it clear that Microsoft's Windows strategy would come into focus during Build, the company's conference for developers. The two-day event kicks off Wednesday morning in San Francisco, when Nadella will deliver his keynote to several thousand attendees.
What will the new CEO and his evolving company bring? Here are eight things to watch for at Build.
1. Microsoft will reveal a Windows 8.1 update aimed at non-touch users.
In February at the Mobile World Congress, Microsoft confirmed that a Windows 8.1 update, by then already widely rumored online, would arrive this spring. The new bits, which include a variety of tweaks to make Win 8.1's touch-oriented Modern UI more palatable to mouse-and-keyboard users, will inevitably play a major role in the Build agenda. But with ostensibly near-complete builds of the update having already leaked online, will Microsoft have any surprises left to share? And when will the update arrive? April 8, which is a Patch Tuesday and the termination date for Windows XP service, seems likely.
This screenshot from an alleged build of the Windows 8.1 update shows Live Tiles with new support for mouse input. (Source: WZor)
2. Microsoft could debut Windows Phone 8.1, including Siri and Google Now competitor Cortana.
In addition to announcing the Windows update at the MWC, Microsoft confirmed that it will soon release Windows Phone 8.1. Arguably overdue, given that the Windows Phone hasn't received a major update in its 15-month existence, Windows Phone 8.1 is expected to add a notification center and a virtual assistant called Cortana.
Microsoft hasn't yet acknowledged all the update's features, but if it appears, Cortana is sure to generate interest, not only because
Michael Endler joined InformationWeek as an associate editor in 2012. He previously worked in talent representation in the entertainment industry, as a freelance copywriter and photojournalist, and as a teacher. Michael earned a BA in English from Stanford University in 2005 ... View Full Bio