3 Reasons To Care About Microsoft Again

Photo: Courtesy Microsoft.
These days, you may not use Microsoft for much more than the occasional Word doc or PowerPoint presentation, but the Redmond, Washington-based company hopes to change that. At its developer conference in San Francisco, Microsoft made some big announcements that could make Windows a larger part of your life.

Microsoft came up with a potential solution for the biggest pain of its Windows Phone platform — the lack of apps — and gave us the details on its new Internet Explorer replacement. The company also gave us some reasons to care about its virtual reality headset, the HoloLens. Read on for the scoop.

It fixed the biggest problem with Windows Phones.
One of the biggest complaints from Windows Phone owners (and potential owners) is the lack of apps available on the platform. Major new apps launch on iOS, Android, or both, and neglect Microsoft’s mobile platform. Today, Microsoft announced that developers can essentially port their iOS and Android apps onto the Windows Phone platform, with very minimal changes to their original code. This is huge. 

By letting developers write Windows Phone apps in Objective C or Java, the company has reduced a huge barrier to entry. Developers, particularly small, independent teams, just don’t have the time and money to rebuild each app three times, in three different languages (although there are tools to transfer iOS apps to Android). The question is whether the work is as minimal as Microsoft suggests — and whether developers have enough incentive to do it.

The apps would be able to run on any Windows 10 device — mobile, touchscreen, or with a mouse. Microsoft is hoping to reach one billion Windows 10-running devices within the next two to three years, and if that comes to fruition, that would offer developers a huge audience (and, ostensibly, some huge income) for their apps.

It's got a new productivity-focused browser.
Microsoft Edge, the replacement for Internet Explorer, is designed to make your Internet-browsing experience super-productive. First, it will include extensions (like all those Chrome plug-ins you're addicted to) to make things easier. It will also have deep integration with Cortana, Microsoft’s voice-powered assistant. Like how Google will autofill your queries, Cortana will do the same in Edge, and also allow you to do searches by voice. You can also pull up Cortana in a side window to gather information from a web page — for example, it'll figure out the opening hours and location of a restaurant while you're perusing the site, which could be easier than digging around for that info yourself.

Edge will also include a note-taking mode, so you can capture images, draw directly onto a web page, circle or annotate elements you want to point out to a friend or colleague (and collaborate with them on this), and sync these collaborations to Microsoft’s cloud storage platform, OneDrive. It has another mode for reading, which strips out all the extraneous details so you can just focus on the article at hand. And, like Apple’s Safari browser, it has a Reading List feature, so you can save links to check out later. 

Its holographic platform will bring VR to your world.
In January, Microsoft announced the HoloLens, a headset that uses holograms to insert virtual reality elements into your field of vision. Now, Microsoft is letting developers turn Windows 10 apps into HoloLens apps, and it showed off some cool demos of how the technology could be used in real life.

Say you’re hanging around the house, folding laundry in the living room while watching a movie on TV, then you carry some towels to stow away in the linen closet. With HoloLens, you can watch video in an app, and the video follows you along as you move around your home. Similarly, you could carry on a hands-free Skype call while you walk around, getting other tasks done. You’ll be able to do this with any app, but undoubtedly some will be more useful and more appropriate for a virtual reality platform than others. The unfortunate caveat to this is it requires wearing a bulky HoloLens headset around the house. Win some, lose some? 
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