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Everything Microsoft announced at Build 2021 so far: Windows, Edge, and more

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella kicked off the Build developer conference this year by focusing on how his company is empowering developers to do good in the world.

“This conference is about the role, the responsibility, and the opportunity of this community in shaping what comes next,” Nadella said, highlighting some of the challenges that the past year has brought, including the ongoing global health pandemic, an economic crisis, climate change, and issues with racial injustice and inequity.

Not all of the big changes were announced during Nadella’s keynote, however. Some of the juiciest updates were revealed through press releases and technical sessions. Here are some of the key highlights from this year’s conference so far:

Nadella teases big changes to Windows 10

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From the view of the average person, Windows is at the heart of what Microsoft does. Build will never be a consumer-focused event, but that didn’t stop Nadella from teasing some big changes coming to Windows 10 in the future.

“Soon we will share one of the most significant updates to Windows of the past decade to unlock greater economic opportunity for developers and creators,” Nadella teased. “I’ve been self-hosting it over the past several months, and I’m incredibly excited about the next generation of Windows. Our promise to you is this: We will create more opportunities for every Windows developer today and welcome every creator who is looking for the most innovative, new, open platform to build and distribute and monetize applications. We look forward to sharing more very soon.”

We already know a visual overhaul to Windows 10 is coming later this year in the Sun Valley update, but it sounds like there’s a much larger plan in the works for Windows 10.

Windows 10 on ARM

It wasn’t addressed in the opening keynote, but Microsoft has also announced increased support for Windows 10 on ARM.

“Across all the opportunities I’ve highlighted today, Windows is implicit,” Nadella said during his keynote. “It’s never been more important. Windows 10 is used by more than 1.3 billion people to work, learn, connect, and play. And it all starts with Windows as a dev box.”

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Though he didn’t provide many details about the developer box during Microsoft’s short 30-minute presentation, Microsoft had separately announced that it will be making a big push with Windows on ARM this year, with the help of Qualcomm. Ahead of Nadella’s keynote, the company unveiled the Snapdragon Developer Kit, which resembles Apple’s Mac mini developer kit announced last summer at that company’s developer conference.

Microsoft’s developer box will help developers port their apps to the ARM-based PC platform, and it will be available at the Microsoft Store this summer. Pricing and additional details rre not yet available. In addition to the developer kit, there are already existing Windows PCs on ARM, like Microsoft’s own Surface Pro X.

It’s not quite as monumental as Apple’s move to its own M1 silicon, but it does feel like Microsoft is finally getting serious about supporting ARM PCs.

Updates to Teams and Outlook

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As more companies switch to remote work during the pandemic, Microsoft also announced big changes to Teams and Outlook to help organizations adapt.

“That’s why we built Teams as that organizing layer for all the ways people work, learn, and collaborate,” Nadella said, noting that Teams now counts more than 145 million daily users, almost double the amount from a year ago. “It’s the only solution that brings together meetings, calls, chat, document collaboration, and workflow in a single integrated user experience, and enables you to bring collaboration to the forefront of app design.”

No doubt, Teams has seem incredible growth in the past year. But what’s ahead? According to Nadella, its a “new category of cross-device collaborative applications,” comparing it to Win32 as defining a new era for app development.

As an example of how this works, a use case with partner ServiceNow was shown on stage. ServiceNow had built a collaborative app for incident response using Teams as the UI, the Microsoft Graph to connect to the appropriate people within the organization, and a bot to alert them to join a conference call on Teams when needed.

“And they’re going even further, adding fluid components to Teams and Office, helping you integrate your apps into critical endpoints, like Teams meetings delivering a unified development model for message extensions across Teams and Outlook, and making teams’ app development experience easier with improved developer tools and a new developer portal,” Nadella said. “When you step back, it’s clear that as every company becomes a digital company, the largest developer opportunity is building industry-specific business processes like SaaS applications.”

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Microsoft had announced, as part of its work on Teams apps for meetings, new meeting event APIs, a new Together mode toolkit, and media APIs.

The Together mode allows you to have a virtual meeting inside Teams. The feature uses A.I. to place your face and shoulders alongside images of your co-workers inside a virtual space. Microsoft announced that it will be giving a toolkit to developers to design their own virtual meeting rooms.

And to help you keep documentation for your meetings, Microsoft also announced that it will allow third-party apps to access real-time audio and video streams for transcription and note-taking use.

“If you can build web apps, you can build extensions into Teams chats, channels, and meetings,” Jeff Teper, head of Microsoft 365 collaboration told The Verge. “You can build once, run, deploy anywhere.” Third-party apps for Teams will be able to run on Windows, Mac, the web, Linux, and mobile platforms.

The fluid components that ServiceNow used are currently in private preview and will expand to more customers in the months ahead. The components are designed to be edited in real time and can work across Teams and Office apps.

To make it easy for IT administrators, third-party app license subscriptions can be purchased from the Microsoft Teams App Store and Teams Admin Center VentureBeat reported. Microsoft will offer both credit card payment and invoice billing options on both stores, and previews will begin this summer.

And on Outlook, Microsoft will support message extensions on Outlook on the web. This will make it more fluid for users working with Teams and Outlook.

Microsoft also touched on the metaverse and digital twins, and how its core technologies can be used to bring real-time collaboration.

The metaverse and the state of technology

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Nadella also offered some insights on how technology will become more important in the world, both as a solution to solving the world’s most challenging problems and as a percentage of GDP, or gross domestic product.

“Just think about the world in 2030, tech as a percentage of total GDP will double from 5% to 10%,” Nadella said. “But the most notable thing is what happened to the other 90%. Digital transformation that was projected to happen over the next 10 years is happening today.”

Nadella highlighted that tech hires at nontech firms are outpacing traditional jobs as companies try to leverage technology to be and stay more productive. Microsoft provided an example by highlighting how Anheuser-Busch InBev is using its broad portfolio of technologies to bottle beverages and minimize downtime in its factories.

“Anheuser-Busch InBev has used our middleware stack to track every bottle from the wheat field through the manufacturing and distribution processes,” Nadella said. “They have created this complete digital twin of their breweries and supply chain. The digital twin is synchronized with their physical brewery. It understands these complex relationships between equipment and natural ingredients. It enables the brew masters to make adjustments based on dynamic conditions; it maintains uptime on many machines required during the packaging process; it tracks the entire supply chain to reduce emissions. They even use mixed reality with their digital twin for remote assistance.”

Anheuser-Busch InBev is an interesting example of a use case with the metaverse. The company uses digital twins to help it solve production challenges in its factories and breweries.

“Finally, as the virtual and physical worlds converge the metaverse, made up of digital twins and simulated environments, mixed reality is emerging as a first-class platform,” Nadella said. “With the metaverse, the entire world becomes your app canvas. With Azure digital twins, you can model any asset or place with Azure IoT and keep the digital twin live and up to date. Synapse tracks the history of digital twins and finds insights to predict future states.”

Microsoft Edge 91 updates roll out

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Microsoft also announced updates to its Edge browser that will improve performance and help with battery life. Sleeping Tabs and a startup boost are two new features that were unveiled at Build but not included in Nadella’s keynote.

The company claims that Sleeping Tabs could help save memory use by as much as 82%. Both features are rolling out this week on version 91 of the browser.

These features have been previously announced, but will be in the hands of real users for the first time this week.

Technology transformation

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Even though Microsoft talked about its efforts to bring new features to Azure and across the development stack, the company also used a sizable portion of its rather short keynote to detail how it could help developers leverage technology for good. Responsible A.I., solving the world’s greatest challenges, and trust were mentioned throughout Nadella’s presentation. Microsoft is clearly setting itself as the platform for good, after rival Google had vacated its “do no evil” motto in recent years.

“We will need trust by design,” Nadella said. “The design and development process itself must prioritize privacy, cybersecurity, digital safety, and responsible A.I. across everything we do. No one will want technology that rapidly scales but breaks the world around us.”

Nadella highlighted the large technological and societal shifts that are creating new opportunities for developers, and Build is about developers.

“We will empower you to seize these opportunities and build what comes next,” he added. “Our ambition is to be the platform for platform creators. This conference is not about setting new rules or constraints that dictate how or what you should build. It’s not even about celebrating our own innovation — it’s about enabling your innovation and creating new opportunities for you. We want to help you help the world. That’s at the core of our mission.”

The post will be updated as more updates from Microsoft Build 2021 get announced.

Arif Bacchus
Arif Bacchus is a native New Yorker and a fan of all things technology. Arif works as a freelance writer at Digital Trends…
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