Microsoft Tries to (Re)Build Interest in Windows

If Microsoft’s talk last week was about how it would bring Office and other key products to things other than Windows, this week’s Build conference is all about how Microsoft aims to make Windows itself more appealing to developers and customers.

Microsoft is expected to talk in more detail about spring updates for Windows and Windows Phone that it first said were coming at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona.

The event kicks off with a keynote around 8:30 am PT and Re/code will have live coverage and analysis.

Ina Fried April 2, 20148:31 am

Microsoft kicking things off with the requisite loud music, spun by a hip DJ. 

Here’s what we expect: talk about the near-term updates around Windows 8 and Windows Phone as well as a bit of the future roadmap. The rumored voice assistant for Windows Phone 8.1 could be the biggest thing.
Here’s what we don’t expect: a new tablet, tons of detail on updates beyond the ones coming this spring.

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Things are getting started, with operating system exec VP Terry Myerson. He said he wasn’t sure how to start things, maybe a chant “Developers, Developers, Developers.” But that’s already been done, he notes. Or perhaps imitate Scott Guthrie’s standard red polo shirt, but he says red isn’t his color.

Instead, he decided to just play it straight.

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Myerson notes that some of the most powerful software and Web services have been built by the people in the room (no harm kissing up a little to the audience)

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Cue energetic video that notes Windows Phone fastest growing smartphone OS and No. 2 in a bunch of emerging markets where most people can’t afford iPhones.

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Now up is VP Joe Belfiore who runs the PC, tablet and phone experience team. He’ll be talking Windows Phone 8.1 and an update to Windows Phone 8.1, called, unfortunately, Windows Phone 8.1 Update.

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Two new Windows Phone hardware partners, Micromax and Prestigio. (If you haven’t heard of either of them, you are not alone.)

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Windows Phone 8.1 will have a new “Action Center.” Think notifications, battery status and quick access to a handful of settings, such as airplane mode.

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The lock screen experience will be more customizable too. For now Microsoft is keeping that to itself, though the implication is eventually developers will have access too.

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The start screen can be customized with a photo background as well as an option to include more or fewer tiles.

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“All of this is about making Windows Phone more personal,” Belfiore said. 

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And now, the biggie, 
“We’ve been working on this for a long time. We think it is an experience you are going to love.”
“Watch as she comes to life.”

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Video with tag “Now I’m learning about you” and photos of kids being born, weddings, funerals, etc.

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“Hi I’m Cortana”
Yep, Microsoft’s rumored digital assistant is real.

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Belfiore asks Cortana if she likes her name. Well a whole lot better than Microsoft Personal Assistant Service Pack 1 2014, or some such.

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Cortana is powered by Bing, but also learns about the individual.

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Cortana replaces the standard search experience. and asks “What’s on your mind?” and offers personalized suggestions.

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Cortana can be extended with third-party apps and Microsoft has been working with some already.
Belfiore also notes that to develop Cortana, Microsoft met with real-life personal assistants to find out what made them good at their job.
Key is knowing what to do when. Cortana has the kind of notebook a real-world assistant would keep. 

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You can add things tot he notebook like interests, quiet hours, which people are in your inner circle. Cortana will also infer things, but user can edit those inferences.

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You can set rules for quiet hours, such as allowing those in Inner Circle to break through in quiet hours.

Locations can also be set as favorites.

“The point is the user is in control of his or her relationship with Cortana,” Belfiore said.

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Cortana can do things like prompt you when you need to go to the airport or update you if the flight is delayed.

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Can help with calendar, set alarms or send a text.

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She’s also good with searches and questions, Belfiore said. Show me the best Mexican restaurants in Palo Alto. Pulls up a list of four-star restaurants from Yelp. Can be narrowed by which takes reservations. And then can help with reservations by calling the restaurant. (Except a glitch and it doesn’t work)
We’re launching Cortana as a beta, Belfiore notes, recovering well.

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Can also get sports results. “How did the Mariners do yesterday?” Takes two tries, but he gets the result and the Mariners are undefeated. Granted, it’s only two days into the season, but considering recent years that’s a pretty good start.

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Befliore asks “How old is (Seahawks QB) Russell Wilson?” Turns out he is 25, which Belfiore notes is bad news for 49ers fans because he will be with the Seattle team for a long time.

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He asked for temperature in Vegas. Then converts to celsius upon command. Doesn’t do so well with Kelvin.

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Cortana works with both speech and typing. Can do things like “email from Terry” and it searches local content.

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Can do reminders, even complex ones like “remind me when I get home to cook dinner for my wife.” Can do by person, place or time. Doesn’t work though, should have recognized home and instead asked when he wanted the reminder.

He handled the first couple glitches well, but this is getting kind of old.

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People reminders are neat. Next time I speak with my sister, remind me to ask her about her new puppy. It can do it when you are chatting, e-mailing or calling a particular person.

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Improved Skype can be built-in to Cortana. Can use Cortana to not just launch apps but take action. 
He gives an example. Hulu “add Deadbeat” to my queue.

Another example: Facebook, “What’s up with Terry Myerson?” And Cortana pulls up his Facebook feed.

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There was a Jimmy Fallon bit. Basically Siri getting upset and Cortana sending him a thank you note.

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Senior Product Manager Nick Hedderman joins Belfiore to talk about work Microsoft has done to make Windows Phone better for businesses.

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He’s got a sport coat and khakis because he is talking about business things. Someone is definitely dressing Microsoft people these days. Julia White’s leather jacket in SF, Satya’s dark jeans.

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Anyway, back to business features. Enterprise VPN gets a smattering of applause. Can be added to quick settings making it easy to get to. Also supports reading and sending encrypted e-mail.

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Windows Phone 8.1 will also bring new mobile device management features. For example, a business can disable saving corporate content. Can disable games too. No Wordament for Joe Belfiore. Bummer. 

Wordament is like Scramble for Friends, but actually works on Windows Phone, unlike Scramble for Friends.

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Work policies can be added and removed. When removed, the corporate content goes away, as do the policies, but personal content remains.

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Business guy goes bye-bye and Belfiore is talking about other Windows Phone fun features. There are too many to show.

These are things “just to make you smile” he promises.

First up are improvements to the built-in store, which he notes also should make developers smile.

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Belfiore’s T-shirt, by the way, is the Cortana logo.

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He’s wearing a T-shirt and jeans because, you know, Windows is hip.

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“Wi-Fi Sense” feature learns about good Wi-Fi networks and can automatically connect and even except terms of use or provide name, email and phone number when required. (That’s pretty neat, IMO.)

Can even let your Skype or Facebook friends access your home network, if you want. Friends can get on via Wi-Fi Sense, with access only to the Internet.

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Sister calls Belfiore, and there is the reminder to ask her about new puppy. There is also an option to take the call over to Skype.

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The phone call stays connected as long as possible until Skype connects.

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There’s more in the blog and a build for developers to play with, Belfiore said.

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But one last feature. Enhancements to software keyboard. The thing really made it magical, addition of Swype-like “shape writing.”

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This demo works well and Belfiore breathes a bit easier.

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“We thought our keyboard was so good we should go for Guinness record” beating Samsung Galaxy S4. there is an official sentence you have to type.

Took 17 seconds, giving Microsoft the world record, Belfiore says.

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Windows Phone will also work better with Windows, he said. In particular settings, such as Wi-Fi passwords typed on PCs it will be shared with phone. “You don’t need to type it in again.”

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Internet Explorer 11 also on Windows Phone 8.1 with reading mode and anonymous browsing.

“That’s Windows Phone 8.1″

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Windows Phone 8.1 will start rolling out to customers in the next few months. On Brand new phones starting in Late April or early May. But for all of you developers… you have to wait for later in the keynote. But he did hint there would be a build for developers, so guessing this week.

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Onto the PC version of Windows…

Main focus of Windows 8.1 Update (that’s not Windows 8.1, but an Update to Windows 8.1)  is making easier for mouse and keyboard users. 
Cortana is also there for Bing.
IE11 browser is also updated to allow corporate Intranet sites designed for older browsers to work via a new “enterprise mode” that lets IE 11 pretend to be older browser.
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To make things easier for mouse and keyboard, new-style (nee Metro) apps can also be added to the taskbar on the old-style Desktop.

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The task bar also can show up in Windows Store apps. “I know longer have to think about a different switching (paradigm),” Belfiore said.

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You can also right click on a live tile and get context. The gist here is Microsoft is making the Desktop more modern and its modern start-screen more like classic Windows, especially for the mouse-and-keyboard set.

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The Windows 8.1 Update will be available via Windows Update next Tuesday for Windows 8 and Windows 8.1 users.

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Belfiore exits and Cortana introduces David Treadwell, a VP in the operating systems unit who is talking about where Windows is going for developers. (Treadwell been in Windows for a long time, back to Windows NT)

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He’s telling a long story about developing a driver for windows. It’s a funny story. If you are a developer nerd. 

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Treadwell is now making the pitch that Microsoft can help them reach customers across phones, tablets and PCs, support the money and time they have invested in existing apps and help them work across onto other (aka non-Microsoft) platforms.

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Treadwell introduces “Universal Windows Apps” — apps that will work on phones, PCs and tablets. (works starting with Windows Phone 8.1)

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Universal apps can work by using a grid layout that scale automatically to different screen sizes. 

Other developers, though, will want a really optimized app for phones. Universal apps can also have a separate view for different types of devices, but use mostly the same code.

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“Use the language you love,” Treadwell says, showing the chart of supported programming languages. 

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An update to Microsoft’s Visual Studio 2013 will add support for building these new kind of universal apps. Obviously you can start from scratch to build universal app, but most developers aren’t starting from scratch. In Visual Studio, developers can start with existing Phone or Windows 8 app and do the work to make it universal.

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Microsoft is now getting into the nerdiness of how this works. For the rest of us, what’s worth knowing is this is an important step to allowing developers to eventually write their software for Windows and have it just work on all flavors and screen sizes.

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Customers can also buy Universal apps one time. Can make in-app purchases that work on both phone and PCs.

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Kurt Koenigsbauer a VP in Office comes on to talk about work on touch-first Office that will work on phones, tablets and PCs.

“We’ve still got some work to do before we ship these,” he says.

Starts with preview of PowerPoint. Cautions still early.

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There’s the Ribbon interface, but with bigger “touch points” for fat fingers.

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Documents are automatically constantly saved to the cloud, allowing for unlimited Undo and Redo options.

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Same app runs on phone and tablet.

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Treadwell makes pitch to developers. If Microsoft can bring Office to new-look Windows (aka Windows 8, Metro, Windows Store apps), so can you. “We think this can handle all scale of applications.”

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Other features in Windows Phone 8.1 include better multitasking, Geo-fencing, Bluetooth LE support and a bunch of other things.

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Treadwell demos a Twitter app with Cortana integration. He speaks out a tweet complete with hashtags. It works sort of, at least with the first hashtag.

Still some work to do…

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(More nerdiness)

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Demo guy is building some app… It is a developer conference after all.  

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Imagine developers getting itchy about what bits and goodies they will be getting and when. 

First, though, Treadwell wants to talk about building apps cross-platform.

“We want to help you with that,” Treadwell said.

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Web technologies are one important way of doing things across platforms, Treadwell notes, adding that bringing IE11 browser to Windows Phone will allow all Windows devices to have access to latest Web features, like WebGL, in-line video playback.

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Microsoft is taking something called WinJS, a Windows library for JavaScript, and making it cross-platform and open source. Allows similar web tools to be used to write for Windows, iOS and Android.

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Windows 8.1 Update is available for Microsoft’s MSDN subscribers and developers will also get early access to Windows Phone 8.1.

“You guys are killing it,” Cortana says, but then notes everything was recorded two weeks ago.

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Terry Myerson is back, noting that developers have been asking Microsoft for more insight into its roadmap for the future. (Microsoft used to tell developers years in advance, but got very short-term focused in the Sinofsky era with only very selective sharing of future plans).

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For rest of talk, Myerson says he will talk about what’s coming in future.

One thing, he says, is Universal Windows Apps will eventually run on Xbox too. He brings up educational firm Khan Academy for a demo.

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On to Kinect. An updated version of Kinect for Windows uses the Kinect sensor that shipped with Xbox One and allows it to work in smaller spaces.

“It’s not just games,” Myerson said, noting Kinect is being used in areas like health care. Cue some demos.

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I’m not saying this keynote is long, but they just switched sign language interpreters to give the first guy a break.

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Microsoft is also bringing Xbox graphics into DirectX graphics technology with DirectX 12, which will run on Windows Phone, tablet and PC.

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Myerson shifts talk to Windows on the Internet of Things, pulls out an Intel Galileo board with Intel’s tiny Quark chip.

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Myerson demos that board powering a large piano keyboard running Windows that Microsoft’s team put together.

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Best part was Joe Belfiore jumping around on the piano. Hope that clip makes it to YouTube soon.

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Now talking about the desktop version of Windows. 

“I’m not here to announce the next version of Windows,” he said. 

But new-style apps will be able to run in the classic desktop. “We are going all in with this desktop experience.”

This will come to Windows 8.1 users as an update,” Myerson said.

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We really want to get Windows out there, Myerson said, with a new slide that says “pricing”

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When we have Windows for the Internet of Things — “Windows will be available for $0.”
“On Phones and Tablets with screens less than $9, we are making Windows available now for Zero Dollars,” Myerson said.

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That gets big applause, as does next line that all Build attendees are getting a free Xbox One and a $500 gift card to the Microsoft Store to get a new device.

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Nokia’s Stephen Elop comes on stage.

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Windows Phone 8.1 will come to all Lumia Windows Phone 8 devices, Elop said.

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Elop shows off Nokia Lumia 930 

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5-inch full HD display, comes in orange and green in addition to black and silver, has wireless charging. 20-megapixel PureView camera, with optical image stabilization.

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Four high-performance microphones and rich recording (included on Lumia 1020) also come to 930.

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2.2GHz Snapdragon 800 chip, start selling globally in June, starting in Europe for around $599 before taxes and subsidies.

“The Lumia 930 just rocks,” Elop said.

In the U.S. focused on Icon and 1520.

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Elop also introduces two new low-end models, the Lumia 630 and 635.

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The 630 will come in both single-SIM and dual-SIM 3G models, Elop said, with the 635 supporting faster LTE networks as well.

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The Lumia 630 and 635 will come in May and be the first Windows Phone 8.1 devices and have the most operator support than for any prior Windows Phone devices. The devices will start selling first in Asia and eventually hit the U.S. by July.

The single-SIM 630 will sell for about $159, the dual-SIM 630 for $169, and the LTE-capable 635 will sell for $189–all before taxes and subsidies.

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Oh the irony, Elop is now introducing Satya Nadella.

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Nadella now on stage reflecting on importance of developers to Microsoft. (Paul Allen gets a name check as Nadella notes he recently talked with Microsoft’s other co-founder.)

“It’s exciting times for us,” Nadella said, wearing dark jeans and a blue T-shirt. 

Q and A, sort of. Nadella is not going to do an open Q and A. Instead, the evangelism team recorded some questions and Nadella is going to answer them.

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First question is from an Android developer who wants to know why he should build for Windows.

“You want to build for Windows because we are going to innovate with a challenger mindset,” Nadella responded. “We are going to come at this by innovating in every dimension.”

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Plus, Nadella adds it’s not like Microsoft is a nobody. “We have huge volumes still,” Nadella notes, noting Microsoft still sells hundreds of millions of copies of Windows each year.

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OK. Next question from a student-run hackathon producer. Any plans for ensuring apps developed for Microsoft easily port over to other devices? 

(This is a bit of a softball since Microsoft already talked about this.)

“We want to make it possible for every developer to bring their code assets forward” to Microsoft platforms, but even to others’ platforms, Nadella said.

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Next up, is what is Microsoft going to do to catch up to the iPad?

Nadella notes getting apps and hitting all prices are key. Surface will also continue to evolve he said. “You will see us continue to strive to make Surface the most productive tablet in the marketplace.”

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A user experience designer asks Nadella what Microsoft’s approach to design is and how does he see it five years from now? What kinds of interfaces will there be?

“We’ve come a long way,” Nadella said. “You can expect us to continue to push the envelope. This natural user interface is definitely the frontier,” he said — pointing to voice with Cortana, gestures with Kinext as well as touch and even mouse and keyboard.

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“The context should define the type of interface you want to use,” Nadella said, noting speech is probably best for, say, the car.

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Meanwhile, T-Mobile just said it will have the Nokia Lumia 635 coming this summer.

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Hackers and Founders founder wants to know how Microsoft can better support startups. 

Another softball, as Nadella naturally pitches BizSpark which gives a lot of free software and services to startups for their early years. Microsoft also has venture stuff, accelerators and the like.

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Nadella is asked if old vision was computer on every desk, what is Microsoft’s vision today.

“Our vision, simply put, is to thrive in this world that is cloud-first, mobile-first.” 

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Nadella says there will be ambient intelligence and a growing array of different kinds of devices to tap into that.

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Nadella ends with a question from Cortana, asking if Nadella wants to become a “Master Chief”–a halo reference. He asks her to remind him in 500 years, as well as to create a reminder for Scott Guthrie’s keynote tomorrow.

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And with that, the marathon keynote ends.