The focus of Microsoft's Build 2016 developer's conference in San Francisco became abundantly clear just hours after the opening ceremonies yesterday: Cortana, bots, and Windows 10.

The conference, runs through tomorrow at the Moscone Center, gives developers a chance to sample the latest tools and technologies and learn to be more creative and productive, Microsoft said.


In his opening keynote, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella described Conversations-as-a-Platform (CAAP). “As an industry, we are on the cusp of a new frontier that pairs the power of natural human language with advanced machine intelligence. 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,” Nadella said.

Nadella spent a lot of time discussing Cortana in his three-hour speech, while Terry Myerson, executive vice president of Microsoft's Windows and Devices Group, announced the Windows 10 Anniversary Update.

All of it revolved around life in the Cloud First, Mobile First world that Nadella described when he took over the helm in Feb. 2014.

As Myerson explained when he introduced the Windows update, “This significant update will help you interact with your Windows 10 devices as naturally as you interact with the world around you — using your pen, presence and voice. We are dedicated to making Windows the most productive development environment for all developers, with all-new capabilities for the Universal Windows Platform and all-new tools for bringing apps to Windows 10 from any platform.”

Windows 10

What Myerson announced was just the next step in the evolution of Windows 10. The operating system, with its universal apps, was designed to provide a more personal kind of computing as well as  new ways of enabling users access and interaction with Microsoft apps.

Already, according to Myerson, Windows 10 has been downloaded or implemented quicker than other operating system to date. Some 270 million devices are now using it, about 145 percent higher than the number of devices that were using the ever-popular Windows 7 one year after it was released.

Granted, there are many reasons for this. Some users jumped from Windows 8, including many who did so involuntarily through a forced download. In addition, mainstream Windows 7 support ended in January 2015 and extended support will end in 2020. 

Developers have been attracted by the popularity of Windows 10. In the Windows Store, there are Windows 10 apps from the likes of Twitter, Yahoo, Facebook and Instagram, as well as more than 1,000 apps for Cortana.

Build is big on apps. Yesterday, Microsoft continued to beat the Windows 10 app drum with new additions for Windows Ink, Cortana, and Windows Hello, was well as the usual list of gaming additions.

The new Windows 10 Anniversary SDK offers new APIs and tools to integrate Windows 10 innovations into apps, including Windows Ink and Windows Hello.

Intelligent Cortana?

However, it was a Cortana announcement that piqued a lot of interest. Microsoft is now providing full access to Cortana’s proactive intelligence.

Cortana Intelligence Suite, which was formerly known as the Cortana Analytics Suite, uses big data, machine learning, perception, analytics and intelligent bots. Built on Azure, Microsoft announced two new additions to Cortana, both in preview:

Microsoft Cognitive Services: This is a collection of APIs that will be enable systems to see, hear, speak, understand and interpret human commands using natural methods of communication.

Microsoft Bot Framework: This enables developers working in any language to build intelligent bots that enable users to chat using natural language on Office 365, Skype, Slack, the Web and others.

Nadella, during a demonstration of the new capabilities, said Cortana is designed to go beyond Microsoft and be the go-to digital assistant across platforms, including iOS and Android.

Cortana will become a core element of Windows and will be powered on Windows by Cortana’s place in the cloud. It will also be powered by connection with bots.

Bots are a new addition to Microsoft, which has created the Bots Framework, a platform for developers to build and integrate intelligent bots; Using these bots, users will be able to pass intelligent commands, which the bot will transmit to the application the user wants to interact with. 

“Bots are the new apps. People-to-people conversations, people-to-digital assistants, people-to-bots and even digital assistants-to-bots. That’s the world you’re going to get to see in the years to come,” Nadella said during his keynote.

And we’re back to Conversations as a Platform. It’s not just a concept, it's ... well, a platform and it is where Microsoft sees the future of personal and business computing.