Microsoft builds a universal Windows 10

Microsoft builds a universal Windows 10
Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella delivering his keynote address during the 2015 Microsoft Build conference at Moscone Centre in San Francisco, California.

By Vincent Chang in San Francisco

Forget Big Bad Microsoft. The 2015 version embraces everyone, especially those who build apps for Microsoft's competitors.

More than two decades since the software giant from Redmond was first investigated for abusing its desktop operating system monopoly, the company has opened its doors to developers that create mobile apps for rivals Apple and Google.

At its annual Build developer conference last week in San Francisco, Microsoft introduced new software tools to help developers bring their existing iOS and Android apps to Windows 10. The company also spoke about how to bring Web apps and desktop-class Windows apps, such as Adobe Photoshop Elements, to Windows 10.

The announcement was cheered on by the 5,000-strong audience, mostly developers. Among them was Singaporean app developer Jason Chee, 21.

He observed: "Not only do apps port over with minimal changes, they have the ability to leverage on all the Windows features, like Xbox's achievements, which opens up great opportunities for developers on other platforms and consumers of Windows 10."

Microsoft aptly calls these tools "bridges" and revealed that Candy Crush Saga was ported to Windows with minimal effort using these tools.

The company's objective is to attract more developers to Windows, a radical move that it hopes will help it achieve its ambition of having Windows 10 on a billion devices within the next two or three years.

Its CEO, Mr Satya Nadella, spoke about this strategy when he briefed analysts: "We believe that is what will help us deliver more value. It will help developers come to our platform. It makes the entire ecosystem of Windows much healthier."

Windows remains the dominant force in desktop computers and laptops, although the most recent version, Windows 8, holds just 15 per cent of the market. Still, it is doing better than its mobile counterpart, Windows Phone, which has a minuscule 3-per-cent share.

With such a low adoption rate, Microsoft has found it hard to attract developers. It had resorted to paying them to build apps in the past. The lack of apps discouraged buyers from choosing Windows mobile devices.

This chicken-and-egg dilemma is set to change with Windows 10, which is expected to be available by mid-August.

Contrary to expectations, the company did not announce an exact release date at Build, though it is known that the upgrade will be free for the first year for existing Windows 7 and 8 users.

As Mr Nadella put it: "Windows 10 is not just another release of Windows. It is actually an entirely new way for us to think about our hardware OS."

Central to Windows 10 is what Microsoft dubs the Universal Windows Platform. This means that Windows 10 will run on all kinds of devices, from phones to Microsoft's holographic smart glasses.

Windows 10 apps will adapt to the device, with the interface scaling to show the right amount of information for the screen size, or even no screen at all, in the case of embedded computers such as the credit-card-sized Raspberry Pi.

Unlike competing platforms from Apple and Google, which have separate mobile and desktop operating systems, developers will be able to write one version of their apps for Windows 10 to be published in a unified Windows Store.

This new, open and collaborative spirit is not restricted to Windows. Microsoft said at Build that it is releasing Linux and Mac versions of its .NET programming platform.

Of course, whether users will bite after being burned by Windows 8 is still unknown. But at least Microsoft is trying and it has laid out a coherent vision that extends across its Windows, Office and Azure cloud platforms.

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