Part pep rally, part multi-day educational opportunity, Microsoft's (MSFT -0.23%) annual Build developers' conference offers a solid look at what the company considers important for the coming year.
The event brings the company together with the developers who build software and apps that run across the Windows operating system and the devices it powers, including PCs, tablets, Xbox, HoloLens, the Surface Hybrids, and even Windows Phone. At Build, Microsoft offers technical sessions, the opportunity to meet other developers, and real insight on what Microsoft intends to do going forward.
Build is important because, in some ways, Microsoft competes with Apple's (AAPL 0.17%) various iOS iterations as well as Android for attention from developers. If the company does not excite that audience, they could, in theory, decide to use their talents to develop for Macs, iPhones, or Android devices.
Microsoft attempts to build hype and set an agenda for Build during the opening keynote speech of the conference, which ran from March 30 through April 1. This year, CEO Satya Nadella and Windows Group Executive Vice President Terry Myerson led the keynote, laying out a road map for developers that also shows investors the direction in which the company is headed.
Microsoft is on a mission
Nadella kicked things off by ruminating on the question above.
"Is technology empowering people, or is it displacing us," he asked. "Is technology helping us preserve our enduring values such as privacy, or is it compromising them?"
The CEO defined Microsoft's stance on the part technology plays in society by saying that he and his company are optimists on that question. He said he believes technology can drive economic growth all over the world, and that it can empower people in their daily lives.
"We do however have to make choices about how we build technology . We need to make design choices, economic choices, and social choices," he told the crowd of developers. Nadella said the idea that technology could help was embedded in Microsoft's mission to "empower every person and every organization on the planet to achieve more."
To put that into terms that brought the idea home for developers, he said, "We want to make things so that others can make things, and make things happen."
What is mobile-first, cloud-first?
Nadella noted that he has talked about it before, but wanted to reinforce his company's commitment to the idea of being mobile-first, cloud-first. He explained that mobile-first is not about the portability of any one device, but the mobility of the experience across all of the devices in our lives.
The cloud, he added, "is not a single destination. Cloud is a new form of computing that in fact enables that mobility of experience across all our devices."
Business is big
In discussing Microsoft's cloud business, Nadella noted that developers who work on its Azure cloud platform would be able to reach over 5 million businesses that are already using the product. He also pointed out that Office now has 1.2 billion users (a little over 16.5% of the current global population).
It all comes back to Windows 10
Myerson took the stage next and talked about the evolution of Windows. He opening by explaining how one of the goals with the OS is to change how people interact with it -- moving from keyboard and mouse to voice, touch, and "more human capabilities." He also noted that Win10 was rapidly moving beyond the traditional computing environment and into immersive experiences.
"Windows 10 is our home for this evolution, making all of us more productive and enabling us to have more fun," he said, noting that the OS is being used in some form by over 270 million people just eight months after its release. "Customers are more engaged than ever before, spending over 75 billion hours on Windows 10."
He shared some other facts about the OS:
- Microsoft's hardware partners have launched over 500 Win10 devices.
- This is the fastest Windows adoption ever with both consumers and enterprise customers.
- The U.S. Department of Defense will update over 4 million devices to Win10 in 2016.
Microsoft is not laying down
One of the highlights of the event was Myerson firing back at something Apple(AAPL 0.17%) marketing chief Phil Schiller said during the company's March 21 new product introduction. At the event, where an updated 4-inch iPhone was introduced, Schiller poked at Microsoft during his speech.
"There are over 600 million PCs in use today that are over five years old," he said. "This is really sad."
Myerson responded to that Apple dis in his remarks.
"On behalf of the entire Windows team, we're happy to welcome all of these customers to Windows 10," he said, "whether they have a new PC, a 5-year-old PC, or a brand new Mac."
That sounds like a mild interplay between two rival companies, but it shows a more feisty Microsoft than in the past. Certainly neither Schiller's comment nor Myerson's response was a major insult, but it did show that the Windows company will no longer tolerate Apple making jokes at its expense.
A Windows update is coming
Myerson also confirmed that Windows 10 would receive its first major update, which would be offered to customers for free at some point during the summer. Called Anniversary update, the new version of the OS will offer updates to how people interact with the OS as well as improved log-in tools -- including what Myerson called "secure and easy bio-metric integration."
The update will also improve the experience of using Ink, Microsoft's pen peripheral. It will also be integrated into Xbox One and the company's upcoming HoloLens virtual reality headset.
"In the Anniversary Update, there will be incredible new ways to get stuff done," said Myerson.
No specific date was given for when the update will be released, but Myerson noted that Windows Insider program members could already receive the latest builds.