The recently concluded Microsoft Build 2019 – the tech giant’s annual conference for developers and IT professionals – was held from May 6 to May 8 at the Washington State Convention Center in Downtown Seattle, Washington.
More than 6,000 technologists, developers and business leaders, representing thousands of organizations from across the globe, attended the three-day event.
The conference kicked off with an insightful keynote address by CEO Satya Nadella, who touched upon the company’s achievement in its various divisions, including Azure, Cortana, Office 365, Xbox, and Edge, to name a few.
Following the lead of other tech giants like Facebook, Google and Apple, the Redmond-based company appeared to be more focussed on discouraging users, including business people, from over-indulgence in screen time.
The new features being built into most of the company’s services is indicative of this new approach, in terms of delivering more user- and developer-friendly products, rather than giving great technology that may not find practicality with many people.
“I do believe Microsoft is making real changes to focus on what I would call ‘technology that solves real problems’ versus staring at the amazement of technology that some may not want,” Moore Insights & Strategy president Patrick Moorhead was quoted by Engadget as having said.
“This is a pragmatic shift and I know goes all the way up to Satya. Apple for consumer markets has been good at this and Google is getting better at this but still has some tech for tech’s sake,” he told the technology blog.
Today’s Microsoft is not the Microsoft we knew of before Satya Nadella took over from Steve Ballmer as CEO in early 2014.
The incoming CEO’s approach was to focus primarily on bringing the company’s products and services to platforms people preferred, rather than trying to force unnecessary technology on them.
This user-driven push was glaringly obvious, and excitingly so, in practically all the new features announced for the company’s various products and services, including Edge, AI, Office 365 and Azure, among others.
After having worked with Chromium open source – the force behind Google Chrome – to enhance the user experience of its proprietary browser Edge, Microsoft is now bringing Internet Explorer to the browser by way of a new tab.
The company is also adding a new privacy feature to the browser by giving users three security options to choose from – Unrestricted, Balanced and Strict – for a more transparent and personalized experience.
Depending on the option chosen, Edge will control how third parties keep a tab on you across the internet.
‘Collections’ is another upcoming feature on Edge that will allow you to collate, share and export content as neatly formatted documents with Office integration.
At Microsoft Ignite last year, the company announced several new AI features for MS Office – one of the most extensively used office suites in the world – including “Ideas.”
Basically, “Ideas” uses AI to make life easier for users trying to create documents in Office applications by suggesting ideas, design changes, and other useful tips, which not only helps in creating the perfect document but speeds up the work as well, thereby increasing employee productivity.
For example, when you’re trying to create a PowerPoint presentation, “Ideas,” which can be accessed with a single click of the mouse, suggests layouts, images you can insert, and other useful tips that are sure to improve the quality of your presentation.
Excel also got the AI boost, allowing it to recommend charts and identify data outliers, thereby helping users with tasks like a virtual assistant.
The company is now bringing this useful feature to Word, which would take it way beyond spell check.
It will suggest grammar corrections, better phrasing, and even more inclusive language, all of which will contribute toward making you a better writer over a period of time.
“For AI features, there has to be a minimum bar of quality for you to trust it,” Malavika Rewari – Senior Product Marketing Manager, Office Intelligence – told Engadget.
She added: “We don’t release something unless it’s meeting that bar.
“And we release it in phases: First we dogfood [test] internally within Microsoft and do a lot of usability studies
“We then go to early adopters, Insider programs and early release programs, where we go to a more diverse data set.
“And then we go to consumers and then commercial users.”
The company is also working on improving the Cortana experience by making it a smarter, more interactive assistant rather than something you shout out standard commands to – thanks to Semantic Machines, a Berkeley, California-based natural language startup Microsoft acquired last year.
“Combining Semantic Machines’ technology with Microsoft’s own AI advances, we aim to deliver powerful, natural and more productive user experiences that will take conversational computing to a new level,” the company wrote in a May 2018 blog.
If the demo at the conference is anything to go by, the new, more human-like Cortana will allow you to talk to it more conversationally, without having to phrase commands.
“The next generation of intelligent assistant technologies from Microsoft will be able to do this by leveraging breakthroughs in conversational artificial intelligence and machine learning pioneered by Semantic Machines,” says Microsoft.
Another announcement that merits a mention is the Fluid Framework concept that has the potential to revolutionize the way we work with documents.
It will allow you to break down your documents into different components that can be included in other documents.
To give an example, you can take a part of Word document and drop it into another document, and any changes made to it will reflect on the original file in real time.
Developers can have a go at it later this year when Microsoft launches a Fluid Framework software development kit.
While there were many other significant announcements at the show, the point to reiterate is the fact that the company is now working on finding ways to make its products and services more people-centric.