How Microsoft Plans To Convert The World to Windows

Skip to story Joe Belfiore, corporate vice president, operating systems group at Microsoft, speaks on stage during the 2015 Microsoft Build Conference on April 29, 2015 at Moscone Center in San Francisco, California. Joe Belfiore, corporate vice president, operating systems group at Microsoft, speaks on stage during the 2015 Microsoft Build Conference on April 29, 2015 at Moscone Center in San Francisco, California. Stephen Lam/Getty Images

The best demo on the first day of Microsoft’s Build developer conference, at least of the ones that didn’t involve adorable holographic robots, was of Continuum. It’s one of Windows 10’s most vaunted features, designed to keep all your devices in sync. To show off its full potential, Microsoft’s Joe Belfiore—you’ve seen him before, he’s the guy with the punk-rock hair always in his face—plugged his phone into a monitor and started using it like a laptop. He used a mouse and keyboard, and his apps suddenly looked so much like PC apps that he had to remind the audience everything was powered by his phone.

The demo got people dreaming. What if you only had to buy one device—probably a phone—and just plug it into whatever you need? If you need a big screen and keyboard, drop it in there. If you want to watch a movie, stick it in your VR goggles and watch away. Could that be the future? If Microsoft has its way, it will be.

And then it won’t be. Because the story told by Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella and the other Build presenters was about something bigger than your phone. It’s bigger than HoloLens, too, bigger than Cortana. It’s a way to make your phone more powerful, but it’s ultimately a blueprint for a future where technology is absolutely everywhere, including a thousand places Microsoft itself can’t even imagine. Forget “a computer on every desk and in every home”—the new Microsoft is about connecting to the computers in our pockets, on our wrists, and everywhere in our lives.

One Windows to Rule Them All

“Universal apps” is the buzzword of Build. Much of the conference is devoted to Microsoft teaching its developers how to make a single app that works in as many places as possible. You can now turn your iPhone game, Android app, browser extension, website, or old-school legacy Windows software into a Windows app without much work. You can develop using Microsoft tools, which are now available for Macs and Linux machines as well. Oh, and when you do build a Windows app, it’ll also work on every single one of the billion-plus Windows 10 devices Microsoft plans to have in the next three years. All the phones, tablets, holographic goggles, and lightbulbs.

Joe Belfiore, Microsoft Corporate Vice President of Operating Systems Group, demonstrates Continuum for phones at the Microsoft Build conference in San Francisco, Wednesday, April 29, 2015. Joe Belfiore, Microsoft Corporate Vice President of Operating Systems Group, demonstrates Continuum for phones at the Microsoft Build conference in San Francisco, Wednesday, April 29, 2015. Jeff Chiu/AP

“We’re talking about one platform,” Windows chief Terry Myerson told the crowd. “A single app, a single binary that can run across all of these devices.” There’s a single store for every kind of app, and a single platform for every kind of user. It lost its cool factor there for a while, but Windows never stopped being huge.

Just as important as that ubiquity is versatility—apps have to look and be different depending on where you use them. Windows 10 seems to nail this too: When you’re on your computer, Photoshop or PowerPoint looks one way. On your phone, they’re different, probably more touch-friendly. From your tiny Raspberry Pi, to your gigantic Surface Hub, to your HoloLens goggles, you’re going to be looking at the same apps and the same data, just optimized for where you are and what you’re doing. The upshot may be that everything feels a little like a phone app, but in demos the switching felt natural and obvious. Universal apps preserve your spot in a book or the status of your presentation, and you can pick up where you left off whenever you pick up a screen next.

Of course, as always, it’s the doing that’s the hard part. BlackBerry tried to run Android apps on its devices, and wound up with a bunch of outdated apps that hardly ever worked. And as for the whole “one platform everywhere” thing, Microsoft’s been trying that for a while. Even this everything-everywhere message has been coming out of Redmond for years.

But now, when lots of new laptops and tablets are launching with what we used to call “mobile” processors, your phone is almost certainly powerful enough to run PowerPoint and Chrome on a big screen. LTE, Wi-Fi, and Bluetooth are fast and reliable enough to not kill the experience. And a Windows app won’t just expand or shrink awkwardly to fit your screen—it can be easily and optimally designed for whatever device you’re using. Screens are cheap, and the actual componentry necessary for computers is smaller than ever. Put a computer in your pocket and accessories everywhere, and the world becomes your oyster. Key to all this seamless device switching in Continuum is Azure, Microsoft’s cloud-based computing platform. Azure can power any app, anywhere, can keep everything online and in sync. That’s the real backbone of the new Microsoft, the cloud-based way to enable everything.

Future Shock

And maybe, just maybe, this is only step one. A precursor. A useful stopgap while we wait for computers to get even smaller, even cheaper, even more integrated into the fabric (literally and figuratively) of our lives. If Microsoft’s long-term plan is to make sure that it’s ready for whatever comes after smartphones, after tablets, it makes perfect sense to encourage developers to build for devices as disparate as augmented-reality goggles and gigantic tablet screens. Then, when one of its partners makes something new and industry-changing, developers can get on board well before Microsoft sees the potential.

Maybe in a year, you’ll be able to get away with only owning a phone. And maybe in five years, it’ll be a watch, or glasses, or a button in your pocket, or a chip in your arm. Who knows? If Microsoft is right, here’s what’ll happen: you’ll put on goggles when you need goggles. You’ll use a keyboard when you need to get some work done. You’ll plug into a giant screen when you want to watch a movie or play a game. At every stop, you’ll have access to all your apps and services; they’ll be perfectly suited for whichever mode you’re in. They’ll be personalized to your exact needs. And they’ll be powered by Windows, if Microsoft wins this war. But this war is only just beginning, and it’s going to be vicious.

You Can Embed Playable MS-DOS Games Into Tweets

I don’t know when this became possible, but if you paste the URL to one of the many MS-DOS games that the Internet Archive has preserved on its servers into a tweet, and view said tweet on the web, the embedded game is playable within said tweet:

Yes, that is a game embedded into a tweet embedded into a story. Thank you.

Secret Shuts Down Because Anonymity Makes People Mean

Just 16 months after founding the anonymous message board app Secret, founder David Byttow seems to have realized what the rest of us have known all along: anonymity online turns people into total assholes. Guess some of us just need $35 million in funding to figure that out.

And so, in a brief post on Medium today, Byttow announced he would be shutting down the app, which struck a nerve with the Silicon Valley set when it launched early last year but has struggled to keep pace with fellow anonymity apps like Yik Yak in recent months. The shutdown means Secret will be returning money to investors, which Byttow believes is a more responsible move than attempting to pivot. In the post, Byttow writes that the decision has been the hardest of his life, and while he doesn’t address Secret’s bullying problem explicitly, he does say that what the app eventually became was not what he envisioned when he started it.

“I believe in honest, open communication and creative expression, and anonymity is a great device to achieve it,” Byttow wrote. “But it’s also the ultimate double-edged sword, which must be wielded with great respect and care.”

No Name, No Money

On one hand, you’ve got to give it to the guy. Secret is not the only app that’s had highly publicized problems with bullying and gossip. Whisper and Yik Yak are right there with it. But Byttow is the only one who’s deciding not to be complicit in it anymore by bowing out completely.

On the other hand, you have to wonder if the roles were reversed and Secret had the traction that Yik Yak has, as well as a solid revenue structure to back it up, whether Byttow would be making the same choice. Fast growth and $35 million can go a long way toward settling a worried conscience. That may be one reason Byttow waited until Secret was facing what seemed like an irreversible downturn to admit that anonymity apps actually can be as dangerous as everyone says they are.

Whatever the reason, the decision to shutter Secret seems more admirable than not. The app grew faster than the team’s ability to contain what was happening on it. And while it can be tempting not to mess with success when you’re riding a wave, allowing that kind of behavior to go on unchecked is plain irresponsible. By deciding to shut down, Byttow is sending a strong message to startups that the Zuckerbergian mantra of “move fast and break things” isn’t always justifiable when it means people getting hurt in the process.

Microsoft Shows HoloLens’ Augmented Reality Is No Gimmick

Today, Microsoft demonstrated how far its augmented-reality HoloLens wonderland project has come. In fact, it cemented HoloLens’s place as one of the most exciting new technologies we have—just in ways that you may never actually see.

When HoloLens debuted in January, the use cases Microsoft proffered were largely domestic; you could build (Microsoft-owned) Minecraft worlds in your living room, or have conversations over (Microsoft-owned) Skype with far-flung friends who felt a few feet away. Even WIRED’s behind-the-scenes look back then mostly comprised games and other low-stakes living room interactions. While a broad range of industries and institutions have use for augmented reality, Microsoft spent the bulk of its HoloLens introduction emphasizing the device’s consumer potential.

They weren’t necessarily wrong to do so. Virtual browsers on your walls, a virtual puppy wagging its virtual tail on your floor; turning your home into a holographic playground still has plenty of appeal. It also, though, raises plenty of doubts. How much would something like that even cost? How much of an improvement is HoloLens Netflix over your big-screen television? And that’s not even getting into the social challenges of strapping future-goggles to your face and pinch-zooming in thin air while your roommate and her boyfriend are just trying to watch Broad City.

There was plenty of home-use HoloLens play at Wednesday’s Microsoft BUILD developers conference. But it was joined by demonstrations of where the device’s true promise lies: schools, offices, labs, and all of the other professional settings that need better toys to help improve all of our lives.

Screenshot 2015-04-29 14.19.17 Microsoft

Real Science

You can start with the partners Microsoft already has lined up; for every consumer-focused Disney there’s a NASA, Autodesk, Sketchfab, and more. These are companies that will create uses for HoloLens for which you likely won’t have much direct personal interest. You’ll almost certainly, though, benefit from their existence.

It’s even more telling that Microsoft devoted equal if not more time to professional-grade applications as it did to managing your holographic contact lists.

In the first of these, representatives from Case Western Reserve University demonstrated how medical education could benefit from virtual anatomical lessons instead of—or more likely, in addition to—the traditional piles and piles of cadavers and thick medical tomes.

“The mixed reality of the HoloLens has the potential to revolutionize [medical] education by bringing 3D content into the real world,” said CWRU’s Mark Griswold from the BUILD stage, before demonstrating how, “using holograms we can easily separate and focus in on individual systems.” The result is like having access to every facet of the famed Bodies exhibition at once, directly in front of you, any one aspect of which you can examine more closely before retreating back to surface level.

Griswold also pointed out that while you can’t actually touch a hologram (sorry, sex industry!) its virtual nature does have certain advantages; you can animate blood flow through veins, or increase the size of a fist-sized heart to beach ball proportions to observe fine detail. And that’s just medicine; think of architecture, engineering, design. It’s a stretch to think HoloLens could give you a deeper appreciation of Jane Eyre, but there are more scholarly pursuits it could revolutionize than not.

Even those anatomical wonders were quickly outshone by a clever bit of technological inception. Microsoft also showed off B-15, a robot built from a standard maker kit, powered by a Raspberry Pi 2, blessed with a HoloLens that placed a virtual robot on top of a real one.

It should be first noted that the result is adorable. Super cute! Which is both fun in and of itself and a nod towards HoloLens’s ability, in the right setting, to make technology more accessible, both psychologically and physically. The robot-on-robot was quickly joined by a virtual panel that filled the controller’s field of view with data readouts and controls. That variety and breadth of information would be difficult to see on a tablet screen, and even more so to actually use. When it’s the size of an entire wall, though, making B-15 move, change LED colors, and more was as simple as stabbing at the air.

Screenshot 2015-04-29 15.52.12 Microsoft

Wonderful Minus the Weird

Both of these live demonstrations at BUILD were compelling examples of how HoloLens—and other augmented reality projects like it—won’t necessarily find their most power in our homes. More importantly, they don’t portend a Wall-E-world future in which the closest thing we have to physical interaction is accidentally brushing fingertips on our way to virtual mouse clicks.

That’s the real barrier to consumer adoption of augmented reality. It’s weird. It’s alienating. It’s a flashing neon signpost on your face that alternates between NO EYE CONTACT and I’M NOT QUITE HERE. Until faceputers are indecipherable from an ordinary pair of glasses—or better yet, contact lenses—they’ll continue to communicate an insurmountable sense of other. Until they do more than help you ignore the people you’re with, they’ll always be at least a little bit absurd.

The professional setting has with it few of those social pitfalls. If you’re wearing HoloLens as part of your work, you’re not being rude, you’re simply… doing your work.

There’s also precedent for augmented reality products being more successful in an office than the discount rack at Brookstone, though Microsoft may not welcome it. The original incarnation of Google Glass was by all accounts a commercial failure, but carved out a useful niche in the medical community. HoloLens, more capable, with weightier apps and more serious partners at its disposal, could find plenty more footholds.

What Microsoft showed today was an understanding that the near-future potential of reality-bending compu-googles isn’t games and gimmicks. It’s professional and practical. That’s not as exciting to watch as building a Minecraft castle, but it’s a much more realistic foundation.

In Louisville, Try the Bourbon and Zip Line (Not at Once)

Skip to story A thoroughbred horse competing in the derby can go from 0 to 40 mph in just 3 strides.A thoroughbred horse competing in the derby can go from 0 to 40 mph in just 3 strides.

“LOO-uh-vuhl,” Kentucky’s biggest city, supplies one-third of the world’s bourbon—and barrels of whiskey outnumber people in the state. All that liquid gold gets put to good use every May in mint juleps, the signature cocktail of the Kentucky Derby. This year is the 141st running of Louisville’s incredibly profitable horse race; in 2014 the Derby raked in $186.6 million in wagers. Impressive, but still just a drop in the tumbler compared to Kentucky’s booming bourbon industry, which grossed $3 billion last year, up 67 percent since 2012—or about 937.5 million mint juleps, by our calculation.

90 percent of U.S. disco balls are made in Louisville // "Happy Birthday to You" was created by sisters mildred and patty hill in Louisville in the 19th century // The city of louisville has more than 120 parks // Kentucky Derby attendance is typically 2 times higher than at a Super Bowl90 percent of U.S. disco balls are made in Louisville // “Happy Birthday to You” was created by sisters mildred and patty hill in Louisville in the 19th century // The city of Louisville has more than 120 parks // Kentucky Derby attendance is typically 2 times higher than at a Super Bowl Thomas Porostocky

Inside Amy Schumer GIF and a Graf: Girl, You Need Makeup

Oh, what? You thought Amy Schumer wouldn’t be GIF-worthy this week? Shame on your house! In what we hope is a continuing series of hot “How Men Objectify Women” dance singles, Bridge Building Feminist Warrior Schumer puts cutesy pop songs on blast for their praise of “natural beauty.” Sure, Bruno Mars loves his girl just the way she is, but telling Nathalie Kelley, a legit goddess, that she’s beautiful every day isn’t exactly hero’s work, Mars. And so we have “Girl, You Don’t Need No Makeup,” a catchy little ditty about how women are beautiful no matter what, as long as they look like women you would cast in music videos to play your girlfriend. Schumer does nonplussed better than anyone else in the game right now, and watching her keep up with the demands of four men beseeching her to wash off all that face paint, only to demand that she put it all back on, because … ew, feels so wrong it’s right.

Our Robot Forces Are Coming: A Drone Just Refueled Mid-Air

The pilots of passenger planes aren’t leaving the cockpit for the foreseeable future, but in other applications, aircraft that fly themselves are on the way, and they’re going to be a big deal. For folks like the US military, their potential is nearly limitless. They can fly into nasty areas without endangering a pilot. They don’t bring along space-consuming stuff like a seat and life support systems and a canopy. They can stay aloft for hours or even days at a time, since there’s no human pilot who wastes valuable time by touching down to do things like eat and rest.

Now the US Navy has removed one of the requirements that bring even human-free aircraft back down to Earth: the need for fuel. Last month, it refueled an autonomous plane in midair for the first time.

This is the latest step in a long and laborious series of tests for the Navy’s self-flying X47-B. A few years ago, the sleek stealth aircraft made the first aircraft carrier-based arrested landing and catapult launch on the USS George H.W. Bush.

rlg glowingA ring laser gyroscope Honeywell

In this most recent test, conducted off the coast of Maryland and Virginia, the X-47B autonomously flew up to a standard, human-flown Omega K-707 tanker and maneuvered its refueling probe into the tanker’s basket, at the end of a refueling arm.

“It’s a great testament to aviation,” says Tom Hart, vice president for the defense and space business unit at Honeywell, a contractor on the project. Fueling is “a very difficult thing for a [human] pilot to do.” In-air refueling means flying right next to another, much bigger aircraft, at hundreds of miles per hour. That’s difficult enough without worrying about hundreds of pounds of explosive jet fuel flowing through a straw. A single mistake and millions of dollars worth of hardware (and the pilot’s life) could be at risk.

To help keep the plane in exactly the right spot, Honeywell designed an ultra-accurate inertial guidance system for the plane. It’s the same idea as the gyroscopes and accelerometers in your iPhone, only much more accurate and much more expensive.

It allows the plane to take an initial bearing through GPS, then uses something called a ring-laser gyroscope to determine speed, attitude, and direction without needing an ongoing GPS fix. That’s useful because a GPS can be jammed or blocked by other aircraft (like the refueling tanker).

It’s easy to see why the military wants aircraft that can refuel themselves. The drones could fly into contested areas and operate without any risk to human life, or as a part of a force multiplier with human controlled planes.

“This is the first step of what we’re going to see,” says Hart. “It’ll be a very different Navy and Air Force 20 years from now.”