On Thursday, May 11, Microsoft kicked off its technical conference with another keynote filled with new announcements designed to fire up developers and UI designers alike. As you will see, there are some significant new announcements, but Microsoft is also putting developers on notice: Get in the app store, embrace new and modern designs, and get off the Win32 train. In this article, I cover the big new announcements. Enjoy!
Announcing Microsoft Windows 10 Fall Creators Update
For far too many years, people complained that Microsoft focused too much on business applications and not enough on designers and artists. With the Windows 10 Creators Update that is pushing out right now, Microsoft hopes to address many of those issues. For example, they are [finally] embracing HiDPI screens (Apple calls them Retina displays), support for Microsoft Surface Dial, and apps to create 3D images.
Today, Microsoft announced the release of the Fall Creators Update that will offer even more features for designers and creators.
As always, Microsoft rolls out their product teams to do demos, but this one got the most applause of all. With Story Remix, the app uses machine learning and artificial intelligence to compile your photos and videos into custom videos. It will add music, scene changes, and much more. The cool part is the announcement of support for adding animated 3D elements directly into your video, and they support the ability for designers to share their 3D elements within other applications. The following video showcases just a few of the features Story Remix offers:
Fluent Design System
Microsoft is slowly modifying Windows and their apps to support a new design system Microsoft refers to as Fluent Design. With Fluent Design, Microsoft wants the operating system and all user-facing apps to look modern and fresh. Personally, I think they took a lot of design cues from Apple’s Mac OS, like thin scrollbars, a semi-transparent background, and animations. To be fair, they are pushing the boundaries with Fluent Design, so it supports UWP (Universal Windows Platform). With Fluent Design, Microsoft is thinking about how your app can look great on a PC, in mixed reality, on an Xbox, and other Windows-based operating systems.
Microsoft breaks out the Fluent Design into the following five broad categories.
Oddly, it would seem Microsoft is using one term for marketing purposes and another term for developers. For example, Reveal highlighting (the developer feature), Microsoft’s marketing video refers to it as Light. In the following list of features, I will list the developer name first and the marketing name second.
- Perspective parallax/depth – Add layers to your app to reveal items underneath as you scroll the window or select an item. Microsoft showed what looks like a modern website where as you scroll, some things move faster than others giving the impression one item is on top of another.
- Reveal highlighting/light – Items on the screen start lighting up with subtle reveals as you move the mouse over them. For example, in the new Windows Calendar app, you can see buttons highlight as the mouse moves over and other buttons will slightly highlight as if to say “Hey! You can click on me too!”.
- Acrylic/material – Give Windows and other UI elements a modern feel, where elements of the window are semi-transparent so you can focus on the main content of your app. An example of this is making the top of the browser less intrusive so you can focus on browsing content.
- Connected animations/motion – Add smooth animated transitions from one screen to another or one object to another. The best example I saw of this was a music app that lists some albums. When you select an album for listening, the graphic for that animates to the top of the page while the other albums fade out and the player controls animate into the screen.
- Scale (also marketed as Scale) – Microsoft does not want developers to think about designing apps for a flat screen. They know people will use mixed reality (like HoloLens) and Microsoft Surface Dial, so developers should be thinking about all the various ways a user may interact with an app.
Announcing XAML Standard 2.0
Microsoft wants to empower developers to create great looking apps on any operating system, so with XAML standard, Microsoft is taking their XAML markup language and opening it up for use on multiple platforms. Microsoft seems to be working hard to make sure XAML Standard recognizes the user interfaces you use on various devices–making sure XAML standard does not try to force a Windows look-and-feel on the operating system that your application runs on. For example, in XAML Apple will not want you creating Windows-style buttons on iOS. You will simply say there is a button to put on the display. When the app runs on iOS, the button will display as an iOS button. That same code could run in Windows or Android and display the default buttons for Windows and Android.
Microsoft recently purchased a company named Xamarin that creates multi-platform tools using Microsoft technology. This technology is called Xamarin.Forms. From what I understand so far, XAML Standard will be the new marketing moniker for Xamarin.Forms but it does not seem that is happening quite yet so I could be wrong.
Windows Store getting a boost
With all this talk of creating modern apps, it was interesting to see the list of new features the Windows Store is getting. For example, here are the apps that you should expect (presumably later this fall):
- Apple iTunes
It certainly makes sense that Apple iTunes is coming to the Windows Store because they have plenty of iOS users that also have Windows PCs. By adding iTunes to the Windows Store, Apple secures a place in the new Windows 10S operating system.
As for openSUSE and Fedora, you might think it odd to install an operating system–a Linux flavor especially–from the Windows Store, but it makes sense. Microsoft wants Windows to be the best developer platform for any operating system, so Microsoft will presumably start winning over Windows holdouts in the developer community.
Announcing Project Rome
When Apple announced continuity, it was a real game changer for people using Mac and iOS. This feature allows users to work on a file or email on the computer and quickly pick up what they are doing on any iOS device (or vice-versa). With continuity, you also get the ability to share the clipboard across devices and even use your iPhone’s phone on the Mac to text and make and receive phone calls.
With Project Rome, Microsoft is taking direct aim at Apple’s continuity features, but unlike Apple where you mostly use these features when two devices are nearby using Bluetooth, Microsoft is taking an online-only approach. This means if you are working on a file on one computer, you can quickly pick up on another computer or device. You can also share your clipboard via the cloud, and much more.
Big changes to Microsoft Graph
Microsoft is making big bets that users want to have more visibility into things that are more important to them. Microsoft is going to let developers add elements of their product into the Graph that allows them to track app usage, but will also help Microsoft show files, events, and other important things to users running Windows. They showed an example of a page where upcoming meetings, recently used documents, and common people they work with show up in one neat, unified display.
Click here to learn more about Microsoft Graph.
Of course, there were lots more announcements, but these were the big ones. Should Microsoft have more big announcements on Friday, I will be sure to share them.