Microsoft Build 2017 kicks off Wednesday morning in Seattle, a homecoming for the tech giant after years of holding its annual developers conference here in San Francisco.
That's an apt rally-the-troops move considering the escalating battle between some of tech's biggest companies in the arenas of artificial intelligence, home-assistant hardware and augmented reality.
Some 5,500 developers have heeded the Redmond, Wash., company's call, helping Build sell out in a day. As Facebook, Apple and Google do with their big developer confabs, Microsoft will use the event to evangelize about its strategy while urging software pros to spend time developing much-needed apps for Microsoft's ecosystem.
Chat-bots were the big story out of Build 2016 — CEO Satya Nadella pronounced the artificial-intelligence helpers "the new apps" — but famously fizzled out of the gate when, days before the conference, hackers turned Microsoft's Tay bot into an epithet-spewing racist.
That said, expect bots to be back.
"Last year, Microsoft got ahead of Google, Facebook, Apple and even Amazon on the notions of bots and AI," or artificial intelligence, says Patrick Moorhead, president of Moor Insights & Strategy. "Bots have ended up so far to be a non-event, but AI is on fire. Microsoft needs to provide updates and enhancements on both."
Moorhead also anticipates updates on the next generation of Windows 10, which is due out in September, as well as details on Microsoft's cash machine, its cloud computing platform Azure.
"Azure is the number two public cloud platform to Amazon (and its Amazon Web Services), and I’d like to see Microsoft to give clarity into their hybrid-cloud solution, Azure Stack," he says, referring to a platform that helps businesses combine on-premise computing power with cloud computing.
Bank on Build 2017 being used to tout Microsoft's efforts to bite off a piece of Amazon's booming Echo market. The Alexa-powered home assistant speaker, which just got video capability, is being matched by a new offering from Samsung-owned Harman Kardon, which just unveiled its Invoke speaker, powered by Microsoft's digital assistant Cortana.
After three years under Nadella, Microsoft's stock price (MSFT) is at an all-time high anchored largely to consistent gains from Azure. But the most recent quarter revealed weaknesses, particularly in Surface hybrid tablets, which experienced a 26% sales drop.
Expect Nadella to kick things off with a keynote that continues to stress his mantra, "empowering everyone on the planet" through its suite of cloud-based productivity tools ranging from Office to recently purchase LinkedIn.
Build 2017 will undoubtedly also showcase some kind of gee-whiz demo related to the company's groundbreaking mixed-reality headset, HoloLens, an untethered device that at present remains in the hands of developers only.
While a $300 mixed-reality headset from partners Acer and HP was just announced, don't expect that experience to echo that of $3,000 HoloLens, which Microsoft is betting on as the next generation of computing device that rids us all of our desktops and laptops as our keyboards and monitors suddenly hover in front of us.
Build 2017 takes place at the Seattle Convention Center Wednesday through May 12, and some of its big sessions will be live streamed.
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