Microsoft’s annual developer’s conference is going on now. There weren’t any astonishing announcements on the scale of last year’s revelation of HoloLens, or even at the level of “free upgrade to Windows 10” announcement*.
* Nor has there been any word about what happens when that free upgrade period runs out at the end of July.
But what they did announce is rather interesting. Not the AI tools and the ongoing announcements of new cloud functions. Developers may go ga-ga over some of that. Consumers will be more interested in the announcement of “Windows 10 Anniversary Update” (which I’ll refer to as “AU” for the rest of this piece).
AU, which will be released “this summer,” will tie Cortana more deeply into the infrastructure, allowing the OS to link applications together–the example demoed was writing a note “Call Mom tomorrow” and having Cortana automatically create a calendar reminder, complete with Mom’s phone number. The functionality will be exposed to third-party developers. If non-Microsoft programs pick up on that–and I suspect they will, and quickly–that just might be useful enough for me to turn Cortana on.
Biometric authentication will also take a big step forward in AU, according to Microsoft. “Windows Hello” isn’t just fingerprint scanners. It will also include other technologies, including facial recognition: sit down at your computer and it’ll use your webcam to recognize your face and unlock itself. Android has had that capability for a while, but it’s still rough around the edges. Hopefully more powerful desktop machines will do a better job of reliably recognizing users than phones do. In any case, AU will not only implement Hello for unlocking the computer, but will also let third-party software use the same technology for other logins: programs, networks, and websites.
Then there’s the third major enhancement for consumers. AU will include what could be called a Linux accessibility layer. For those of you who speak Linux, Windows will introduce the bash shell as an alternative to the aging “DOS” command prompt and the (IMNSHO) over-complicated PowerShell. As you might guess, this is controversial in the Linux community. Accusations of selling out are flying.
This isn’t totally new territory, of course. Tools for running Linux software on Windows have been around for years–Cygwin is arguably the best known, and it dates back to the mid nineties. For that matter, Microsoft has supplied tools to integrate Windows and UNIX systems since the days of NT.
What’s new here is that it’s (a) from Microsoft, (b) written with the help of Canonical (makers of Ubuntu Linux), and (c) doesn’t have the hassles of previous solutions: no recompiling applications, running a full-on virtual machine, or being limited to a tiny subset of available software. If we can believe the early reports, most command line Linux software will run unmodified–just download and go, and GUI software should theoretically* be almost as solid.
* The difference between theory and practice is, of course, that in theory there isn’t a difference…
As I said, there’s a lot of sniping, snapping, and snarling going on in the Linux community right now. Personally, I’m on the side that considers this move a definite positive. At least three-quarters of the Windows-using public will never notice the “Windows Subsystem for Linux”. But those of us who live on the command line should be cheering. No more “bad command or filename” when we absentmindedly type “rm” instead of “del”. And I’ll take vim over Notepad any day. (Maybe that’s just me.)
One final thought: AU is due out “this summer” and the free upgrade offer expires July 29. Here’s my bold, fearless prediction: AU will come out in mid-July, and on August 1, the nag messages upgrade to Windows 10 will stop. Instead, Windows Update will simply go ahead and install AU on every system capable of running it. You heard it here first.