Microsoft touts Windows upgrade, new Bing platform

SAN FRANCISCO — Microsoft obviously believes in the old motto that if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.

At a developer conference here, company official unveiled a new version of its flagship Windows software, announced that its opening up technologies from its Bing search engine for programmers to use in their apps and touted new smartphones running its Windows Phone software.

Many of the announcements at the Build conference concerned Windows 8.1, the upcoming update to its PC software, and were largely expected. With the new software, Microsoft is returning its iconic Start button to the lower rightleft-hand corner of the desktop and will allow users to boot directly to the desktop interface.

But company CEO Steve Ballmer and his team still had a few surprises for attendees. Windows 8.1 will provide native support for 3D printing, for example, making it easier for consumers to take concepts they’ve developed on their computer and create real-world objects out of them. Windows 8.1 will also support touchless gestures, allowing cooks in the kitchen, say, to be able to move up and down a Web page without having to touch their screen.

Perhaps the biggest announcement though, was that Microsoft is trying to turn Bing into a “platform,” allowing developers to incorporate a range of Bing technologies beyond its search engine into their applications. Programmers will have access to Bing’s text recognition and visual search capabilities and its support for natural interfaces, such as touch. Microsoft executive Gurdeep Singh-Pall demonstrated a sample application that allowed users to ask aloud about the architect of a museum building in Spain they were viewing in Microsoft’s Map application. The system quickly returned an answer.

The updates appear to be an effort by the company to rejuvenate some of its primary consumer business lines. Sales of Windows 8 have been disappointing as PC sales have plunged. Windows Phone is an after-thought in a smartphone market increasingly dominated by Google’s Android and Apple. Meanwhile, Bing has struggled to gain traction against Google in the search business.


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