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Microsoft's multi-device future is life on the 'intelligent edge'

In its keynote address at Computex 2017, Microsoft spelled out how Windows is going to take over the world.

Luke Lancaster/CNET

Microsoft's keynote address in Taipei, Taiwan at Computex 2017 was all about "building the possible." I was mostly there in the vaunted Planery Hall auditorium for the choice cushioned seats. After a few days of writing hunched over a laptop on convention centre floors, they were a godsend.

But when Nick Parker, corporate vice president of consumer device sales took to the stage to start talking about our always-connected, multi-device future, I looked down at the laptop on my knees, the phone it was tethered to and the backup phone in my pocket (with the Australian SIM card in). I thought maybe he was on to something there.

Microsoft is looking at the "intelligent edge," a futuristic convergence of connected devices with one common interface linking them. And there's no prize for guessing what it wants to put there.


Nick Parker, corporate vice president, consumer device sales, on stage.

Luke Lancaster/CNET

The quest for ubiquity

It didn't hurt that they then went to show off pretty much every laptop and tablet we'd seen at Computex already, proudly running Windows 10. From the Flip S to the Samsung 9 Pro, some 1,500 unique Windows Device designs is nothing to sniff at, and if Windows wants to be everywhere, it's on the right track.

In addition to those laptops, Microsoft is making another play to put Cortana at the centre of your smart home with speakers from Harmon Kardon and HP. Apart from those two speakers, the devices arrayed on stage were in the traditional computing space, but it didn't stop Microsoft from leaning heavily on spreading the Windows ecosystem across the Internet of Things.

That quest is also supported by Windows 10 S, the stripped-down Windows experience that was first pitched as the way to take back the classroom. Today's demo was more in the "fully-featured windows experience" vein.

At the heart of it all was Windows 10 and Cortana. With a billion people on Windows devices and 145 million using Cortana every month, it's working up to it.


The Samsung Notebook 9 Pro, one of the many Windows 10 devices on stage.

Luke Lancaster/CNET

Updates and inputs

"We're bringing the power of AI to all we do," said Matt Barlow, corporate vice president of Windows Marketing. That means Cortana. But relatively nascent virtual assistants weren't as immediately compelling as the live Windows Ink demo, with expanded functionality across the Edge web browser and Office suite.

Seeing the stylus circle text in Word to highlight, or draw a line through it to delete got my editor sense tingling. That may be the nerdiest thing I've ever said, and that's a tight contest. Another aspect of that was smart text detection: Scribble a flight number on the note function on your lock screen, and your device will check the flight status.

It's creative and natural input combined with smart, machine-learned responses that will get Microsoft to that connected future, from the cross-platform uses of Ink and the stylus to the Surface Dial to a commitment to voice control. And having standard inputs across platforms will help that new user interface take hold.

It was big-picture, bullish stuff from Redmond on the stage at Computex, but the message was clear. The future is closer than we think, and they want you to open a window to see it.

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