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Microsoft Will Let Windows 10 Users Log Into Apps and Websites With Just a Smile

An "anniversary update" this summer will include improvements to Cortana as well as the ability to log into apps and websites using fingerprints and other biometrics.

Mike Kepka

Microsoft plans to update Windows 10 this summer with improvements to the Cortana assistant, better support for biometric security and improvements to the way digital pens work with the operating system.

The OS, which debuted last year, is now in active use by 270 million people, Windows chief Terry Myerson said Wednesday as Microsoft kicked off its Build developer conference in San Francisco. That puts Microsoft a little more than a quarter of the way to its goal of having one billion active users in roughly three years.

 Microsoft's Brian Roper showed some of the new inking capabilities coming to Windows 10 this summer.
Microsoft’s Brian Roper showed some of the new inking capabilities coming to Windows 10 this summer.
Brian Roper/Microsoft

With the update, Windows 10 owners will be able to use facial recognition, fingerprints or other biometric information to log into apps and websites, rather than just to start their computer.

Because they are also based on Windows 10, the new software will also come to the Xbox One and the HoloLens developer kit. Microsoft said it will announce more gaming features coming as part of the Windows 10 update at the E3 video game show.

On the app front, Myerson said the company is getting increased support from developers — including Facebook, which is bringing Instagram and Messenger to Windows 10 as well as its advertising network.

The company also introduced a tool that will let developers easily convert older Windows programs into the “modern” app style introduced with Windows 8. That will let app makers sell through Windows 10’s built-in store, among other things. (This is a big deal, as Microsoft estimates there are 16 million older Windows programs out there.)

Getting modern apps has been the big challenge for the company since the debut of Windows 8, with Microsoft using its annual conference as part of a renewed effort to sway developers to include Windows apps in their development plans.

Microsoft also used a good chunk of its discussion Wednesday to talk about Windows as a good place to write apps, not only for Windows but also for other platforms including iOS and Android. Last month the company bought startup Xamarin, whose tools help in that regard.

In an effort to woo smaller game developers, Microsoft announced a kit that will turn a standard Xbox One into a game development machine.

While Microsoft’s HoloLens is still some time away from being available to consumers, Microsoft said as of today it has started shipping its $3,000 developer kit to programmers and early business customers.

Case Western Reserve University and the Cleveland Clinic are using HoloLens, for example, to show medical students the inner workings of the body without the need for a human patient.

Pamela Davis, dean of Case Western’s medical school, said HoloLens saves students hours and hours spent in cadaver labs.

Ina Fried for Re/code

“When we have only four short years to train them, this is incredibly valuable,” she said.

Microsoft also showed off a “Galaxy Explorer” that lets users of the holographic computer virtually traverse the solar system.

CEO Satya Nadella also talked about the importance of bots and “conversation as a platform” — its recent challenges with millennial chatbot Tay notwithstanding.

In a reference to Tay, Nadella said the goal with its artificial intelligence projects is “to capture the best of humanity, not the worst.”

The company’s biggest investment thus far has been Cortana, its automated assistant. Microsoft has already brought Cortana to iOS, Android and Windows, with plans to bring it to the Xbox in the upcoming summer update.

To highlight the power of bots, Nadella related the story of how the 80-year-old mother of Microsoft executive Xi Lu struggled with computing, but uses WeChat to have conversations not only with people, but also businesses and automated bots.

“That shows the power of human language,” Nadella said. “This is the rich world of conversations we envision.”

As WeChat has already done, Microsoft sees the potential to move into a conversation many tasks traditionally done in an app or website, starting with Skype.

Microsoft also showed several ways it is improving Cortana, including allowing developers to make proactive suggestions to users. An early partner there is location-sharing service Glympse.

As for Tay, Nadella said: “We’re back to the drawing board.”

The event is still going on. Check back for frequent updates.

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