A tour around Microsoft’s London apartment

Yesterday we were invited around to Microsoft’s swanky London-based gaff (apartment) to see how the company’s latest technologies are changing the way we live and work. It’s undeniable the impact Microsoft has already had on our daily lives; you’re hard-pressed to find a school or enterprise which isn’t running Windows, or at least using the Office productivity suite.

Microsoft’s software powers ATMs, medical devices, self-checkouts… it has changed the world, for the better, and there are a large proportion of people who don’t realise quite the scale it has touched their lives.

But the company is going through a huge transition period, as the company’s newly-appointed CEO says, Microsoft is embracing a “Cloud first, Mobile first” strategy which is a departure from the traditional software which has kept the big bucks rolling in for some time now. Even more jarring is the Microsoft ship is transforming from a software company into both a hardware and a software company – with devices such as the Surface Pro, and the acquisition of the incredible mobile phone talent at Nokia.

Not everyone has been too pleased with the changes Microsoft has had to make in order to allow for this transition. The most criticised is Windows 8, which originally switched the “desktop” users have been used to for many years for a new touch-friendly “Start screen”. Worse still, although you could manually find your way back to the desktop – the “start menu” had completely disappeared and left long-time users scratching their heads where to go. It was a disaster. Chris Pirillo released a video which went viral of his father completely perplexed where to find the start menu he was used to – before giving up.

With Windows 8.1, Microsoft made small improvements which made a radical difference to the usability of Windows 8 – particularly when using the traditional mouse and keyboard set-up the majority of people are still using. It introduced the ability to boot to the desktop, and beautiful Windows 8 apps can be run directly from here and minimised or closed via the traditional means rather than the confusing (when not on a touch device) “click the top and drag down” to close.

Microsoft was keen to show off a typical office with a mouse and keyboard set-up available alongside a portable Surface hybrid and a Windows Phone. This is almost exactly the set-up I use and love at home all except the Windows Phone (but I’m tempted – admittedly.)

It’s a fluid and extremely tight experience. Once you’re used to the new interface you realise its benefits for a consistent experience across devices. Microsoft's head of Developer Group, Anand Krishnan, spoke at the event of this importance in terms of development with 90% of the code able to be shared across platforms (Windows, Windows RT, Windows Phone...) In a modern day OS you need a UI which can scale across your desktop, tablet, and smartphone, and Microsoft is the only one who currently provides this whether you personally feel they’ve pulled it off or not.

Talking of personal, a demonstration showed how you can save aspects of personalisation such as theme colours and within seconds all your devices are seamlessly updated. Again, this adds to the consistent experience. Of course things like documents are saved via OneDrive, and WiFi passwords .etc are also synced so you can leave quickly and know you can carry on your work on the move.

Windows Phone wasn’t left out and the team are excited about its rapid marketshare growth which we’ve seen in research from firms such as Kantar. The team recently unveiled an update to Windows Phone 8 which brings a multitude of improvements including a notification centre, but most importantly, a voice assistant which is by far the most powerful available on the consumer market today.

Dubbed ‘Cortana’ after the AI in the Halo video games – she can learn your personal interests and preferences via her “notebook” (individual collected items can be deleted for privacy) and uses the immense power of Bing’s Satori knowledge graph to serve you key assistance.

Microsoft, at this event, just wanted to show off where the team are at today. Next week DeveloperTech will be returning for another event to hear from some of Microsoft’s senior executives on how Microsoft technologies have helped transform British businesses.

Do you think Microsoft is heading in the right direction? Let us know in the comments.

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12 Jun 2014, 3:54 p.m.

Wow! Sounds like a pretty amazing apartment. The new voice assistant sounds interesting, is it much better than Siri?