This week is Microsoft's time to shine. Its Build conference, typically held later in the year, kicked off on Wednesday and along with it came a lot more about Windows 8.1 -- which we thought we already knew plenty about, honestly. But there was more to learn, including a new milestone for the Windows Store: 100,000 apps. Well, almost 100,000 apps. Steve Ballmer said the store was "approaching" that number and has racked up "hundreds of millions" of downloads. A bit of a far cry from Apple's 50 billion, but hey, it's early days yet.
More interesting to me is the inclusion of native 3D-printing support in Windows 8.1. Good 'ol 2D printers were certainly common before the traditional driver came into standard practice, but that market didn't really take off until they effectively became plug and play. One could say it's perhaps a bit early for that kind of native support to be needed in Windows for a 3D printer, but better too soon than too late.
The new, high-def Kinect for Xbox One was confirmed for a Windows release, with early developer kits costing $400. The systems won't be readily available for PCs until next year, but overeager devs can apply now to get one before 2013 is through. Microsoft also showed off some optical character recognition support in Windows, enabling the OS to read aloud and even translate text captured through a camera.
And then there was IE. Microsoft talked at length about the 11th iteration of Internet Explorer, particularly about the standards it supports -- standards, interestingly, that previous versions of the browser patently ignored. WebGL is one of those, along with MPEG-DASH and, perhaps most interestingly, there's support for Netflix's HTML5 version. Netflix has been working hard to transition its streaming services away from Microsoft's now-shuttered Silverlight technology, a competitor to Flash that has been more or less obviated by the latest HTML spec. And, if all that weren't enough, MS confirmed IE11 would indeed be making an appearance on Windows 7. Eventually.
Some good news on the Windows Phone front, too, with Sprint finally getting in the ballgame with not one, but two passably good-looking phones. First is the ATIV S Neo from Samsung, a 4.8-inch, 720p device with a 1.4GHz dual-core chip. No mention of internal storage, but it does have a microSD slot. As does the new HTC 8XT, a 4.3-inch WVGA (boo) phone with a mere 8GB of internal storage to start. That guy will set you back $50 after contract and rebate, while the Samsung is a rather more dear $150.
HTC 8XT press images
Samsung priced up the Galaxy Tab 3 for a US release this week. The refreshed tablets have physical styling to bring them more in line with the look of the Galaxy S 4 and some of the same software enhancements. The series starts with the $199 7-inch model. The 8-incher is $299 and the 10.1 is $399. None are exactly powerhouses when it comes to specs, but they do at least all have IR blasters for controlling your television, potentially making couch surfing an even more relaxing experience.
Finally, Barnes & Noble had a tough quarter, posting a $119 million loss on starkly declining revenues across its device and content sales. To try and make things right, the company is effectively shrugging off its tablet business, partnering with an as-of-yet unnamed third party who will handle the manufacturing. B&N will continue to make Nook readers, however, which is good, as we're generally quite fond of the things.
In this week's Distro we're getting a little patriotic for our Made in the USA issue. Darren Murph takes you on a tour of an attempted smart city in Florida that sadly got postponed due to a tired economy and some complicated politics. Brian Heater visits non-profit Code.org, which is trying to plug the STEM gap and Jamie Rigg takes a deep dive on why companies like Google and Apple are choosing to manufacture products here. Theoretical physicist Michio Kaku talks about the impending doom of a lack of talent in Silicon Valley. Ross Rubin discusses the merits of an American-made Mac Pro in Switched On, while Josh Fruhlinger takes a nostalgic look at radio in Modem World. And, if that weren't enough, Adobe's VP of Experience Design Michael Gough does Q&A. Read on, dear readers. We salute you.
This piece originally appeared in Distro #97.