First Windows, then PlaysForSure -- what's the next realm of disparate hardware that Microsoft wants to unify under its big blue banner? Why, robotics, of course. Yesterday Microsoft launched its new Microsoft Robotics Studio, a development environment for Windows that supports "a wide variety of hardware platforms" for making all those crazy robots do their thing. The Robotics Studio includes a visual programming language for drag-and-drop robot programming -- though if hand coding is more your style, many programming languages are supported as well -- a 3D visualisation tool based on AGEIA's PhysX engine for simulating bots, and a lightweight runtime environment for working with a multitude of hardware. Plenty of big names in robotics seem to be getting behind the platform, including iRobot and LEGO, who both announced compatibility with the Robotics Studio. Microsoft's approach is quite extensible, and 3rd party software add-ons for commercial and educational use are already cropping up. The best news is that the Studio is free to hobbyists, students and academics, while commercial developers can score a license for $399. Bill Gates seems to have his full weight behind the initiative, with a self-penned eight page article in Scientific American likening the Robotics Studio to what Microsoft did for the computer industry in the 70's. No matter your stance on Microsoft, it's hard to argue with the unifying effect this app could have on the robotics industry -- but let's go easy on the bundled apps this time around, mmkay?