Life at a Start-up : Exploring the Microsoft HoloLens

Over the last week we have been working on something quite exciting. At BuyingButler and RightIndem we pride ourselves on being a very technology focused company, and we love looking to see where we can use the latest technology to solve real problems. We have been doing just that with Microsoft new HoloLens Mixed Reality headset.

On Thursday 12th Jan 2017 we had a good friend and fellow Pluralsight author Lars Klint fly over to the UK for the NDC London conference. Before the conference he came up to Nottingham  for a couple of days to work with us around some use cases for the Hololens for RightIndem. I can’t discuss what those use cases are at the moment openly, but they are quite exciting and complement one of our project modules nicely.

If you would like Lars to run a workshop for your company, you can see the details on his workshops page. I highly recommend him for the Hololens workshop or his Winning at Life workshop.

First though, what is the HoloLens. Below is the brief description taken from the HoloLens website.

Microsoft HoloLens is the first self-contained, holographic computer, enabling you to engage with your digital content and interact with holograms in the world around you.

When wearing the headset, you still have an unrestricted view of your surroundings, but you also see holograms that are placed in the room that you can only see with the HoloLens attached. These holograms are aware of their surroundings and can be placed on walls and tables. This is achieved by the HoloLens doing spatial mapping of the environment around it. You can then interact with these holograms directly whilst walking around your environment.

The HoloLens is a Windows 10 device which is untethered, which means you do not need a cable running between the headset and a powerful computer like you do with a Virtual Reality headset like the Oculus Rift.

Lars Klint Demonstrating the HoloLens
Lars Klint Demonstrating the HoloLens

With Lars visiting our offices we had 2 goals to achieve over 2 days. On the first day Lars facilitated a brain storming session with myself and the rest of the companies management team. We already had some ideas of where the HoloLens could be applied, but the purpose of this session was to work through different ideas and walk away with a rough plan for a series of minimum viable products we could build. This session went very well, and everyone involved had the opportunity to try the HoloLens for a good amount of time. This was important as people need to understand what the experience feels like in order to understand the constraints posed. Off the back of the session we have an idea for 2 technical spikes we want to try and a prototype product to build with it. The cool thing is, we already have a company we are talking too about partnering with us to deliver a HoloLens solution.

Getting Started with Microsoft Band Development

Fellow Pluralsight author Lars Klint has just released a recording of a user group talk he did in Denmark which was about the Internet of Things and more specifically getting started with the Microsoft Band.

As a band owner myself, I have been wanting to get involved with developing against this device to read sensor data now that I have started down the Universal Windows App road, and this talk give you a good introduction so that you can get started right away.

I highly recommend watching it.

You can get started on your Microsoft Band Development journey by going to the official developer site.

Developing Windows 10 Universal Apps in Microsoft Visual Studio 2015

Now that I have upgraded my main work laptop to Windows 10, I want to learn all about the Windows 10 Universal Apps platform. I am at the beginning of this journey, so I am a beginner here. I have been looking for lots of resources to help me out and I found this TechEd training session on youtube. I have found it useful, so I thought I would share it.

I have also found the Microsoft Virtual Academy video for Windows 10 Development on Youtube. This is a longer tutorial, but covers much more detail.

Limiting Windows 10 Privacy Concerns

The release of Windows 10 has been very successful for Microsoft, but there are growing concerns from people about the level of data and telemetry that Microsoft is capturing from key logging data, usage telemetry and data about application you are running (both legitimate and pirated).

There have been many articles and tips scattered around the internet about how to limit this, but I found a useful video on Youtube that talks you through tweaking Windows 10 to limit this data capture. This includes simple and obvious tweaks to the Windows 10 settings through to deleting specific windows services, modifying group policy, tweaking the registry and updating your host file to stop Microsoft calling out to their servers.

Whether you apply all of these, or just some of them it is up to you and how bothered you are by this. If you do all of these tips then you loose things like Cortana. It’s up to you and how paranoid you are about such privacy concerns.

EDIT: If you are running Windows 10 Home edition then you will not have access to the group policy editing tool.

EDIT: I have tried all these changes out on my Surface 3 (apart from the group policy bit as I am running home edition) and everything still seems to be working OK,

Universal Windows Platform Guidance for Windows 10

Fellow Pluralsight author Lars Klint has released a Free Pluralsight webinar to help developers get started with Universal Windows Platform development under Windows 10.

If you are serious about  getting started with this platform, then I also recommend the Microsoft Virtual Academy series which will help jump start you

Universal Apps on Windows 10

With the release of Windows 10 getting ever closer (July 29th for the desktop version), Microsoft is putting a lot of weight around the new Universal Applications platform for Windows 10. This means you will now be able to write one application with one binary that works across the entire range of Windows 10 devices. This includes the desktop, mobile, IOT, Xbox, tablets and Hololens.

Universal Apps Platform
Universal Apps Platform

This is really big news and helps solidify the convergence of their platforms and builds on the windows application platform introduced as part of Windows 8.1. They were partly there with Universal Applications under Windows 8.1, but you still needed a desktop and Windows Phone version of your application even though you could share a large part of the code. Unfortunately the adoption of the Windows Application platform and store apps under Windows 8.1 was never really adopted by the mass market consumer and people who create apps for them, but I really hope that changes with Windows 10.

To me it finally seems as though Microsoft has created an almost perfect platform, and I really do hope it catches on as the programming model looks great, and a perfect evolution from Windows 8.1. Due to the fact that an app runs across all the device groups, Microsoft is claiming that not long after launch they will be on around a billion devices. This is great, but what Microsoft really has to focus on, it getting consumers to recognize that there is a store where they can buy apps.

Useful Articles on Microsofts HoloLens

Whilst on my quest for more information on HoloLens I came across some useful articles written by some early testers of the device, and also the cover feature for Februaries edition of Wired with Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella. These articles give lots of great insight into the new HoloLens device and it’s design and possible applications.

Microsoft HoloLens
Microsoft HoloLens

Microsoft HoloLens hands on: It’s early, but it’s already nifty

Project HoloLens: Our Exclusive Hands-On With Microsoft’s Holographic Goggles

Microsoft in the age of Satya Nadella

Windows 10, the Spartan Browser and HoloLens

The other day Microsoft made some interesting announcements that have started to whip up a frenzy in the tech community. The main ones that I find interesting are :

  • Windows 10 to be offered Free for a year
  • The new Spartan web browser
  • Hololens holographic glasses

Microsoft announced many other things, of which you can get a summary in the video below, but the above points are the ones that really interested me.

Windows 10 to be Offered Free for a Year

Windows 10 is shaping up to be a great new version of Windows where they are correcting a lot of the things that people hated about Windows 8 to create a more cohesive operating system between the desktop and mobile platforms. Microsoft realises that they did a lot of damage to their reputation with Windows 8 (although I didn’t think it was that bad to be honest) so to get people to adopt the new version they have announce that they will give it away for free for Windows 7 and 8 users for a year after it’s release.

Windows 10 New Start Menu
Windows 10 New Start Menu

This is good news as I think it would be a hard sell to convince people who are non MSDN subscribers to part with their cash to upgrade.

The New Spartan Web Browser

There have been rumours flying around for a while now that Microsoft is going to deprecate their Internet Explorer browser and replace it with a new experience, and it is now official. They have announced a new lightweight, and higher performance browser called Spartan.

Microsoft Spartan
Microsoft Spartan

During yesterday’s Windows 10 demonstration, Microsoft showed off how users will be able to annotate and share Web pages using Spartan, as leaks previously indicated would be the case. They also showed Spartan’s built-in reading experience capabilities and the expected Cortana integration.

Also previously leaked, Spartan will work on Windows Phones, tablets and PCs. This will make Spartan the replacement for Internet Explorer including the version that shipped with Window 8 both on the desktop and tablet devices.

Hololens Holographic Glasses

The real exciting news to me, and something I certainly wasn’t expecting, was Microsoft’s announcement of the Hololens Holographic Glasses. This device is just unbelievably cool. Essentially, when you look through the glasses you see your environment as though you was wearing a normal pair of glasses, but the device will blend 3D graphic into your environment as it you was seeing an actual holographic image.

Windows Hololens
Windows Hololens

This is in contrast to a device like the Oculus Rift where you are immersed into a completely 3D environment. What is interesting is that the Hololens is a completely untethered device as there is no cable to your computer or games console.

Microsoft had some interesting demos for this device, including controlling a Mars rover, augmented instructions for doing DIY, and a game of Minecraft. It’s early days, but the potential for this is huge. I can’t wait to get my hands on one and try some development with it.

One thing I am keen to know is what is the battery life like? This is something that will truly determine its usefulness. If it is low (around an hour) then that will seriously compromise how useful this device will be. If it can keep going for 6+ hours then this will be much more useful, especially for applications outside gaming where staff may have to wear this as part of a shift.

The possibilities are endless for this device and I am truly excited to see where this goes. I just hope Microsoft hurries up and makes it available to us developers as I want one!! I am in full on gear lust mode now!

Microsoft Hololens Minecraft Demo
Microsoft Hololens Minecraft Demo

There are no firm release dates yet, but there is supposed to be more information at Aprils Build conference in San Francisco. The following video talks about some of the possibilities with Hololens.

Microsoft in my opinion is making all the right moves. Windows 10 is shaping up to be a great new version of Windows, and their new Browser will hopefully cure all the ills of Internet Explorer. The future of being a developer in the Microsoft eco-system has never looked so good.

Windows 10 Technical Preview

The other day Microsoft announced their new version of Windows, called Windows 10. If you want to try this yourself then you can download the preview from here. This is of-course a very early preview, but the new features so far include:

  • The return of the Start Menu: It’s back by popular demand. It’s a funny one, as this is what has caused so much fuss with Windows 8. I got around the problem by just installing Start 8, but some people really did get upset.
  • Task View and virtual workspaces : I am surprised it has taken this long to get virtual workspaces. I flit between Windows and Linux and this has always been something I really like in the gnome derivative Linux front ends.
  • Snap Assist : A new Snap Assist feature also helps users work out which way is best to snap apps to. You can snap windows into new screens and tile Windows.
  • Command Prompt Keyboard Short-cuts : you can now paste directly into the command prompt. FINALLY!!
  • Home Location: The latest windows explorer has a handy home location as the default view in explorer.
  • Continuum : Continuum is an on-the-fly mode for 2 in 1 devices that can automatically change mode if it detects there is suddenly no keyboard attached. So, for example, a back button appears to help you navigate the Desktop with touch if the keyboard is removed.
  • Windows 10 Universal Apps : Windows 10 will also usher in a new app model – Universal Windows apps. Windows Universal apps are the new name for Metro apps/Modern apps/Windows Store apps. Windows 10 will be able to run on all devices from phones to servers and there will be a single app store across the lot.
Windows 10 Installation
Windows 10 Installation

I downloaded the ISO image last night and started installing it into VMWare Workstation. The installation looked very familiar to that of Windows 8 and was pretty painless. I was up and running within 20 minutes.

The basic look and feel is similar to Windows 8 also, but as you can see in the screen shot below, the Start Menu is back and it represents a hybrid between the original Windows 7 start button and the Windows 8 Modern UI live tiles. On first impressions I like it. I need to play around with it more to configure it to my liking, but on first impressions I think I can easily get used to it.

Windows 10 New Start Menu
Windows 10 New Start Menu

My personal favourite new feature is the new virtual workspaces. Whilst many other operating systems have had this for ages, it is nice to finally get this in Windows. I like the idea of running my software development applications in 1 workspace and productivity apps on another if I am working on a single screen, or laptop.

Windows 10 Multiple Desktops
Windows 10 Multiple Desktops

My first impressions are that Microsoft are on the right track with Windows 10. They have learnt a lot of hard lessons from Windows 8, so I hope that this new version, once it finally gets released, will be their new killer operating system like Windows 7 was. I have only played with it for half an hour so far as it was quite late in the evening once I got it installed, but I will have a longer play and do a longer post about it.

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