On Wednesday, Microsoft announced that it’s opened up Windows Holographic, the operating system behind its futuristic HoloLens goggles, to partners like Dell, HTC, and Intel.
This is a huge step forward for Microsoft’s overall strategy — companies like Facebook, HTC, and, of course, Microsoft itself, all believe that with the PC market in decline, the future of computing lies in headsets that bring you into virtual worlds.
Now, Microsoft is positioning itself as the operating system that bridges all of those gadgets and devices, providing a common platform from which developers can build their virtual reality and augmented reality apps. It’s a little like how Microsoft took over the PC world in the eighties in the first place.
The key here is to push the idea of “mixed reality,” bringing together virtual reality and augmented reality, explains Microsoft Windows boss Terry Myerson in a blog entry.
“Providing devices with the ability to perceive the world, breaking down the barriers between virtual and physical reality is what we call mixed reality,” Myerson writes.
If you’re having trouble wrapping your head around the idea, Microsoft also has an illustrative video:
Microsoft is envisioning a future where somebody wearing a virtual reality headset can “teleport” in to a conversation between people wearing a HoloLens headset. Indeed, the HTC Vive headset has signed on with Windows Holographic with this news.
The idea is to turn Windows into almost a common language for all of these gadgets, helping them all provide a consistent interface and set of services. Again, this is very similar to how Microsoft and IBM won over the PC industry.
“[Many] of today’s devices and experiences do not work with each other, provide different user interfaces, interaction models, input methods, peripherals, and content. And most virtual reality experiences can’t mix real people, objects, and environments into the virtual world, making creation and collaboration difficult,” writes Myerson.
This all actually lines right up with Mark Zuckerberg’s vision for virtual reality in the year 2026: The CEO envisions a world where virtual reality, like Facebook’s own Oculus Rift headset, and augmented reality, like Microsoft’s HoloLens, get combined into one super-device that look like a pair of Ray-Bans.
Which is why it’s a little jarring that Facebook isn’t mentioned in the Windows Holographic announcement, given that the social network is also Microsoft’s bestie. But the word on the street is that Microsoft will soon announce a new Xbox One video game console model that supports the Oculus Rift. Maybe that would lead in to a potential Facebook and Windows partnership in virtual reality.
Regardless, if Microsoft is right and “mixed reality” is the next big wave in computing, opening up Windows Holographic makes the company especially well-positioned to ride the wave — as more companies build more devices, with Windows as the standard, Microsoft stands to profit no matter which way the market goes.