Microsoft wants back in the game, and it is using a little science fiction to get there. The company has seemed adrift in recent years. But on Wednesday, it unveiled an unexpected new headset that allows interaction with holographic images, enabling people to play video games, build 3-D models and hold immersive videoconferences.
With the device, HoloLens, Microsoft is entering an increasingly crowded area, with giant competitors, in the world of virtual and augmented reality. Whether Microsoft can outmaneuver those companies, like Facebook and Google, is far from guaranteed.
Still, the HoloLens could help renew some of the luster Microsoft has lost in the last decade, when it reacted late to critical new technology trends like mobile devices, cloud computing and internet search.
Satya Nadella, Microsoft’s chief executive, went even farther, saying that the new technology heralded a big shift in the industry. “Our industry’s progress is punctuated by moments of category creation,” he said. “Windows and holographic computing is one such moment.”
Microsoft said the headset would be available around the same time that Windows 10 is released, which is expected to be this year. The company would not disclose any pricing information. In one of its most significant moves, Microsoft said it would offer the Windows 10 operating system free to existing customers who were using the two earlier versions of its operating system, Windows 7 and Windows 8.1. Those customers will be able to update their computers to Windows 10 free for the first year after the new software is introduced. It will make the same offer for people who use Windows Phone 8.1.