Microsoft remembers it was going to bring Windows 11 to HoloLens

While Apple has Vision Pro, Redmond's taking vision slow?

News in recent months about Microsoft's mixed reality business has itself been mixed. First were reports of Congress pumping the brakes on a $22 million Pentagon contract for custom HoloLens headsets and layoffs hitting the equipment's team, including shuttering its AltspaceVR social platform.

That was followed by a statement that Microsoft planned to move the HoloLens 2 headset to Windows 11, tamping down speculation that Redmond was thinking of exiting the virtual-reality space altogether.

That promise came through this week with the roll-out of version 23H1 of Windows Holographic, with functionality that will focus on managing and updating HoloLens VR headsets and their software.

For those who don't know, Windows Holographic is described by Microsoft as a mixed-reality platform; it's really a form of Windows running on VR goggles – primarily the IT giant's HoloLens series – allowing developers to use a familiar API when building apps for that immersive 3D environment.

Upgrading that OS from Windows 10 to Windows 11 reinforces Microsoft's commitment to its mixed-reality platform, according to Lola Bryan, principal PM manager at Microsoft whose purview includes mixed reality.

"We have optimized our engineering infrastructure and increased engineering velocity," Bryan explained. "For end-users, we have increased reliability and predictability of updating apps, as well as the OS. And we've made it quicker to close apps at the same time."

The vendor wants to make it easier for IT admins "to deploy and manage HoloLens devices, including the ability to schedule reboots, perform device resets and work more seamlessly with Autopilot."

A crowded, fast-growing space

It's an important step not only for users but also for the company itself, which still wants to establish its presence in a mixed-reality market that may expand into the tens of billions of dollars by the end of the decade and promises to become even more crowded. Apple earlier this month at its annual Worldwide Developers Conference unveiled an augmented-reality headset called Vision Pro. Facebook has its metaverse and own range of Oculus headsets.

Microsoft sees an opportunity for HoloLens and similar mixed-reality tools in the industrial space, from warehouses and factories to service locations, leveraging emerging technologies like machine learning and digital twins.

The upgrade to Windows 11 means the Window Holographic platform and everything that comes with it will get security and feature updates on a continuous basis as well as other benefits of Microsoft support.

The shift to the newest OS comes with almost a dozen new features, including being able to manually check for updates to Microsoft Store apps even if the store is blocked as part of a business' policies; close all placements of an application in a mixed-reality world by selecting "Close all" from the application's menu; and use the Microsoft Edge WebView2 control for embedding web technologies, such as HTML and JavaScript, in native VR apps.

Edge WebView2 is in public preview.

In addition, the "get started" button to reset a device won't appear until the device meets the minimum of 40 percent of battery charge and 6GB of free disk space needed to complete a reset. Microsoft also added a setting to enable HoloLens 2 users to begin an Autopilot reset without requiring a manual firmware flash update.

While using Autopilot to provision a HoloLens device, applications in both Dynamics 365 Remote Assist and Dynamics 365 Guides will be automatically updated to the latest available versions.

The device also will let users know when an update is available to download rather than when they're ready to install, and one of the out-of-box-experience screens that appears before calibration will show data on the use of the device for head, hands, and eye movements.

Culling the herd when limit is met

Microsoft also developed controls to let folks who hit the 64-user limit of HoloLens 2 users to delete the least-recent users at controlled intervals.

"Deleting users in a controlled way is useful for other reasons, too," Bryan wrote. "Removing the inactive accounts speeds up the sign-in process and improves privacy and security by reducing retention of unused data."

Users can reach the 23H1 build by going to Settings > Update & Security > Windows Update > Check for updates. IT admins can use Windows Update for Business and mobile device management policy to update fleets of HoloLens devices.

Of course, you will have to have updated to Windows Holographic 21H1 before they can update to this latest version. ®

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