Microsoft's Nadella Says HoloLens Is A Five-Year Project, And Partners Say That Sounds About Right

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella says developers will soon be able to get their hands on the first software development kit for HoloLens, the vendor's wearable computer and augmented reality platform.

"We will get out the development kit by next year for sure. This is going to be a five-year journey," Nadella said of HoloLens during an appearance at's Dreamforce conference last week.

Many Microsoft partners see HoloLens as the most interesting new technology to come out of Microsoft's R&D labs in years. They're also encouraged that Microsoft, since Nadella took over as CEO in February 2014, has adopted a decidedly more friendly approach to developers, which is fueling interest in HoloLens.

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Richard Campbell, principal at Coquitlam, B.C.-based development firm Campbell Associates, said current HoloLens hardware is being pushed to its limits by the software, so the five-year window isn't unreasonable.

Campbell sees HoloLens as one of the most ambitious projects Microsoft has ever attempted because augmented reality technology is extremely difficult to develop. HoloLens is also very different from the wearable computers that other vendors have developed, he said.

Users wearing the HoloLens headset can see and interact with high-definition holographic images projected onto real-world environments. Microsoft says this creates an immersive three-dimensional experience in which users can move objects, navigate through a room, and even design motorcycles.

"Everyone else has avoided doing true augmented reality. When you put on those goggles, the view you see maps exactly to the three-dimensional space you are in. That's not the case with Google Glass or Oculus Rift," Campbell told CRN.

At Dreamforce, Nadella said Microsoft believes HoloLens could have lots of potential not just for gaming, but also for architecture, health care, industrial design and other enterprise customers.

"If you use [Autodesk's Maya 3-D animation software] on HoloLens, there is literally no going back, because you see the output of what you're designing right next to you," said Nadella at the event.

However, Nadella also told attendees that HoloLens technology is still in its early stages of development.

"We are at the very beginning of understanding even how we're going to deal with this medium, as developers, as users, as everyone," Nadella said.

Microsoft said at its Build conference earlier this year that it plans to use the Windows Universal Apps model for HoloLens development, which lets developers write one set of code for apps that run on Windows PCs, phones and tablets.

Campbell said this move should attract .NET developers to the platform. "If you want a product to go mainstream, you need mainstream developers to be able to walk through a few wizards and get stuff working," he said.

Scott Stanfield, CEO of Vertigo Software, a Richmond, Calif.-based Microsoft partner that does video work for Major League Baseball, NBC Sports, PBS, GoPro and other customers, told CRN he's excited about HoloLens.

However, Stanfield isn't expecting his customers to spend money on HoloLens projects until Microsoft announces pricing, in part because they're focused on other device platforms at the moment. "Our clients are overwhelmed with the flood of new devices. There's a bit of device fatigue," he said.

Vertigo Software built apps for Microsoft's Surface table computer when prototypes arrived in 2008, and Stanfield said this was no easy undertaking due to the complexity of the touch interface. He believes HoloLens will present a similar sort of challenge to developers, even with the Universal Windows Apps model, because it's a completely new category of device.

It remains to be seen whether HoloLens matures in the way Microsoft envisions. Wearable computers are still a new concept, and in light of the obtuse behavior that some Google Glass users have exhibited, they could be a tough sell for some people, even though HoloLens isn't designed to be worn in everyday scenarios.

Still, Campbell gives the software giant credit for having the vision and ambition to create an entire new category of computing.

"Microsoft is doing the hard thing by combining digital assets with the outside world so well that you forget which is which. Augmented reality is the problem everyone wants solved, and if Microsoft can solve it, it will push us over the hump of wearing a computer on your face."