A surprise from today's Microsoft Build keynote was the announcement that Windows 8.1 would introduce 3D printer support in the form of developer APIs. Microsoft said it has been working with 3D printer hardware and software companies, such as MakerBot, 3D Systems, and Autodesk to develop these APIs that developers can integrate into their Windows 8 apps. While it's not clear how these APIs will work (eg. whether Microsoft has developed its own 3D object slicer), the idea is that 3D modeling programs will be able to send a compatible directly to 3D printers, without having to go through intermediate software. Currently, 3D designs (like .STL files) have to be processed through "slicers" that analyze the object to let the 3D printer know how to construct the structure of its layers. Slicer software, such as Makerbot's Makerware, has improved over the years but is still one of the big hurdles to easy desktop 3D printing.
Microsoft also announced that it will begin selling MakerBot's Replicator 2 printer in its stores, which makes me wonder how much support employees will be able to provide for printers bought there. As more people become interested in home 3D printing, the 3D printing industry could use a Genius Bar model to educate users and troubleshoot problems. We're still waiting for the first company to do that in a practical and cost-effective way.
Update: MakerBot's official statement below.
MakerBot, the leader in desktop 3D printing, is excited to announce its support for Windows 8.1. At today’s Build conference, Microsoft demonstrated Windows 8.1 with built-in support for 3D printing. MakerBot has developed a 3D printing driver that uses the new 3D print pipeline in Windows 8.1. With Windows 8.1, customers will experience plug-n-play and seamless end-to-end printing from a wide variety of applications directly to the MakerBot.
Building on this news, MakerBot also announced a reseller agreement between MakerBot and Microsoft to offer the popular MakerBot® Replicator® 2 Desktop 3D Printer in select Microsoft retail stores and online at www.microsoftstore.com. The MakerBot Replicator 2 Desktop 3D Printer will come with MakerBot’s MakerCare service.
MakerBot Replicator 2 Desktop 3D Printers are currently available at www.microsoftstore.com and in select Microsoft stores along with live demonstrations of the technology. Recently, visitors to the Microsoft store at Stanford Shopping Center in Palo Alto have been learning about MakerBot and 3D Printing through an experience and demonstration that will be expanded to the Westfield San Francisco Centre Microsoft store as of today.
“Our goal to is to make the experience of 3D printing as easy as creating and printing a document using Microsoft Word,” said Shanen Boettcher, General Manager, Startup Business Group, Microsoft. “We’re thrilled incredible companies like MakerBot are implementing Windows 8.1 support to make 3D printing a reality for the masses, and we look forward to being inspired by what people create when these amazing new software and hardware experiences come together.”
“MakerBot is about creating the MakerBot 3D Ecosystem that makes 3D designing and printing more accessible. We want to empower more people to create and make things, and working with Microsoft helps our mission, “said Bre Pettis, CEO of MakerBot. “Giving people the tools to innovate and invent just by hitting ‘print’ and sending it to your MakerBot Replicator 2 is an exciting part of fueling the Next Industrial Revolution. I am excited about the opportunities this combination will bring to our current and future customers.”