A lot was going on at Microsoft's Maker Faire tent: massive robots were hurling themselves at one another, puppets were crashing cars and gamers were creating whole worlds. It was another innovation that took center stage, however. That wild and crazy leap forward — none other than Windows 8.1.
On a given day, the simple addition of the number one behind a decimal point wouldn't trump giant robots. But that is not this day, for this particular update to Microsoft's OS actually brings us something wonderful: 3D printing.
Bundled with bug fixes and the like is an interface that makes connecting and using your 3D printer as simple as plugging it in. Once your 3D printer is connected to your Windows PC, the OS detects the device as if it were something as old-hat as a traditional laserjet 2D printer. The appropriate drivers are downloaded and you're good to go. So toss out those software CDs and complex setup instructions and join Microsoft in the future.
An already-available dev kit has an ever-widening array of 3D printing companies adding their names to the list of compatible devices. Even the indie 3D printing community has been less than shy in its support for the software. So whether you've gotten your hands on a Makerbot Replicator 2 or are eyeing the latest 3D printer to hit Kickstarter, chances are your rig is supported — and that goes for those of you with desktop milling machines too.
With Windows 8.1, Microsoft is planting their flag firmly in support of 3D printing. In the very near future, 3D printing will be a basic right of PC owners, not something reserved for early adapters. And Microsoft isn't stopping there.
Also on display at Maker Faire was one of the tricks Microsoft still has up its sleeve: a program that turns your Kinect sensor into a highly sensitive 3D scanner at the click of a button. Simply wave your Kinect around the object you'd like to scan and you'll be presented with a full-color, 3D printable onscreen version of it. Welcome to the 3D printing revolution, everyone.