Microsoft Windows 8.1 slipstreams 3D printing to mainstream

You don’t have to be one that keeps current on 3D printing to have heard about the latest boost to the industry, you just have to be a reader of any tech news at all. At its Build Developers Conference in San Francisco held on Wednesday, Microsoft announced that native support for 3D printers will be included in Windows 8.1.

Shanen Boettcher, General Manager of the Startup Business Group at Microsoft said in a blog post, “Remember when we said there’d be a PC on every desktop? How about this — a factory on every desktop!” And concerning the adoption of 3D printing, commented “But will 3D printing go mainstream? We think so – which is why we’ve built it into Windows – the world’s most popular platform. This includes all of the things you’d expect from Windows: plug-n-play support for printers, enabling apps to seamlessly submit 3D print jobs, understanding 3D file formats, and connecting lots of apps with lots of hardware to deliver an end-to-end solution for customers. We want this to be so simple that anyone can set up their own table-top factory.”

The most accurate prophecies are the self-fulfilling kind. Was 3D printing going to become ubiquitous? Probably. Will 3D printers be as common as 2D printers now that Microsoft will support them with standard desktop controls and a “Print” button? Definitely. Antoine Leblond, Corporate Vice President, Windows Program Management said that 3D printing will be “just as easy and seamless as printing in 2D.” My father paid $1600 for a color printer in the ‘90s, and 3D printers can already be purchased for much less than that.

Windows 8.1 will also support 3D printing in the App Store; an API will be available to developers so that they can incorporate 3D printing functionality into their apps. The MakerBot Replicator 2 and the 3D Systems Cube printers are already supported with plug-n-play compatibility and their functions are now tied into the Window’s GUI. Print quality, infill, supports, and more are all adjustable and set on a simple slide-out before printing. RepRapers shouldn’t fret either, as a Type-A Machine (that runs on an Arduino board and open-source Marlin firmware) was also demonstrated to work with the SDK. It is manufacturers’ responsibility to create driver packages according to the WDK, but the necessary steps are explained, as well as sample driver packages provided. This will be the transition from the steep learning curves of the open source chain to clean and intuitive printer operation that many have been waiting for before buying a 3D printer.

It was also announced that Microsoft will now be a MakerBot retailer, selling the Replicator 2 in their physical stores and online. The Cube has entered Staples and many 3D printers are on Amazon now. When can we say they’re mainstream?

If you’d like to see some demonstrating of the interface, including some Kinect scanning, you can watch here: