Microsoft, the maker of the most popular desktop operating systems, appears to have brought 3D printing fully into the mainstream. The company announced at its Build developer conference on Wednesday that it will be adding built-in support for 3D printers as part of Windows 8.1.
The additional features stand to make 3D printing as easy and standardized as 2D printing, which was once (if you can believe it) an involved process. Microsoft also announced it has started selling the Makerbot Replicator 2, a desktop 3D printer, in its Palo Alto and San Francisco stores (the Build conference, conveniently enough, kicked off in San Francisco on Wednesday). The 3D printer currently retails for just under $2,200. The news comes a week after MakerBot announced that it would be acquired by 3D technology company Stratasys.
Mergers and acquisitions, Windows integration — if those aren’t clear road signs marking the end of a mainstream highway on-ramp, what is?
If you’re looking for something a bit cheaper, Staples will be selling 3D Systems’ Cube ($1,299).
In a blog post, Shanen Boettcher, Microsoft’s general manager of the Startup Business Group, writes that the integration is meant to be part of an “end-to-end solution,” allowing communication between a variety of 3D object-design applications and the continuing proliferation of 3D printers on the market.
“We want this to be so simple that anyone can set up their own table-top factory,” writes Boettcher.
But is this the end of traditional mass manufacturing as we know it? According to Boettcher, the technology isn’t there yet. “Instead,” she writes, “people will use 3D printing to make custom creations.”