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Microsoft spent 3 hours today explaining how it's catching up with Amazon—and why it has a unique edge

  • CEO Satya Nadella pointed out one advantage Microsoft still has over Amazon: its massive reach in enterprises. People use Windows 10 on more than 500 million devices every month.
  • With its Cortana Skills Kit, Microsoft is making it possible for outside developers to bring their services to Windows 10 as well as the company's Skype for Business app and Bing search engine.
  • Microsoft also unveiled new tools to help people more easily incorporate artificial intelligence into their applications.
Satya Nadella, chief executive officer of Microsoft
Amit Madheshiya | Bloomberg | Getty Images
Satya Nadella, chief executive officer of Microsoft

Microsoft's Cortana isn't the trendiest voice-activated personal assistant — that title goes to Amazon's Alexa — and its Azure public cloud plays second fiddle to Amazon Web Services.

On Tuesday at the company's annual Build conference in Seattle, Microsoft executives spent hours showing how they plan to change that.

CEO Satya Nadella also pointed out one edge that Microsoft still has over Amazon: its massive reach in enterprises. People who use Windows machines and Cortana are "the most valuable set of users in the core of the enterprise," Nadella said. People are using Windows 10 on more than 500 million devices every month, while Cortana now has 140 million monthly active users.

With the introduction of its Cortana Skills Kit, Microsoft is making it possible for outside developers to bring their services to Windows 10 as well as the company's Skype for Business video conferencing app and Bing search engine. In doing so, Microsoft is trying to make it more worthwhile for developers to build for Cortana, and open up its services for more third-party features. Also, longtime Microsoft partners HP and Intel will be working to build Cortana-enabled devices.

Microsoft also unveiled new tools to help people more easily incorporate artificial intelligence into their applications. This is an area where Amazon has been busy lately — last week it announced plans for a U.K. development center that will house A.I. researchers — but Microsoft has long performed academic research.

Nadella also used the opportunity to make some philosophical statements about AI, saying it's up to Microsoft "to ensure that some of the more dystopian scenarios don't come true." If anything, he said, the company should "empower people with technology."

Toward that end, Harry Shum, the company's executive vice president for A.I. and research, showed off a new add-in for the PowerPoint presentation app that will give audience members real-time translations of presenters' spoken comments through smartphones.

When it comes to the cloud, Nadella and other executives are less bold and more interested in meeting current market demands — which means matching Amazon when it comes to available features. That's important because an increasing number of companies are choosing which big public cloud they should use when they want to build new applications and more efficiently run existing ones.

For instance, Microsoft introduced services for migrating Oracle databases to its Azure cloud and launched Android and iOS apps for managing cloud resources. AWS already provides all of those things.

Watch: Will Microsoft's new software challenge Google?