Microsoft has been promoting the fact that it has included built in support for 3D printing hardware in Windows 8.1 since late June, but today the company offered up a lot more information on the actual format that will be used to give its latest OS those kinds of features.
In a blog post, Microsoft said that while there are app data formats that support 3D graphics and models, they lack many of the features needed for 3D printing, such as color and material support. In the end, Microsoft decided to support STL as an input format but also created the new 3D Manufacturing Format (3MF) to handle features specific for 3D printers. Microsoft stated:
3MF is an XML-based data format which includes definitions for data related to 3D manufacturing including 3rd party extensibility for custom data. The 3MF format provides a solid foundation for 3D printing support in Windows 8.1, it’s a bit like the DNA for 3D manufacturing in Windows. Apps pass 3MF data to Windows, and Windows spools that data out to the 3D printer device drivers. With this data format defined, it became possible to integrate 3D printing support into the OS, using familiar Windows technology.
Basically, when you print a 3D model via Windows 8.1, the actual process from the user's point of view is the same as printing a Word page from a laser printer. After creating the 3D model, the user then goes to the Device charm from the charms bar. He or she then picks which 3D printer to use from a list which then brings up a list of print options. Those options can then be changed before the user clicks or touches the "Print" button to begin the 3D printing process.
Microsoft has also created its own 3D printing SDK for Windows 8.1 and developers who want to access it can email the company's 3D printer team for more information. The SDK has documentation and sample code for 3D printer drivers and apps.
Source: Microsoft | Image via Microsoft