Per an article on GeekWire, Microsoft is adding native 3D printing support as part of its long-awaited Windows 8.1 update, making it possible to print directly from an app to a 3D printer. The company announced that it will add drivers for 3D printers from companies including MakerBot, 3D Systems, Afinia, Autodesk, Netfabb and others.

This is interesting. And, where the 3D printer market is concerned, it’s one of the major obstacles that needed to be removed for the devices to finally hit a more mainstream audience.

In addition to this, Microsoft also announced that it will begin releasing APIs to help developers with the 3D printer support inside Windows, while the company itself will begin selling MakerBot 3D printers in its retail stores. Microsoft has yet to offer a timeline as to when these units will hit the shelves.

What hooked me is this: Only three years ago, the core concept of 3D printing seemed niche, too technical for the average user and out of reach and interest to the larger market. Yes, it was a cool idea, and it was completely unique to see an object rendered and then printed via carefully plotted, heated and extruded ABS plastic strands. The idea was interesting, but you weren’t about to walk into a Best Buy and snag a new MakerBot—which was still essentially in kit form—along with a pair of iPod headphones.

And it wasn’t that the idea of consumer-level 3D printing was a bad one. Not on any level. It just didn’t seem practical, and Microsoft realized this, so why waste resources developing APIs and support for something that seemed destined to be entirely niche for the foreseeable future?

If anything, the open-source and DIY communities pushed this through. Startup companies came out of the woodwork with their own offerings and takes on a really cool idea. It was a hobbyist market competing with itself in the same way that a full-fledged, established marketplace would. The end results couldn’t be ignored, even if the 3D printers being shown at the time looked essentially like kit projects straight from the garage, available only via Web-based stores.

With this change of events, 3D printing can finally break into the mainstream, the vision of a decent variety of 3D printers being available in retail environments, as well as robust APIs to support them coming that much closer to fruition for both consumers and developers alike.

Not a bad achievement in the least, and imagine what the open-source community could do with its other projects…