Last week I attended the Microsoft Build Conference at the Moscone Center in San Francisco. This is a conference I attend every year to learn about the future direction of Microsoft’s development tools and product line. It is one of the best shows to stay current on Microsoft's strategies and understand how they align with industry trends and best practices. I also look to understand how they will impact our own and our clients current and future development projects, plans and objectives. Our clients rely on us to have a sound strategic road map for our solutions and to guide them in the right technology directions. When it comes to Microsoft Technologies, this is one of the most important shows to do that.
While this year's conference did not have a "Big announcement" that stood out from the rest and had me jumping up and down itching to get a hold of what ever it was, there were many important announcements. Here are some that caught my attention
Windows 10 Anniversary Update
Redstone now has a commercial name, the Windows 10 Anniversary Update, the next big update to Windows 10, is due out this summer. This is the second update coming out for Windows 10 and is a larger one at that. This is essentially the 10.1 version. This update will be packed with needed changes and improved experiences as well as other new features such as Windows Hello (Biometric Authentication), Ink Workspace (Using the power of the pen), and a unified store across all devices with apps developed using the Universal Windows Platform (UWP).
Day 1: Bots and Digital Assistants
I found the Conversation as a Platform initiative interesting and exciting especially with Bots and Digital Assistants that are at the center of that strategy. Microsoft believes that “Bots are the new apps and digital assistants are the new meta apps”. Microsoft hopes that bots will help eliminate the need for the numerous one use apps that people are loading onto their devices. Bots, when combined with something like Cortana can jump in and perform these functions without needing a dedicated app. Microsoft will be using chat bots within their own products, such as Skype, as well as making it easier for developers to create their own using the Cortana Intelligence Suite, which is composed of a Bot Framework and 22 Cognitive Service APIs such as emotion, face, and speech recognition that are hosted in Azure.
Day 1: Bash Shell
According to a recent Stack Overflow Survey 26% of developers are now using MAC OS X. This is up from 22% the previous year. I moved to a MAC a few years ago now. Additionally, other developers are working on Linux machines for their development. The primary driver is for cross-platform development because Windows 10 did not have a decent solution and it is expected by next year developers who use Windows could drop for the first time to below 50%.
The Windows 10’s Anniversary Update offers a big new feature for developers in the form of a full, Ubuntu-based Bash shell that can run Linux software directly on Windows. This is made possible by the new “Linux Subsystem for Windows” Microsoft is adding to Windows 10. Linux fans, of course, were very happy to hear this news. For the rest of us, it shows Microsoft is working towards supporting multi-platform development with their systems. That's good news for all of us.
Announced just over a year ago, Microsoft was pleased to announce that HoloLens will now start shipping to developers and they are excited to see the creativity of apps that comes when putting the HoloLens into our hands. I personally think it’s great that UWP will allow a .NET developer to create apps across all devices, including HoloLens and Xbox. As a developer, I can't wait to see how we can utilize this technology in with business apps, but know that it may be some time off before the business cases are understood and defined. When it comes to "cool", this is it. Be sure to check it out if you haven't already. And, check out Alex Kipman's Ted Talk, A futuristic vision of the age of holograms for great info and examples of this technology.
Day 2: Xamarin for free
The biggest announcement by far for me on Day 2 was that Xamarin will now be available for free with all versions of Visual Studio and it is now open-sourced and part of the .NET foundation. Xamarin, recently acquired by Microsoft, is a developer tool for creating native mobile apps on iOS and Android using C#. Developers love Xamarin, but the cost could be prohibitive for many.
Combine free Xamarin with BASH and Microsoft may have the answer to get devs to use their platform for development and code in C# to port new UWP apps to iOS and Android. Throw in the Windows Bridge for iOS and you've got a win-win-win!
Other things to note
Other announcements revolved around the Azure cloud and Office 365 as well as announcing a Power BI Embedded In-app data visualization and reporting tool.
Line of Business Application Development
Suffice it to say that while developing Line of Business Applications is the most important development to myself and the majority of businesses out there, it simply isn't really all that cool to most and does not get the attention at conferences like this. This year it continued to be a challenge to find a session that was specifically relevant to this type of development. There were a lot of sessions in developing for Xbox, Hololens, Bot and IoT which is very interesting to learn about, but I gravitated more to the sessions around the future of C#, .NET and Visual Studio as well as web and mobile development.
I was very happy to see that Microsoft is continuing to invest in making it easier to develop with XAML. A personal favorite is a new feature coming in Visual Studio 15 that will allow you to edit XAML while debugging and have it reflect in the UX. This XAML edit-and-continue will be a huge time savings for those of us developing WPF application. I was also happy to hear they will be releasing Project Centennial very soon. Originally announced last year, this is a Desktop to UWP converter that will allow us to migrate Win32 and .NET apps to UWP and enabling our WPF apps to take advantage of the UWP APIs such as Live Tiles as well as Notifications and Distribution to the store. This further reinforces Microsoft commitment to their older technologies as they move forward with Windows 10 and UWP.
Visual Studio 2015 and 15
Microsoft has released Visual Studio 2015 Update 2 and it is available now. However, I am looking forward to Visual Studio 15 (not to be confused with Visual Studio 2015). The Preview is available for download now and it is expected to be released later this year. Hands down, Visual Studio is the best IDE.
Great show, but now back to work.
Overall, it is always exciting and a great opportunity to go to Build and network with Microsoft and other developers. I’m glad that our Accelerator Product continues to fit in perfect with Microsoft's future direction and I think it’s great that Microsoft is continuing to open-source their technologies and embrace strategies to allow a .NET developer to be able to create applications that run on all devices and platforms. It truly is a great time to be a .NET developer!