Last month I wrote about all the hype around “big” Microsoft announcements at the 2015 Microsoft Build Conference. And as predicted, Microsoft did not disappoint at its developer conference in San Francisco April 29th to May 1st 2015. It is a good time to be a developer. And normally I’d end that statement with “…on the Microsoft Platform.” But, now, as shocking as it sounds, that statement is no longer applicable because Microsoft is “all in” on Cross Platform and open source.
Microsoft has shocked the application development world – A new visual programming editor for Windows, IOS and Android; effectively Visual Studio for all platforms. And that’s not all. There were so many exciting things at Build for the developer I don’t know where to start and cannot even begin to prioritize.
David Treadwell, Corporate Vice President of the Operating System Group seemed to perfectly sum up this “new” Microsoft that once again values the developer like they did in the “old days”: “We live and breathe developers. Your code is the soul of your app.”
I really shouldn’t start here, but I just can’t help it. I’m a Natural User Interface (NUI) guy and this little Hololens gizmo is the most exciting thing for me personally (and for my company) in the short history of NUI. It is the future of interactive applications for developers. The keynote demo of the Hololens is worth your 25 minutes; trust me. Microsoft even invented a new video camera that integrates a Kinect device just so you can see the Holograms effectively in the video. Watch it here. The Hololens has such an amazing future, the only way Microsoft could screw this up is to make it exorbitantly expensive. Because the tools and plumbing to build software for the Hololens is going to be free.
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At Build Universal apps were finally discussed in detail, at length. There’s nothing like a good demo that produces the perfect visual to explain a point. And Universal apps were explained and demonstrated perfectly with an app called XXX. XXX was run on a windows machine, on an Xbox, and on the HoloLens. The shocking thing about it was the fact that running on all three platforms, it was the exact same app. The app did a two-dimensional rendering of the drawing on the big screen, as well as a full 360-degree, three-dimensional view through HoloLens. Three Lines of Code – It was essentially 3 lines of code that facilitated the app to run on all 3 platforms.
So, you essentially have one codebase for all these 3 platforms in a Universal apps for Windows. But, what makes it even more compelling is that the developer only submits one app for certification and to the stores. If you know how difficult the current process is for submitting an app to the store you understand just how huge this is.
There also seemed to be a newfound honestly about the mistakes of the past from Microsoft – specifically as it relates to the many poor areas user experience in Windows 8. In the keynotes I heard numerous times about the lessons learned from Windows 8. Ultimately developers that use Windows 8 typically spend the majority of their time in desktop mode (which is essentially Windows 7 inside Windows 8). Microsoft is well on its way to fixing that and it shows in early tech preview versions of Windows 10.
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AWS has a huge jump on Azure. There is no disputing that. The Amazon two year jump on the world to market has seemed to grow exponentially in the many years since the beginning of the cloud. But, the gap seems to be narrowing in many places. There’s nothing like competition to improve a market and that is most certainly what is happening in cloud.
In his keynote, EVP Scott Guthrie, head of Microsoft's Cloud and Enterprise unit, showed a slide that compared The Azure SQL Data Warehouse offering and AWS' similar Redshift service. Guthrie pointed out several advantages Microsoft has over AWS. For instance, in Azure you can adjust your ratio of compute versus storage. You can’t do that in AWS. Azure capacity can grow or shrink in seconds based on workload needs, while AWS takes "hours to days to resize," Guthrie said. Guthrie also said some 40 percent of Azure usage is now coming from startups and ISVs, a traditional stronghold for AWS.
Project Spartan / Microsoft Edge
This new browser from Microsoft really seems legit. It also seems like we have been waiting so long for Microsoft to “fix IE”. My favorite quote from this part of the keynote was: “Microsoft, Edge undoes everything that Internet Explorer had become.” According to Microsoft, there were over 4,200 interoperability improvements which maximize performance. Citing several different benchmarks, Microsoft Edge performs at least twice as fast as IE, and tops other 64-bit browsers in scoring.
Microsoft announced EdgeHTML and ensured Developers that they will have tools to turn sites into apps, including the ability to integrate Cortana.
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So much more…
I have run out of room, and there is so much more exciting stuff. I didn’t even get to:
- Windows 10 Internet Of Things Version – a version for devices that is free
- Tools For Office Developers – add ins for the iPad versions, API for Office Graph, a technology that lets developers build apps that make use of Office data and machine learning
- A “two-way street”, cross-platform development strategy - tools that let Android and iOS developers port their code to build Windows 10 apps.
It is pretty easy for me to sum this up because these are exciting times for developers. But I talked to a respected colleague and friend that has done it so much better than I could. Gabor Fari is a Partner Technology Advisor at Microsoft on the East Coast and he always seems to have the best grasp of the implications in times like these. When I talked to Gabor about all this Build hype he had two quotes in particular that not only resonated but really summed up what exciting times these are for the developer:
“Microsoft finally unveils the results of all the hard work over the past several years to show the world the awesome engineering going on behind the scenes. Very few people really understand the magnitude of what Microsoft achieved in fully modernizing Windows without completely breaking it. This is like doing a tune-up on your car while cruising on the highway, in full traffic. It can be done, but it has to be planned and executed very, very carefully.”
“As Satya mentioned a while ago, the key is not so much what particular OS runs on the user’s mobile device of choice, but the connected experiences that are delivered to the user. Therefore, it is really exciting to see that at least one of the three main vendors understands and delivers what users really need: a Universal App Launcher”.