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Thoughts on Build 2014: It's a Great Time to be a Microsoft Platform Developer

A few weeks back, I wrote about the bold promise of "write it once; run it anywhere," the potential for Microsoft to acquire Xamarin, and why it makes so much sense. Well, now that the Microsoft Build 2014 conference is over and all the big announcements have been made, it seems that Microsoft agrees.

In his keynote address at Build, new CEO Satya Nadella's plea to Microsoft developers was to "stick with us." He promised developers that Microsoft can offer them the tools they need to compete in an increasingly cross-platform world.

Related: Build 2014: Develop Across Platforms with Universal Windows Apps

Called Universal Windows Apps, Microsoft has publicly committed to a world where code is written in Visual Studio and the tool itself platforms the applications to target a wide spectrum of Windows devices. With Universal Windows Apps, developers will be able to write a single code base using common code that works across Windows smartphones, tablets, PCs, and even the Xbox One. Of course, many details still need to be worked out, and platforming to the Xbox One is complicated in terms of blessings and approvals, but this is a bold leap toward something we so desperately need on the Microsoft platform.

It's not a stretch when you consider Xamarin's capabilities and competitors, and even when you consider Microsoft itself, to extend the Universal Windows Apps paradigm to all platforms and all form factors. It's a great time to be a Microsoft platform developer, because we developers are going to get a lot "for free" from the tools, plumbing and platform, and we're going to get it in a timely manner because this is all Visual Studio 2014 stuff.

The promises for the Microsoft platform developer get better. I didn't really understand Satya's devices and services strategy until the day 2 keynote, where our fearless leader of .NET, Scott Guthrie, who was recently promoted to executive vice president, announced the ability to create and manage Azure virtual machines straight from Visual Studio. He also announced the ability to create and run mobile cloud apps that leverage Active Directory, which is crucial for the enterprise.  In addition, he announced the ability to support massive databases in the cloud for big data.

Related: Top Windows Azure Adoption Statistics from Build 2014

Since its announcement, the big concern about Azure has been adoption. Amazon Web Services (AWS) effectively got a two-year jump on Azure, and it showed with AWS's market dominance. But with a 3 billion dollar capital investment and competing nicely in the technology feature race, Microsoft claims Azure is now used by over 57 percent of the Fortune 500 and runs over 250,000 websites.

Microsoft made it clear, however, that it really intends to compete against AWS in the enterprise space. Microsoft is counting on Azure's hybrid cloud support and Azure's integration with Microsoft's already dominant on-premises toolset and servers in the enterprise.

Another exciting announcement from Build that developers will be able to leverage is the introduction of Cortana. Cortana is part of Microsoft's new Windows Phone 8.1 platform; the mobile platform's first major update in 18 months. This personal digital assistant has the ability to search the Internet, set up alarms, shift calendar appointments, find restaurants, send messages, place calls, and more. Cortana really impressed me with its ability to pick up on a user's interests and preferences. Most folks are saying the newly-announced Microsoft Cortana is vastly superior to Google Now and Apple's Siri. This isn't surprising since Microsoft Research has over 20 years of investment in voice recognition.

As expected, Office iPad app downloads have been wildly popular, topping 12 million downloads in just one week. The website, App Annie's U.S. top iPad download chart, shows Word, Excel, and PowerPoint holding the top three slots. Even Microsoft's OneNote for iPad holds the #8 slot.

You know what I liked most about Build 2014? That there was no HTML5 hysteria. In fact, at least in the keynotes, I can't even remember if HTML5 was mentioned. Last year's Build conference was all about HTML5, and the hysteria caused a ton of confusion over the relevance and road map of .NET. We all shook our heads in confusion and disbelief. This wasn't because HTML5, and 6 for that matter, aren't important, because they are. But HTML5 is just one of many app development platforms, not the only one. That change seems to be a very important difference in the vision of this new regime at Microsoft.

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