CSG Pro Reviews BUILD 2013!

CSG’s James Churchill attended BUILD 2013 and provides a day by day, session by session recap of his experience at this years conference.

Day 1

Keynote

It was great to see MS continuing to invest in the Windows platform. Windows 8.1 will be an important release, with lots of great stuff for both users (more flexible Start screen, various interface refinements) and developers (improved performance, improved tooling). I was hoping for an Xbox One related announcement (“you can now release your Win8 apps on Xbox!”) and surprise information about Haswell based Surface devices. Neither happened of course (sigh). There was also no new information about Windows Phone 8.1 and an improved code sharing experience between it and Windows 8. Considering that the chatter online suggests that the next version of Windows Phone is going to lag about 6 months behind the release of Windows 8.1, I guess that’s not surprising. People are expecting major announcements about Windows Azure tomorrow, so hold onto your hats.

Grade: C+

Sessions

I attended some great sessions today including “What’s New in Windows Runtime for Windows 8.1” by John Lam and Neena Kamath, “Async’ing Your Way to a Successful App with .NET” by Stephen Toub (from the MS Parallel Programming team, see http://blogs.msdn.com/b/pfxteam/), and “TypeScript: Application-Scale JavaScript” by Anders Hejlsberg (the father of C## is now helping make JavaScript more palatable for application developers). The WinRT API has been significantly expanded (multiple monitor support, new WebView control, new HttpClient, just to mention a few); really looking forward to hearing more about the new API stuff over the next two days. While watching Anders talk about TypeScript was really, really cool, the biggest highlight of the day for me was Stephen Toub quietly confirming (“you didn’t hear this from me”) that a global handler for “async void” unhandled exceptions (and possibly for any exception?) is definitely coming before the final release of Windows 8.1 (yes!)

Grade: A

Attendee Giveaways

The big news of the day of course was that attendees got both an Acer Iconia W3 8.1″ tablet and a Surface Pro 128GB tablet. The Acer tablet’s screen is a little underwhelming, but the 8.1″ form factor is pretty cool (yes, it’s a iPad Mini knockoff). The Surface Pro, while feeling a little chunky, is pretty snappy and the screen is absolutely beautiful.

Grade: A

Day 2

Keynote

While yesterday’s keynote was very consumer focused, today’s keynote was very focused on developers. After Satya Nadella’s obligatory overview of the current state of affairs, Scott Hanselman took the stage and gave a demo showing some great new Visual Studio 2013 features for web developers (simultaneously previewing in multiple browsers, SignalR enabled dynamic page refreshing, deep Azure Web Sites integration, and more). As expected, there were many Windows Azure related announcements delivered by Scott Guthrie (and others from his team), including the general availability of Mobile Services and Web Sites Standard tier along with awesome looking new services such as Auto Scale, SaaS Identity Management, and BizTalk Services. Add to that a demo of Office 365 customization (using Visual Studio LightSwitch?), a brief “unofficial” confirmation by Steven Guggenheimer that developers will be able to target Xbox One with Windows 8 applications, and even some .NET love, and you’ve got a great day two keynote.

Grade: A

Sessions

Unsurprisingly, there were more great sessions today. Here’s a quick summary of each of the sessions that I attended.

“What’s New in VS 2013 (and the Future)” by Scott Hanselman

The big message here was “One ASP.NET”. Regardless of whether you are going to use Web Forms, MVC, or Web API, you are simply using ASP.NET. He described today’s process of deciding which ASP.NET project template to pick as the “Sophie’s Choice” of ASP.NET development; in other words, no matter which project template you choose, you’re screwed. Along with the awesome Visual Studio 2013 demos, there was some great random content including Bootswatch (free themes for Bootstrap), Zen-coding Visual Studio plug-in, cURL (command line HTTP client), and POSTMAN (REST client plug-in for Chrome). Lastly, did you know that you can configure Entity Framework Code First v6.0 to generate stored procedures for all of your data access? Very cool.

Grade: A+ (of course)

“Real Talk: Sharing Code Between Windows and Windows Phone” by Matt Hidinger

A great talk showing the various techniques and design patterns that you can use to share code between Windows and Windows Phone projects. The presenter was very upfront and honest about the current limitations of these various techniques; very refreshing to hear such candor.

Grade: A

“XAML Performance Fundamentals” by Kiran Kumar

This talk was a little too dependent on slides and didn’t show enough demos and/or practical examples (at least for my tastes). It didn’t help that I had eaten a couple of cookies and was starting to sugar crash. Still, great content overall on a very important topic.

Grade: B

“App Performance: The Windows Performance Toolkit” by Chell Sterioff

I’ve recently tried to use the Windows Performance Recorder (WPR) and Windows Performance Analyzer (WPA) apps recently and didn’t get very far. They’re great tools, but they have a steep learning curve. The speaker did a great job walking through some common scenarios. I’ll be putting to use what I saw here very, very soon to debug the performance of a Windows 8 app on the Surface RT.

Grade: A

More Attendee Giveaways

They weren’t done giving stuff away: on day two, attendees got 100GB of SkyDrive storage, a free year of Office 365 Home Premium, and a free year of Adobe Creative Cloud (access to all of Adobe’s creative tools)! I’m really looking forward to checking out the latest version of Photoshop.

Grade: A+

Several other members of CSG viewed the keynote presentations and had their own feedback…

Keynote Viewer: Allen Newton

Microsoft continues to push innovation in the PC industry forward into a new devices industry. In both hardware and software. They were challenged by tablets and devices and have soundly arrived at an answer to that challenge. Windows 8.1 is an improvement that makes Windows RT more interesting to consumers with better performance tools for developers. There is still controversy over the Start button, believe it or not. Some people wanted a full menu with the Start button to list apps on the system. However, the integration points were so well done that once people understand that they do not have to context switch out of their system to a single list, they’ll eventually get used to it. Continuing on the consumer front, many of the default apps like mail and alarms were updated giving customers a much better experience. Developers got Update 3 for Visual Studio 2012 and can download a preview versions of Visual Studio 2013. For developers of ASP.Net web applications, the concept of a single ASP.Net framework is becoming a reality. Folks are excited about that judging by some tweets. Developers can choose what set of frameworks to use, many of which are popular in the open source community. For developers of native Windows Store applications, the XAML/C## and HTML/JS/CSS application frameworks got a nice refresh. We got new controls and performance improvements as well as tools for monitoring battery use and performance of apps while they are being developed. This should only make applications better for Windows 8.1. As a developer of these apps I’m excited to write new apps with all the new tools!

Keynote Viewer: Mats Lannér

I’m excited about the additions and improvements to Azure and also seeing Microsoft talking about what services they run on top of Azure. The fact that services like Skype and Xbox Live runs on Azure should put to rest any concerns customers may have about whether Azure is robust enough to run their workloads on. Additions such as the “auto-scale” capabilities further help since you no longer have to manually monitor the load on your services, Azure will automatically scale up and equally important down for you to keep your services running and corresponding service costs under control.

While Azure still has a ways to go before it catches up to the breadth of offerings Amazon Web Services provides, they are putting together a very compelling offering, especially for companies who already run internal systems on the Microsoft stack. The ability to very easily extend a corporate Active Directory forest into Azure and have a single source for authentication and authorization improves both usability for the end-users and manageability for system administrators.

I’m also looking forward to using things like Azure Mobile Services where the “Mobile” is less about a mobile device and more about a mobile user who may be using a service from a variety of devices and having the ability to give those users a consistent, “it-just-works” experience.

Keynote Viewer: Ron Ellis Gaut

Absorbing all of the content from today’s BUILD keynote presentations leaves me feeling both excited and overwhelmed. Microsoft is uniquely positioned to orchestrate the massive effort required to build out the unified and coherent technologies necessary that can revolutionize how we build software. They are putting all of their muscle in to doing exactly that. Roughly four years ago, Steve Ballmer asserted that the cloud is the future and that Microsoft is “All in”. Looking at what has been accomplished by Microsoft in the time since Ballmer’s declaration is truly impressive. Given the current state of their progress there can be no doubt about Microsoft’s commitment to the Cloud. Today, Azure is truly an amazing platform and that is only part of the story. Where the rubber meets the road is with users. Say what you will about adoption rates for Windows 8 thus far, Microsoft’s commitment to providing users with the quality of experience they expect from modern apps is unquestionable. Microsoft is defining the future for all of us in the software industry. They are empowering us to create innovative solutions that heretofore would simply not be feasible. As a boutique software development shop, the core technologies that Microsoft makes available to us is truly game changing. There has never been a more exciting period in time to be working in our field. It is simply mind boggling, but there is no place we’d rather be!

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