CSG Pro attends and reviews BUILD 2014 announcements, keynote, sessions and giveaways.
Getting to BUILD this year was an adventure onto itself. Bad weather in San Francisco delayed flights by a couple of hours, and ultimately, we ended up flying into Oakland. On top of that, the flight was probably one of bumpiest plane rides I’ve been on ever. Needless to say, we were happy to land and get on a BART train to downtown San Francisco.
Registration and Pre-Event Party
The pre-event registration on Tuesday evening at the Moscone Center was smooth and easy. Once we were registered, we headed to the Nokia DVLUP event for some food and drinks. It was fun hanging out and exchanging ideas with what we would see during the Day 1 Keynote.
The whole block has been decorated with Windows ads (this is the building across the street from the Moscone Center).
For last year’s Day 1 Keynote, I hadn’t put any effort into getting in line early, so I ended up in the back of the room, mostly watching the large video screens (since I was so far away from the stage). I decided to do things differently this year: I got up at 6 a.m., got myself ready for the day, ate a quick breakfast, and got to the Moscone Center when the doors opened at 7 a.m. I was one of the first people in the line, which made it easy for us to get seats in the center section sixth row. It definitely made the presentation more engaging and therefore more fun overall.
Waiting to get into the Day 1 Keynote.
This year’s keynote addressed many of the complaints that I had about last year’s keynote: the official announcement of Windows Phone 8.1 and information on apps for Xbox One.
Windows Phone 8.1 is bringing a lot of great new features to Windows Phones, including Action Center, customizable lock screens (via a developer API), more Start Screen customizations, the new digital assistant Cortana (Halo fans will recognize the name), improved onscreen keyboard, and lots of great improvements for managing devices in enterprises (VPN, email encryption, etc.) Windows 8.1 Update contains some great improvements for desktop users, including the ability to see and pin Windows Store apps to the task bar, minimize and close buttons within Windows Store apps, and right-click context menus on the Start Screen.
Joe Belfiore, CVP of the Operating Systems Group, talking about Windows Phone 8.1.
Microsoft also introduced universal Windows apps, which provides the ability to share a common code base across PCs, tablets, and phones. This is possible due to the addition of the Windows Runtime in Windows Phone 8.1. This is a huge step forward for developers, with what looks like fantastic tooling support within Visual Studio. To show the potential of universal Windows apps, Microsoft demonstrated a “touch-first” version of PowerPoint, running on both a tablet and a phone.
The announcement of universal Windows app (it’s hard to see, but that’s the Zappos app being featured in the slide).
The keynote was packed with more demos and announcements, including leveraging the full .NET Framework from side-loaded Windows Store apps, the open-sourcing of WinJS, the future of universal Windows apps on Xbox One, Kinect for Windows 2.0, DirectX 12, sneak peak of Windows 8.1 Update 2 (new Start Menu with integrated Live Tiles!), Windows for IoT (Internet of Things), new Nokia Lumia devices (announced by non-other-than Stephen Elop), and a digital Q&A session between developers and Satya Nadella. Last but not least, Windows is now free on phones and tablets with screens less than 9”. Whew!
I’ll have more to say later on the session content, but really great content all around.
No BUILD Conference would be complete without attendee giveaways, and this year is no different: each attendee received an Xbox One and $500 credit to use in the online Microsoft Store. It’s a little strange that they gave away the Xbox Ones without the availability of the universal apps dev tools for Xbox, but nobody (including me) was complaining.
Stacks and stacks of Xbox Ones.
Day 2 Announcements
During the second keynote at the conference, Scott Guthrie began to introduce some of the 44 new features and services for Azure. The regions around the world where Azure data centers are located expanded to 16. Azure provides the only public cloud operations in mainland China. Some amazing new features were demonstrated like remote debugging an Azure site’s source code with Visual Studio on the desktop. No more installing Visual Studio on the remote server. Virtual Machines can now more easily than ever be copied at different points in time. Making it possible to quickly create testing environments or backup snapshots of a VM. Our Portland neighbor, Puppet Labs, gave a demo of their new collaboration with Microsoft. Puppet Labs helps with the configuration and ongoing management of computers. Another demo showed how easy it is to create a Puppet Master in Azure based on a Puppet Labs Image. Windows Azure also now makes it easy to create virtual machines tied to a Puppet Master using a Puppet Agent.
There were some great new features reviewed for IaaS (infrastructure as a service) and PaaS (platform as a service).
During the keynote, we saw something truly amazing. Browser Link. This is a new feature in Visual Studio 2013. It is a two way communication channel between any modern web browser and Visual Studio. This amazing feature allows web developers to use the built in dev tools of the browser, edit a CSS style or HTML content and the source code inside Visual Studio will update. Again, making the change from any modern browser will in real time change source code in Visual Studio. Incredible.
There are a whole bunch of SQL Database improvements on Azure. The most notable are the new 500GB limit increase and the 99.95% SLA making big applications running with high confidence more possible. Self service restore of databases is also now possible from a new automated backup system.
To talk about project ROSLYN, the C# and Visual Basic language compiler, Scott introduced Anders Hejlsberg to the stage. There was a magical moment when it was announced that ROSLYN not only had a lot of improvements, such as actually being written in C# and VB, but the compilers were open sourced! This is one of the big moments in Microsoft’s history where everyone started to see everything about their technology is now more open. The moment Anders clicked the publish button, on stage and live for the CodePlex project for ROSLYN, everything changed.
As if that wasn’t enough, Xamarin’s Miguel de Icaza ran through a short demo showing how a compiler change made in ROSLYN for C# was able to compile code written to target the iOS platform. So, Xamarin can now use customized ROSLYN compilers for C#.
Scott announced the .NET Foundation which will manage these new open source projects and provide the community and partners flexibility to integrate their improvements.
During the three day conference we attended two 3 hour long keynotes, and multiple hour long sessions. It seems that half-hour breaks between sessions were long. But what actually happened was some popular sessions had the longest lines. So, after finishing one session, you could barely get a break before you had to stand in line for 20 minutes. The less popular sessions were still full of great content and I used them as rest stops. One AngularJS session had a line that wrapped around half of the entire lunchroom hall floor. The Xamarin session was so popular they moved it into the keynote room. It was basically the 3rd keynote of the conference.
Overall, the depth sessions went into for the announcements could only scratch the surface (no pun intended). The breadth of the announcements, from Web Essentials, to Universal Apps, to Xamarin partnerships, was amazing. There is a sense that Microsoft is starting to steer their ship in a new direction and that the course for the journey is set. The development community has never had a better chance to contribute. Where they are going looks very promising. It is a very exciting time to be a developer.