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Build

I feel very conflicted about this year’s Build conference. Build is the annual developer conference covering Azure and Windows. This year Microsoft unveiled an ambitious goal for itself along with a new design language; but I’m a bit sour about it.

The fact Microsoft is embracing iOS and Android is not the problem it is the lack of resolution for its own mobile platform. It is clear Microsoft is done with Windows 10 Mobile but it won’t come forward and make the formal statement. It has moved Mobile to a separate branch and the new features from the upcoming Fall Creator’s Update are not planned to appear.

The fact that Microsoft is shifting focus and changing tactics is one thing; not communicating the change is another. I mean at this point the people left using Windows Mobile in the company’s Insider program are wasting their time because their input is irrelevant. And that is a real disappointment.

And I like that Microsoft is embracing all platforms, but I don’t know how to feel about the fact they treat a set of users like non-entities. And it is made all the worse because Microsoft acts like they are doing all these users a favor.

 

So for me I am only left with questions.

 

Like does the new design language come to small devices?

 

Is Microsoft working on a new type of mobile device; and if so who will trust Microsoft to actually buy it?

The last two weeks has been chock full of Microsoft developer and product news that I am only now getting to write down my thoughts.

This week Microsoft held both Microsoft Ignite and Microsoft Edge Web Summit. Last week it held it’s annual developer conference Build as well as a small gathering for analysts and investors. They even managed to squeeze in the release of their newest member of the Surface family.

Busy week

So I was planning on doing a guide for understanding the Windows Universal Platform; going in depth but forgot I am not a developer. But I still want to discuss this from a non-developer, layman’s view. I will be talking about a few of these topics in detail but a bit later.

Build

Like I said last week was the Build conference which is Microsoft’s big developer show. And the focus there was on it’s platforms. So the focus was on Azure and Windows 10. Build 2015 was an interesting event. Not just because it began with Azure or HoloLens, but how it illustrated where both Microsoft and Windows is going.

For the last two years I think many enthusiasts looking on from the outside have really questioned if Windows is relevant to Microsoft. Windows 8 and Windows Phone’s reception and the embrace of a cross platform strategy has led many, including at time myself, to think Microsoft is divesting itself from Windows. We wanted clarity and I think Build brought that.

The more I learn about Windows 10 the more I buy what CEO Satya Nadella says; this is Windows being retooled and rethought for the next stage. While I still think Windows 10 is mostly about regaining the desktop it is also not abandoning the mobile aspiration of Windows 8. In some ways 10 is a clearing of the deck. This is a version of Windows that is moving back toward the desktop and also cleaning it up to move forward. I mean for all the talk about pulling back from Windows 8, Windows 10 is also refining what 8 brought. Microsoft is expanding the Windows store in terms of what it offers and where it runs.

There will be one store across devices and it will even have programs built running traditional desktop code. The new Windows Universal Platform (WUP) is an expansion of the Windows Runtime. Windows 10 is about making it easier to use on a desktop laptop, but it is not a return to Windows 7.

Build being a developer conference was all about developers and code; which made some reporters supposedly upset cause they wanted this to be WWDC. The interesting thing for me was how much the developer part of the show was about them going to where developers are. They released a number of products to Mac and Linux developers; specifically Visual Studio Code.

They also opened up Windows development to developers on iOS and Android by making it easier to just port code. Yes this is a Hail Mary pass but it also makes sense. And to me anyway it didn’t feel like a death knell the way Android porting to Blackberry did or the way it was rumored for Windows Phone. The news about porting iOS apps was a surprise because no one was expecting it. The more interesting in my opinion part was the plan to bring traditional desktop programs into the new Universal Platform. The reasons this port is interesting is in order to do so developers essentially are having to get rid of the a lot of things that needed to go.

Beyond the developer news the other big thing was design. Or more to the fact the design team is finally talking publicly. One of the things that has been frustrating for me has been this silence on the design front. Around Windows the majority of discussions are around development and tooling but little about design. I think part of the issue with Windows Phone and especially Windows 8 development was this lack of designer input. This Build we actually had a high level talk and hell even a blog post. Progress!

There has been so much news coming out of this year’s Build Conference that it’s hard to just recap daily events. Beyond HoloLens which is amazing is a number of initiatives and changes that are making Windows 10 this very intriguing platform to watch. In particular the future of the UI once known as Metro and Continuum.

Now this isn’t exactly breaking news, other sites have reported it, but during one of the sessions on Windows Live Tiles one of the slides listed Interactive Tiles as a feature being worked . While Live tiles allow you to see information without having to open an application you still have to open an app to do anything proactive. Interactive tiles function like Widgets which allow you to interact with info without leaving the Start Screen. Interactive tiles were introduced as a research project two years ago and it looks like they will be coming in Windows 10.

Interactive_Tiles

On the other side of things is Continuum. Continuum is a system that makes it easy for users of Windows to switch between the Desktop and Tablet environments. Basically it’s a tablet mode for Windows PCs and 2-in-1 devices. On Wednesday Microsoft introduced a version of Continuum for Windows Phones running 10. unlike the PC/Tablet PC version, Continuum for Phones turns smartphones into PCs. This means with a dock, wireless dongle, or USB cord your Windows phone can deliver a PC experience.

Continuum_Concept

Now during a talk on how to implement Continuum for Phones members of the Continuum team briefly showed a slide that showed a device they described, “as not a PC but a device powered by a Phone.” The white laptop dock, which was also described as a detachable tablet PC, would work like a cross between Windows RT and a Chromebook. The team described it as one of a new class of devices that could be powered by Continuum for Phones. The idea of using a phone to power a laptop isn’t new; Motorola did it with the Atrix and Palm with the Foleo. Asus also markets the Padfone as tablet/phone device. The difference here is Microsoft is designing its software to work across screens and providing developers with the tools to do the same.

The fact that the developers showed off a picture of a device looks like Microsoft or one of its hardware partners is planning on showing us something cool.

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Yesterday Microsoft kicked of its annual developer conference, Build, in San Francisco. With a packed audience the Day One keynote covered Microsoft’s cloud offerings, Office, and of course Windows.

Going into Wednesday’s event much was riding on what would be said by CEO Satya Nadella and various VP. While Windows 10 has been largely lauded Windows and the PC have seen declines in sales; along with the dismal fortunes of Windows Phones. So a lot was in play.

What followed in the two and half hour keynote was something that stated exactly what Microsoft is along with raising a few questions on where Windows is going.

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Unlike pasts Builds the Day One event did not start off with Windows but Azure. In fact one of the interesting things about the keynote was it covered Azure, Office, and Windows with Windows going last. The Azure platform continues to grow and this year’s announcement’s by Server and Enterprise chief Scott Guthrie were about filling out the cloud story. On tap were improvements to Azure SQL Server, a new service for big data called Azure Data Lake, and Azure Data Warehouse. The big news for developers is a new product for Visual Studio called Visual Studio Code. Code is an code editing program that for the first time brings Visual Studio to OSX and Linux. It is also available on Windows. Code is currently in preview and free. Code along with Azure services continue to signal Microsoft’s commitment to cross platform. Next up was a brief run through of Office,

For a while now Office has been slowly moving from a pure application to a service; now its morphing into a platform. On the stage Wednesday, Nadella himself helped demo the ability to run add-ons like car service Uber within Outlook and Excel. Unlike the Micros of yesteryear, the new apps work across PC, Mac, and browsers. Along with the new initiative it was also announced that Skype will be launching an API for integrating into apps and the web.

Then came Windows.

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Now between each segment Nadella would walk out and introduce the next speaker. With Windows OS chief Terry Myerson came out to give an overview and update on Windows 10. He reiterated that 10 will be a free upgrade in its first year out. He also added that Microsoft’s goal was to have Windows 10 on over a billion devices across three years (That’s ambitious). Myerson also unveiled four new ways to create applications on Windows: Web, .NET/Win32, JAVA/C++ (Android), and Objective C (iOS). The addition of Android apps was and is a controversial move and you could tell from the reaction of developers. iOS was a surprise. Both moves make it easier for developers to port applications to Windows.

With the opening out of the way he introduced Joe Belfiore and Alex Kipman to show demos. Belfiore who heads up design and UX walked through changes to Windows 10.

The big news around Windows 10 in Build (other than HoloLens) was Continuum for Phones. Unlike the version on the PC which let’s users switch between touch and keyboard the phone version allows you to turn a phone into a PC like device. Belfiore also showed off further finishes such as an transparency layer similar to Aero and a new look to the Start Menu when in tablet mode. Kipman caped off the demos with the first look at HoloLens’ finished product and another UI demo. Basically HoloLens is the future even its only 15 minutes. The HoloLens demo showed how you can pin Video and Skype to a wall (and make it go with you), place a 3d weather model on a table, and have the wildest anatomy class ever. HoloLens continues to rack up workplace scenarios that make it feel more like a tool than a plaything.

Satya Nadella came back on stage to close out the presentation and once again drove home that his Microsoft was about reaching its customers where they live; that means both on Windows and across other platforms. I will have more to say later as the conference moves on but for now onto Day 2.

images: Microsoft

So it’s that time again, Microsoft’s Build conference. In a few minutes Microsoft will once again take the stage in San Francisco’s Moscone Center to talk about Windows and Azure. This time the Redmond gang will be talking Windows 10 and Windows across devices.

This year finds Microsoft in the now familiar position of underdog trying to sell developers on a platform many consider irrelevant, especially in mobile computing. Windows 8 wasn’t well received and Windows Phone has only made headway as budget phone option (barely). Microsoft’s own moves to push out services on other platforms has left users confused and concerned as to whether Microsoft still considers Windows valuable. And I will not even start on how people are reacting to changes in the UI/UX of Windows 10; let’s just say it is ugly.

So Build will be important because people want a definitive answer, let us hope Microsoft has the answers.

So instead of posting initial impressions of the Microsoft Build conference the day of (because of procrastination) I’m doing a recap.

Most walking away from the Day 1 keynote will talk about two things: Cortana and the return of the Start menu to Windows. A few will talk about Microsoft’s focus on Windows Phone 8.1 (formerly Blue) and talk about how its really Windows Phone 9. And then there will be those who few the whole affair as an act of Satya Nadella’s will to change the company in 6 whole days (literally someone wrote just that). And even after all that someone will have a complaint about all that transpired.

Watching the kickoff to Build, I was looking to see where Windows would sit in the mobile first, cloud first world Microsoft was building. It was only last week the software company was showing off Office for iPad and everyone was wondering if it were a sign that Windows no longer mattered. I was wondering what would be the vision that the new Operating Systems Group would show.

In many ways it was the idea of “3 screens and a Cloud” the company has pushed for the last few years but it also was a sort of return to Microsoft of old with a developer conference focused solely on selling to developers (there were even callbacks to old conferences like PDC).

Now what I have found interesting is how much the story was Windows everywhere and yet not in the ham-fisted way people associate with the idea. Maybe it was the fact that the team selling it wasn’t as bombastic as Steve Ballmer or as surgical as Steven Sinofsky. Terry Myerson doesn’t cut the profile Sinofsky did. He was a bit quieter; he focused the opening remarks on developers and Windows place as a platform the supported the work of developers.

It was telling how when discussing Windows and Windows Phone they used the word platform and also didn’t refer to version numbers. I get the sense that the OS Group is thinking less in terms of major releases than in incremental improvements.

Of course the big story was Windows Phone. 8.1 brings with it features that will bring parity to the eyes of reviewers (Action Center) and a feature (Cortana) that could make Windows Phone an interesting third party.

Cortana is of course Microsoft’s answer to Apple’s Siri and Google’s Google Now; it’s a digital assistant that gathers and aggregates information for the user. Cortana is interesting because it’s the first real outgrowth of Microsoft TellMe voice service and Bing’s big data work. Microsoft has long been in the speech and machine learning space but its been more on the back end and research. Cortana brings all that forward. Using both voice and text, Cortana like Google Now learns about the user to gather information they can use or want. With Cortana that information will be localized both to the phone and controlled by a user’s access to Cortana’s notebook (a digital collection of a users preferences and information a user can control and change.) Cortana will be able to tie into 3rd party applications given it additional functionality.

In addition to Cortana, Windows Phone 8.1 brings a host of business features such as VPN to the platform. Such features were part of Windows Mobile and the new features are a benefit of moving Phone to the NT kernel. 8.1 also brings changes to the Calendar, Photos, and apps like Music and Video. Internet Explorer 11 has been added bringing webGL, in Private mode, and reading mode to phones.

Lastly 8.1 brings the ability to add an image to the Live Tiles but not the actual phone background (which I still want along with app grouping).

Microsoft also briefly went over Windows 8.1 Update which brings changes to the OS to make it easier to use on traditional desktops and laptops. The Update will bring the Metro tablet applications closer to the desktop allowing users to pin Metro apps to the Taskbar.

Perhaps the biggest developer news from Day 1 was the announcement of  Windows Universal apps. One of the issues with Windows development was the disconnect between Windows Phone (which used first Silverlight and later  WinPhoneRT) and Windows 8 (which was based on WinRT). The new Universal App model allows the creation of applications that can run across all screens from Window Phone and soon the Xbox. As proof of its ability to build deep apps Microsoft showed off its PowerPoint Metro app built using the Universal app model. This cross Windows experience was carried over with graphics and the forthcoming DirectX 12.  

The second biggest hidden news item was Microsoft dropping the price of Windows and Windows Phone for tablets (under 9 inches) to $0. This follows the reduction of Windows licenses for devices under $200 and indicates Redmond is serious about competing with Android and Chrome OS. Microsoft also previewed a revamp of Windows Embedded for the “Internet of Things” and announced it too will be $0 at launch.

And all of this happened before new chief Satya Nadella took the stage for a brief Q and A. The entire Day 1 keynote set the stage for Day 2 and a Microsoft that seems to be coming out of the doldrums.

Okay this went long and honestly I left out things I know people will think is more important and that is why there will be a few more posts.

So tune back  in soon.

images: Microsoft Corporation

Build 2013

In 24 hours Microsoft will be holding their annual developer conference known as Build. This year’s Build is coming with a different Microsoft in tow. This year will be the first Build with a new CEO in Satya Nadella and also a conference in which the main attraction is expected to be the long awaited Windows Phone “Blue” update. Windows Phone 8.1, as the Blue update is to be called, brings major feature changes to the platform including new customization to the Live tiles and the Siri/Google Now like Cortana.

Also expected to be discussed at Build is the Xbox platform’s development story. Since the launch of the Xbox One in December developers have wanted to know how games and apps could be developed. Microsoft teased information at the last Build conference and maybe this time it will be discussed in detail.

Now usually I write the Pre-Build posts to make predictions on what will be discussed; Microsoft did me and others the courtesy and posted the speaker events today. Now they don’t show information for the keynotes but we already know Nadella will be speaking on Day 1 and just announced head of Cloud and Enterprise Scott Guthrie will headline Day 2. I also think a major part of Build will be spent on Microsoft’s work around mobile and cloud technologies. I think that while Windows Phone will get the majority of the sound bites and attention it will be whatever news around cloud computing and big data discussed that’ll have longer impact.

Saying that; the one thing I will be interested in seeing is on how Microsoft talks about its client side platforms. Now that Microsoft has released Office for iPad it should be clear that Windows’s role has shifted. Microsoft move to focus on devices and services and not specifically software has confused developers, Microsoft watchers, and enthusiasts. Specifically I think many have wondered what it would mean day to day.

The Office for iPad along with the apps Microsoft has ported to the Mac and Android illustrate the Services part; it means making it services widely available on multiple platforms. With Build the question left will be around devices and specifically devices running Windows.

Tomorrows opening keynote is expected to run 3 hours and at least during two of them I expect the software giant to discuss the present and future of Microsoft because on a certain level this year’s Build will be about Microsoft’s commitment to Windows and its ability to move the platform forward.

Okay that was my yearly drivel, if you want to watch Build or see the live blogs yourself I will leave links below

Official Chanel9 Stream
The Verge’s live Blog