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Windows Azure Gets Major Update to Mobile Services

Microsoft also announces that every Azure customer gets a free 20MB database to use for a year with Web Sites and Mobile Services.

Microsoft has upgraded Windows Azure significantly for mobile developers, with custom API support, Git support and a .NET API through NuGet headlining the changes.

Microsoft Corporate Vice President Scott Guthrie outlined the Mobile Services enhancements in a blog entry earlier today. The changes are aimed squarely at developers building apps for Windows 8, iOS and Android.

The most important is the ability to now create and expose custom APIs from your mobile service backend, then push them to mobile clients without having to associate them with a data table. Guthrie explains what that means on a practical level:

"This capability enables a whole set of new scenarios – including the ability to work with data sources other than SQL Databases (for example: Table Services or MongoDB), broker calls to 3rd party APIs, integrate with Windows Azure Queues or Service Bus, work with custom non-JSON payloads (e.g. Windows Periodic Notifications), route client requests to services back on-premises (e.g. with the new Windows Azure BizTalk Services), or simply implement functionality that doesn't correspond to a database operation."

The APIs can be written in server-side JavaScript, using Node.js and Node's NPM packages. Guthrie mentioned that similar support for custom APIs using .NET is a feature that's scheduled for a future update.

Guthrie demonstrated in a series of screen shots how to create the API on Azure, and how the service does some of the heavy lifting with things like security permissions, meaning less coding for the developer.

The Mobile Services update also adds Git source control integration, automatically providing a Git repository and the ability to clone the repository on a local machine. That should simplify workflow, Guthrie said. The functionality is enabled through the Azure dashboard.

On the NuGet front, the Mobile Services NuGet package is .NET Framework 4.5 compatible (it was a pre-release package before, but it's now official.) The update also supports Windows Store and Windows Phone 7.x. With the update, developers can now use Mobile Services from ASP.NET or WPF (Windows Presentation Foundation) apps.

It's significant that Guthrie points out how Azure can be used for non-Microsoft platforms like Android; in fact, he noted that Notification Hubs, which are used to send broadcast push notifications, have been upgraded to include Android devices. Announcements like this make it clear that Microsoft sees Azure, rather than just Windows 8 and Windows Phone 8, as the key to gaining traction in the mobile development space.

About the Author

Keith Ward is the editor in chief of Visual Studio Magazine.

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