The 30,000-Foot View of the Microsoft Application Portfolio

Microsoft's Matt Nunn provides a whirlwind tour of the current state of tools and services that Microsoft has to offer developers in this VSLive! Austin keynote.

While the development world has changed dramatically over the last several years, there have also been many unifying factors that simplify development processes. That was the general message from Matt Nunn, director of Development Tools & Technologies at Microsoft. He kicked off Tuesday's sessions at Visual Studio Live! Austin with a keynote, "An Overview of the Microsoft Application Platform for Developers." True to the title, Nunn took attendees on what he called a "whirlwind tour" of what's available for application development at Microsoft. He supported his keynote address with several customer videos and live demonstrations.

"You are the most important people in any company today as a software developer," Nunn told the assembled crowd. "There really aren't any companies that are innovating without developing their own software. You can't innovate with packaged applications. You have to build something new. You have to build something that will differentiate."

Nunn pointed out that nearly every significant innovation within modern enterprises is driven by software. Other Microsoft executives often say, "Every company is a software company." While that mantra is indeed true in many situations, Nunn pointed more toward those companies he said are, "born in the cloud companies."

These companies, like NetFlix, Uber and Skype, are truly driven by software. "These ones are essentially cloud native. They've never had a business without being driven by software or being on-line. Netflix changed the way we watch TV and movies. Essentially, they killed Blockbuster's brick and mortar business. Uber revolutionized transportation. They revolutionized the way we take rides. Skype revolutionized how we made phone calls. Amazon revolutionized the way we buy things." Then he pointed out the irony of Amazon now opening brick and mortar stores in some locations.

Nevertheless, software-driven innovation is the current key to success. "If you innovate with software, you're going to win customers," he said. "Your customers want rich web experiences, mobile apps, and pretty much everyone bring their own devices these days."

He encouraged the attendees to consider what they already have and how they can make that work better. "What is the ecosystem of apps you have in your business? If you're connecting your apps to the broader business, you need to be using the cloud to support that."

The pace of development is another changing factor. "Start thinking about how you build stable apps. Then you make little tweaks," he said. "Unfortunately, that's not the way the software development world is going. You're changing your stuff on regular basis. You're constantly adding features and tweaks. You need innovate to scale continuously. You need great tools for continuous integration and deployment. You need to develop apps at much more rapid pace than you do today."

After setting the stage for the current climate in the development world, Nunn took the crowd through the larger components in the portfolio of Microsoft development tools and platforms. He started with a brief customer video in which developers at Uber described a Realtime ID app it put together to help reassure riders their driver was indeed a legit Uber driver. They built that app using Xamarin and Cognitive Services.

Then Nunn demoed an app Microsoft prepared for first responders -- developed with Visual Studio and WPF -- that notifies them of potential events, tracks events, and guides them to the location of the event. There's a function for fire, police, and ambulance services. It also connects to Microsoft's Azure and Power BI.

He then moved on to discussing mobile development. "Mobile is at the heart of everything most people do today," he said. No argument there from anyone in the audience. Nunn opined that many people could carry as many as five or six devices in the near future -- a smartphone, a laptop, tablet, and possibly wearable technology. "You want to build a native experience, the best experience for that device with the right navigation features and all that," he says. He quickly pointed out the folly of that approach. "I'd need to know all these languages. I'd need all those dev tools. It would also be a maintenance nightmare."

Fortunately, there are better ways. "Building a common environment is the best way to go," he said. "Xamarin is built in C# [and can develop] a native UI for every targeted device. You can do native for iOS, native for Android, and it's all C# under the covers. It's a powerful toolset for building mobile apps."

Then Nunn moved into a demonstration of Visual Studio Mobile Center, which brings together a lot of the tools developers use for creating mobile apps these days. "You can get builds working and start testing. You can set up distribution groups as well and define who is going to get certain builds of apps. Different versions can go to different clients." The Mobile Center also helps developers check on app performance and reliability.

Nunn wrapped up with an extensive demo of the App Platform. "You can think about the App Platform being made up of four major development areas: functions, app service, service fabric, and container service." Nunn then described and demonstrated each of those areas.

The next Visual Studio Live! event is scheduled for Washington, DC this June 12-15. Check here for more details, or check here for information on all Visual Studio Live! events.

About the Author

Lafe Low has been a technology editor and writer for more than 25 years. Most recently, he was the editor in chief of TechNet magazine. He has also held various editorial positions with Redmond magazine, CIO magazine and InfoWorld. He also launched his own magazine entitled Explore New England, and has published four editions of his guidebook The Best in Tent Camping: New England.

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