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Build 2014: a Watershed for Microsoft Developers?

The 2014 Build conference has been surprising. If you'd told me before the show started that the major product announcements would be updates to Windows 8 and Windows Phone 8 -- in other words, no new products at all -- I would've yawned and said that the only thing developers had to look forward to was the amazing swag Microsoft gives out at this show.

And I would have been wrong. Way, way wrong. This was perhaps the Build that made developers excited again -- and not just .NET developers, but all developers, whether or not they write software for Windows.

For the Windows-focused devs, though, the week could only be described as glorious. Universal Windows apps. At last. Building one app that works for Windows 8, Windows Phone 8, Xbox One(!) and eventually, Kinect. Apps that work the same way on the desktop as they do on any mobile device. Apps that will be easier to find than ever, thanks to new app discovery features built into Windows 8.  

Mobile devs know that discovery is maybe the second most-crucial aspect of their applications (after the quality of the app itself). Try making yourself stand out among the million or so on iOS and Android. Windows 8 almost guarantees your apps will be found more easily than apps on those platforms.

Driving all this integration innovation is Microsoft Azure; it's what really allows the magic to happen. The upgrades to Azure that Scott Guthrie announced Wednesday caused me to say this on Twitter (@VSM_Keith, BTW): "At this point, I can't think of a single reason why a VS dev would use Amazon instead of Azure."

And it's true. With all the free storage you get, if you're not using Azure for, at minimum, test and dev, shame on you: You're simply wasting one of the best resources in existence. No other IDE can compare; consider, for example, the new ability debug a cloud app's code within Visual Studio. This is huge. During the Day 2 keynote, Technical Fellow Mark Russinovich demonstrated debugging Azure-based virtual machines from within Visual Studio. "No more installing Visual Studio in the server," he said, to big cheers. Can you say productivity gains?

In terms of excitement, has there ever been a more electric moment at a developer conference than when Anders Hejlsberg pushed a button and proclaimed: "Roslyn is now open source!" I don't remember one, frankly. When he made the (now known as) .NET Compiler Platform live on CodePlex, it cemented Microsoft as possibly the most open source-friendly company in the industry (excepting those companies, like Red Hat, that make it their chief business). Think about that a moment: You now have the full set of APIs for C# and Visual Basic.

Added to that was the announcement of the .NET Foundation, and the 24 Microsoft projects it started with. It seems Microsoft has decided that intellectual property in the form of software code should no longer be a profit center: Code is simply a means to an end; the end of building software.

Microsoft took significant steps toward that end this week at Build. The new stuff (Start button!) in Windows 8 Update and Windows Phone 8.1 will be good for consumers; but it's the ways Microsoft made it easier and better for you, the developer, to make software for those devices (along with iPhones, iPads, Android phones, Android tablets, and so on) that was the highlight of this show.

That's a very high-level, superficial analysis of the major Build announcements. Much more is coming. The main takeaway is that, as others have said, there's no better time to be a software developer. And no matter the platform, device or language, no one delivers a better developer experience than Microsoft.

Posted by Keith Ward on 04/04/2014

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