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Microsoft Build Day 2 – Mind Repeatedly Blown

April 1, 2016 - John Waters

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Lady Engineers
We are very happy so see the strong representation of women on stage at Build, ranging from presenters, to partners (a CTO, no less), and yes, developers! This sends a much-needed message to the industry–we need you, and you rock! We have been lucky to work with many awesome women developers, in every area of development.

Doubling Down on Open Source
After distilling the news from yesterday and today, there has been a great deal of strengthening of the open source push from Microsoft. Today, Mono has been contributed to the .NET Foundation, and then relicensed under the MIT license. This includes all the command line tools and Mono mobile extensions. Also, the whole Xamarin framework, native bindings and libraries like Xamarin.Forms, are being contributed. In addition, Redhat, Unity and Jetbrains have joined the board of the .NET Foundation. So now the whole .NET ecosystem is open-sourced, available under MIT license, and free for cross-platform development! Amazing! Read more here.
Xamarin Free for Visual Studio Users
Xamarin will be free (i.e. no additional fee) for existing Visual Studio owners, including the free Xamarin Community Edition that will come with the already-free Visual Studio Community Edition. Xamarin Insights is merging into the HockeyApp team, and the HockeyApp SDK is now open-sourced.

IoT, Cloud and Cross Platform come together
Microsoft has long talked about Cloud and Mobile being the future, and they are really walking the walk, with the addition of cross-platform and IoT. To get you started, there is a downloadable demo of a cross platform UWP (Universal Windows Platform) app built using Xamarin which talks to an OBD car port (available in all reasonably modern cars) and uploads data to the Azure IoT Hub service.

“Apps do not cover the long tail!” 
This statement really brought home where Microsoft is going with “conversation as a platform”. There are apps and web sites you use every day–like Facebook and email–but these are just the “head” of the usage. The “tail” is the 90% of the apps you use once in a blue moon, like the Disney Wait Time app, or checking the Ferry fares for some remote island. To download an app for this one time use is a pain, and you end up with hundreds of single purpose apps, which becomes unmanageable, you can’t even find them.

Enter microservices, bots, and conversations as a platform. Imagine now that you talk to these services, asking for the next ferry to Wherever Island, or the wait time at Splash Mountain. No app to download, or web site to find. Conversation IS the UI. What is a User Interface? We think of it being graphical..but that is a GUI. A UI is something the user uses to interface with a computer–why not voice? It works everywhere: in a car when driving, on a phone, in a skype chat… and as the presenter pointed out, even his grandma can use it. It just makes sense. It’s conversation as a platform.

Microsoft Graph
Behind all this news of open source, cross-platform apps running on iOS… where is Microsoft’s money in all of this? Our answer is in services. Office 365 (office has 1.2 B users!) is the big one, as well as Skype (for Business), and of course, Azure itself: all those VMs, pay per use services mean a lot of cash flow, and Microsoft needs to get as many people as possible using those services, hence the embracement of all these new (to Microsoft) platforms. And so at Build there were lots of announcements of how this will become even easier, ranging from the Bot and Skype SDKs, to the new Microsoft Graph.

Graph gives you access to the breadth of the data stored in Microsoft’s services, including onedrive, documents, emails, users, roles, conversations and calendar. It is a RESTful API, and gives both read and write access.. You can query the Active Directory to find users, and you can add an item to a calendar. Of course, this is within the context of an Active Directory, I can’t add a calendar to some random user, but there are some interesting cases here for large enterprises internal systems.

Office Extensibility
On the topic of making office even more attractive, you can now customize office, both in web pages and mobile devices. There was a demo of adding HTML content in a pane in Excel, as well as driving the Excel object model using JavaScript from the Excel ribbon toolbar. Who would have thought…we have come a long way from COM Interop!

To Infinity and Beyond
These are just some of the high points of Day 2. The message is clear. Things are changing faster than ever. With Hololens, Conversation as a Platform, Bots, Micro Services, IoT and the slew of new cross platform and open source tools and frameworks, the way we build apps, deploy apps, and stand on the shoulders of other giants has changed dramatically over the last couple of years, and will continue to do so exponentially.

Don’t fall off the slope!

John Waters

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