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Build 2014 Retrospective

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The first week of April Microsoft held their annual Build developer conference in San Francisco, California.  Microsoft uses this conference to communicate and evangelize developers for the various platforms (Windows, Windows Phone, and Xbox).  The result is that provides a useful insight to what Microsoft feels is important and where these platforms are headed next. 

My comments are based on my third attendance and how the presentations compare to the previous years.  The overall theme I would take away from Build 2014 is that Microsoft has a renewed focus on appealing to developers and increased commitment to open source licensed technologies.  Sure some Microsoft platforms are locked down (Windows Phone / Xbox ) but that is an inherent characteristic of their nature.  Even so libraries like WinJS and Portable Class Libraries are available to run in those environments.  TypeScript has been open source since the beginning.  The Roslyn project has produced a complete rewrite of the C# and VB.NET compilers and released them under an open source license.  Combining Roslyn with Mono and Xamarin tools opens the door to non-Microsoft platforms Android, Linux, and iOS. 

The atmosphere from the Microsoft personnel seemed livelier as they spoke with a renewed energy when compared to previous Build events.  For example, last year the keynote focused on Windows 8.1 Update and the new devices being released to support touch-based computing.  Developer-centric content was there, but it was secondary to the message of new devices. 

The choice of presenters helps to illustrate the difference.  The spotlight for Build 2014 was given to various teams and department heads that focused on developer content rather than just purely highlighting new devices.  Joe Belfiore, David Treadwell, and Kevin Gallo (among several others) discussed migrating legacy Win32 applications, building Universal Apps, and the improvements to the Windows Phone platform.  By comparison last year highlighted Windows 8.1 improvements and described the Bing platform—all interesting in their own way but by no means developer-centric.

Many of these technologies have been in development before Nadella took office, and so Steve Ballmer certainly deserves credit for putting them in motion while CEO.  Nadella’s full role and direction for Microsoft is still under observation given his recent promotion.  Yet perhaps it took his elevation to CEO to give some of the messages a fresh vote of support.

This is not to say that the picture is entirely rosy.  Critics could argue that the Windows app convergence is long overdue, that Windows Phone cannot unseat iPhone and Android, and that Visual Studio is overpriced.  Rather than see the rapid releases of Visual Studio as a positive, some see it as a chance for Microsoft to charge another upgrade fee.  (Especially since comments indicate the next wave of C++ language features will require V.Next to use in formal production environments/Go-Live.)

In final summary, while Microsoft still has many challenges ahead, it would seem that the company is successfully pivoting to face its competitors head on.  Reinvigorating support for the Windows platforms should only improve the opportunities for customers to get better products.

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