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Microsoft Build 2020: Highlights

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Last week Microsoft held the 10th edition of Build, its annual conference aimed at developers using Microsoft technologies. The online event included multiple important announcements and releases, such as the general availability of Blazor WebAssembly, updates on the upcoming .NET 5, Azure Static Web Apps, and new projects related to IoT and Artificial Intelligence.

This year's Build was significantly different from its past editions. Due to the current pandemic situation, Microsoft decided to transform it into an online event that was entirely free for all attendees. Instead of a three-day gathering, the online conference comprised multiple digital sessions streamed in parallel for 48 hours. Another difference from its recent editions was the nature of its sessions: rather than being balanced with product announcements, it was much more focused on developer-oriented content.

The conference started with a keynote presented by Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella, who addressed the COVID-19 situation and applauded the response of tech companies to the crisis. It was followed by eight parallel sessions with announcements related to Microsoft Azure, .NET, Windows, Office 365, and the recently acquired GitHub. The program also featured multiple development tutorials, expert Q&A sessions with different development teams from Microsoft, focus groups on different aspects of Microsoft products, and "Community Connections" - sessions aimed at connecting developers geographically close to each other.

Two of the most relevant announcements related to Microsoft .NET development were: the official release of ASP.NET Blazor WebAssembly and the introduction of .NET MAUI. Blazor is a cross-platform, open-source component-based web UI framework for building single-page apps using .NET and C# instead of JavaScript. Blazor WebAssembly allows Blazor components to be hosted client-side in the browser using a WebAssembly-based .NET runtime. Combined with the already existing Blazor Server, the release represents Microsoft's production-ready framework for full-stack .NET web development. However, it is important to notice that this is not an LTS release - an upgrade is necessary once .NET 5 is released (later this year).

.NET MAUI (short for Multi-platform App UI) is an evolution of the Xamarin.Forms toolkit. Its purpose is to provide a single mobile development stack supporting Android, iOS, macOS, and Windows, promoting the "Single Project Developer Experience": a single project targeting multiple platforms. The general availability of .NET MAUI is targeted to November 2021 (with .NET 6), but the preview releases start later this year.

There were also different releases related to Visual Studio: ML.NET Model Builder is now part of Microsoft's IDE, along with a new Windows Forms designer for .NET Core (both available as preview features in Visual Studio 2019 version 16.6). Another relevant related release was the support for connecting the IDE with Visual Studio Codespaces (formerly Visual Studio Online), Microsoft's cloud-hosted development environment based on Visual Studio Code. The new feature is currently available in private preview.

Other releases related to Microsoft .NET include previews of Entity Framework Core 5 and .NET 5, insights on the upcoming C# 9.0, and Project Tye - an experimental tool aimed at Kubernetes-based microservices development. Interestingly enough, there were no releases related to F# 5 (although F# 5 Preview 4 was released in the same period).  

In the Microsoft Azure sphere, there were several announcements on different fronts. Azure CosmosDB gained multiple new features and capabilities, and Azure Cosmos DB serverless is going to be available in preview in the coming months. There was also a particularly interesting session on enhancing Azure Cognitive Search with Azure Machine Learning.

Other exciting Azure-related releases were the preview of Azure Quantum (for quantum computing development) and a service called Azure Static Web Apps, which allows full-stack web apps to be automatically built and deployed to Azure from a GitHub repository.

In the IoT domain, Microsoft announced projects Bonsai and Moab: Bonsai is a machine learning-based component used to build, operate, and manage autonomous systems. Moab is an open-source, 3D-printable balancing robot that can be used with Bonsai to teach engineers how to build real-world autonomous control systems.

One of the most important announcements for the Windows platform was Project Reunion - the official name for the ongoing effort to unify Windows desktop and UWP apps. The idea is to allow developers to build "universal" apps that can run across multiple Windows devices. The announcement of Project Reunion included the preview of the Windows SDK .NET package, a .NET interop for all Windows WinRT APIs. Windows Terminal 1.0 and a preview of Windows Package Manager were also released, and multiple new features for the next generation of Windows Subsystem for Linux (WSL2) were announced - including GPU support and a real built-in Linux kernel.

Finally, Project Cortex - a Microsoft 365 service that uses Artificial Intelligence and Microsoft Graph to create a knowledge network from different data sources - will be generally available in "early summer." A productivity application called Microsoft Lists is also going to be added to Microsoft 365, and Visual Studio Code now has an extension that allows the development of third-party tools for Microsoft Teams.

The conference program also included multiple tutorials and discussions related to GitHub products (from Azure and Visual Studio integrations to DevOps practices and focus groups), Rust, Java, and JavaScript. Most of the GitHub-related sessions followed the recent GitHub Satellite 2020 conference.

Overall, it is safe to say that the sessions revolved around a unified, platform-oriented development strategy (which is in line with Microsoft's recent efforts in the .NET ecosystem). In this context, one of the sessions re-broadcasted during the entire event was a summary of a 90-minute pre-recorded video in which Scott Hanselman and Scott Hunter (both at Microsoft) talk about the current state and future of .NET 5.

All recorded sessions from Build (including other general announcements from Microsoft) can be found on Channel9 and Microsoft's YouTube channel.



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