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Microsoft .NET Conf: Focus on Windows

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Earlier this week, the first edition of the .NET Conf: Focus series for 2021 took place, featuring Windows desktop development topics. The event targeted developers of all stripes, covering both existing functionalities on .NET 5 and upcoming projects such as .NET MAUI and Project Reunion. The focus conferences are free, one-day live-streamed events featuring speakers from the community and .NET product teams.

The focus series is a branch of the original .NET Conf, an annual event organized by the .NET community and Microsoft that showcases the latest developments for the .NET platform. Each focus event targets a specific .NET-related technology, providing a series of in-depth, hands-on sessions aimed at .NET developers.

.NET Conf: Windows was different from the other past events in the series because it was focused on a single operating system (OS) - which may seem strange considering the ongoing unification plan towards a cross-platform, multi-OS .NET framework. However, the focus was justified, considering the importance of upcoming projects such as .NET MAUI and the ongoing efforts related to ARM64 development.

The conference started with an overview of the latest developments related to .NET and desktop development. In this context, Scott Hunter, director of program management at Microsoft, talked about existing .NET 5 features related to desktop app development, such as self-contained single executable files and ClickOnce deployment. He also talked about the latest performance improvements and features in Windows Forms and WPF, assisted with live demonstrations by Olia Gavrysh and Dmitry Lyalin, both at Microsoft.

The following session, presented by Cathy Sullivan (program manager at Microsoft), featured the preview release of the .NET Upgrade Assistant, an automated tool to assist developers in upgrading existing .NET applications to .NET 5. While not being a complete upgrade tool (developers will still have to complete the upgrade manually), its GitHub repository includes a link to a free e-book on porting ASP.NET apps to .NET Core that covers multiple migration scenarios.

The remainder of the sessions were short (approx. 30 minutes), covering topics mentioned in the keynote (such as WPF and Windows forms - including the recent support for ARM64 released with .NET 6 Preview 1), app deployment with ClickOnce, and specific coverage of WebView2, Microsoft's new embedded web browser control used by Windows Forms. Other interesting sessions included demonstrations on building real-time desktop apps with Azure SignalR services (presented by Sam Basu) and accessing WinRT and Win32 APIs with .NET 5 (presented by Mike Battista and Angela Zhang, both at Microsoft).

The last three sessions focused on features and projects expected to ship with .NET 6 later this year. Daniel Roth, program manager at Microsoft, talked about building hybrid applications with Blazor. Hybrid applications are native apps that use web technologies for the UI, and support for cross-platform hybrid apps is an important feature of both .NET 6 and .NET MAUI.

Zarya Faraj and Miguel Ramos explained the concepts behind Project Reunion, which provides a unified development platform that can be used for all apps (Win32, Packaged, and UWP) targeting all the Windows 10 versions. The event was closed with a presentation by Maddy Leger and David Ortinau (both at Microsoft) on the future of native applications development in .NET 6 - which focused on .NET MAUI.

A relevant takeaway from the conference is how the recent efforts on developing native device applications targeting multiple platforms are revolving around .NET MAUI. However, it is important to notice that .NET MAUI does not represent a universal .NET client application development model, merging both native and web applications. This is an important distinction, especially in light of the many cross-references and mentions of Blazor Desktop, another highly anticipated feature in .NET 6. Richard Lander, program manager for the .NET team at Microsoft, recently approached this topic in multiple comments and posts:

I think folks may be missing the narrative on Blazor desktop. It is intended as a compelling choice for cross-platform client apps that enable using web assets. [...] Blazor Desktop and MAUI are intended to be separate. Blazor Desktop will be hosted via a MAUI webview. MAUI will provide the desktop or mobile application container. MAUI will enable using native controls if that is needed/desired.

The next focus events are still undefined. The complete recording of this event is already available on YouTube. Recordings of all .NET Conf and .NET Conf: Focus events are available in curated playlists on MSDN Channel 9.

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