Microsoft Build 2016 Recap

I had the pleasure of attending Microsoft’s Build conference this week in San Francisco.  It was a fantastic experience - certainly one of the better years to go.

Overall Conference

For the most part, the conference itself is run very well.  Great wifi coverage, decent mix of sessions, and large spaces for recharging, collaborating, and socializing.  At $2,200 just for the conference ticket plus the insane cost of San Francisco city itself though, unless your company is paying it’s pretty much a non-starter for an independent developer.  Unfortunate perhaps, but the targeted audience here is definitely enterprise developers.   

I found the sessions to be very informative and engaging.  The best info came directly from Microsoft employees sharing internal knowledge and insights that could only come from them!  All of the content is available on GitHub (such as these great Code Labs) which is excellent because there was not enough time to go through it all in three short days.

Some improvements I hope they consider: 

 - Provide more sessions for the most popular topics.  With “code labs” requiring tickets that were handed out way in advance, it was difficult if not impossible to go to key sessions on ASP.NET Core & mobile for example.  While sessions on Unity game development, IoT, etc. are fun, they detract from others that provide the majority of the value. 

- Some (rather than no) giveaways and more, better quality food, please.  Budget cutbacks were obvious.  I’m fine with them not giving away a big ticket item to everyone (a la Xbox One) but at the very least serve breakfast!  These are long days and proper nourishment given how much we pay seems basic to me.


Modular.  Managed.  Cross-platform.  Open Source.  This was a huge announcement and the most exciting one to me.  It’s great to see Microsoft finally embrace the way the development world is going.  With the relevance of Windows and Office declining, they are pretty much being forced to, but even so - these are great changes that are being executed well.  It’s clear that they are pushing everyone towards their cloud Azure platform but in order for everyone to embrace it, .NET needed to be open, modular, and run on everything.  With these changes, they’ve lowered the barrier to entry for both new developers and Mac/Linux folks, all while increasing existing .NET developers’ value. 

The modular aspect is particularly cool - pick and choose a variety of services, APIs, dependency management tools, and databases for your applications.  Dependency Injection looks great - as seen here, very clean and straightforward.  As shown in a demo, a new vanilla .NET Core  project is extremely barebones: if you want MVC for example, you say services.AddMvc( ) in the app’s startup code.  AddThis and AddThat makes it easy to see at a glance exactly what the app consists of. 

Xamarin/PhoneGap/Universal Windows Platform

Building on .NET Core’s momentum, Microsoft officially bought Xamarin a few weeks ago.  Xamarin allows developers to create mobile apps using C#.  Very cool, yes, but originally very expensive (thousands per year I believe).  When I started building mobile apps 3 years ago, I chose PhoneGap over Xamarin due to cost.  Now, choosing between the two will be a lot harder.  I had a hunch that Microsoft would provide Xamarin for free, and they will now; however, the announcement that it’s free on Visual Studio Community Edition as well was a nice surprise.  Adoption is guaranteed to soar now.  The bottom line: cross-platform development is absolutely a viable option in 2016.  It’s great to see my bet on it a few years ago work out, admittedly!  Looking forward, if you’re a .NET developer, start with Xamarin.  If you’re a web/open source developer, PhoneGap is still a worthy option: the best stack at the moment is Ionic framework/Angular.js 2/Cordova. 

Office 365

Not a lot of excitement on this front from the keynote crowds, but honestly the Office team’s work with plugins/Add-Ins continues to mature and offer excellent application opportunities.  I’ve built a few plugins over the years, mostly with painful results.  It now has a better marketplace for discoverability, better tooling, and better language support, so I can see this being a hit in the enterprise space. 

HoloLens: virtual reality

Try as I might, I was unable to score a ticket to “Destination: Mars”, a virtual walk on Mars experience.  However, after speaking with others who were able to try it, it’s clear that it has a long way to go.  The FOV is very small and the headset is clunky and heavy.  Personally, I think that all the VR headsets coming out now will be a bit rough.  That’s ok though; this is a new wave of VR so of course over time it will improve.  I believe in 5 to 10 years it could provide some really compelling experiences.  The keynote demo involving medical students viewing the human anatomy was particularly inspiring. 

Bots/Cognitive Services

Microsoft unveiled “bots” at Build - “conversation as a platform”.  Coming totally out of left field (for me at least), I’m curious to see where this goes.  These will primarily launch within Skype only, but I’m sure they’ll be available throughout all Microsoft products soon after.  Technically, the bots have been a thing for a long time, but so it goes: one or more large companies suddenly start pushing them and then they become popular/ubiquitous.  Really, what Microsoft is providing is a framework & platform that will allow users to create bots easily and often with little to no code.  Lots of possibilities here for businesses and consumers.

The Cognitive Services APIs are, quite simply, awesome!  Vision, Speech, Language, Search - so many options.  One particularly amazing demo showed a company that builds tech to assist the deaf.  The application listened to a spoken language (Portuguese in this case), processed it, and showed an on-screen avatar relaying the same message, but in sign language (!!!) with English subtitles (so us in the audience could understand).  Breaking down language barriers - wow.

Build 2016 was a great experience.  I recommend attending if you can (thanks to Slalom for giving me the opportunity!).  It’s a great time to be a .NET developer!

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