A glimpse into Build 2014

Build is Microsoft’s annual developer conference and is probably one of the biggest developers’ conferences around; this year’s Build has been a truly remarkable one. Microsoft has made a ton of announcements and released a great deal of interesting updates and preview products. It really is a very exciting time to be a Microsoft .NET developer, and I personally am looking forward to building new cool applications with these technologies. So, without further ado let’s take a look at the major things announced at Build 2014.

Windows 8.1 & Windows Phone 8.1 Update
Reportedly Microsoft is already working on the next version of the Windows OS, unsurprisingly named Windows 9, which is slated for release sometime next year. In the meantime, Windows 8.1 and Windows Phone 8.1 are receiving an update.

The Windows Phone 8.1 update brings Microsoft’s answer to Apple’s Siri and Google’s Google Now called Cortana. Although a late arrival in the smartphone space Microsoft seems to learn fast; Cortana inherits the best of Siri and Google Now. This service is backed by the Microsoft Bing platform and it’s running in the Windows Azure cloud. Demos during the Build sessions were quite impressive, and showcased a lot of new features to the mobile operating system. Microsoft also announced two new device partners and new Nokia phones: Lumia 930, 630 and 635.

The Windows 8.1 update is less impressive than the Windows Phone update, however it brings a lot of improvements in terms of usability for Windows 8.1’s mouse-and-keyboard users. One of the most interesting news about Windows 8.1 was availability of Windows 8.1 for free for every 9” and smaller device. Obviously this is part of Microsoft’s plan to create a rich eco-system around Windows 8.1 and push the operating system to as many devices as possible. Which reminds me of the motto that put Microsoft on the map: “A computer on every desk and in every home running Microsoft software”; the only difference is that now with the Internet of Things, Microsoft is targeting a lot more devices, and not only those running a flavour of Windows.

Microsoft Roslyn
One of the big announcements during Build 2014 was the open-sourcing of C# and VB.NET compilers under Project Roslyn. Live on stage, Anders Hejlsberg made the Roslyn Codeplex repository public and available to anyone to play around with. Why is this important you may ask? Anyone can peek at how a state of the art compiler such as C# and VB.NET compilers are built, but more importantly, anyone can now have access to intimate information about your code that only a compiler has. Also new additions to the language itself can be made by anyone who wishes to contribute.
Windows everywhere

Microsoft is introducing universal Windows apps, a special breed of applications that run on devices powered by Windows operating system ranging from phones to Xbox One consoles. Universal Windows apps are a new way for developers to build apps that run on phones, tablets, PCs and the Xbox One with as much code reuse as possible. The latest update to the Visual Studio 2013 includes support for building universal Windows apps. Developers start with a common source code base and tweak the application’s user interface for different screen factors.

Visual Studio Online
Another big announcement was the general availability for Visual Studio Online (VSO). Visual Studio Online has been in private beta testing for a while now and Microsoft has finally released it to the general public. What exactly is VSO? VSO provides a lightweight, code focused, development environment, running in the Azure cloud. It integrates nicely with source control systems such as TFS and Git. As a complement to the desktop IDE, it’s focused toward building Azure websites. VSO has a continuous integration feature available where you can schedule automatic deployments to Azure websites directly from your TFS or Git repository. VSO is available to everyone, free (with some limitations on the functionality) for teams up to 5 members.

Visual Studio 2013 Update 2 RC
VS 2013 Update 2 RC is not a biggie, however it’s worth noting some of the things that would make your life as a .NET developer more interesting.

  • Mads Kristensen introduced the new and improved Web Essentials with tons of goodies such as new or improved editors for Saas, Less, Browser Link menu directly injected into the webpage, Markdown support, improved stylesheet support, and many more. Head to the official Web Essentials website for a complete list.
  • An ASP.NET project template for the direct creation of Azure websites, as well as artefacts such as PowerShell scripts for deployment and the ability to remotely debug an Azure website directly from Visual Studio.
  • Universal Applications project template for creation of applications that run across all devices powered by Windows 8.1 OS.
Microsoft Azure
Microsoft Azure news is probably the biggest thing at this year’s Build. Scott Guthrie, the newly appointed EVP of Cloud and Enterprise Group, in his Keynote address talked about no less than 44 announcements. Here is a list of most notable ones:
  • Preview version of the new Azure Portal that brings together management, operations, and development tools (VSO)
  • Basic tier for compute instances which similar in CPU and memory with the Standard ones but cost roughly 26% less
  • General availability of
    • Azure websites basic tier
    • Scheduler
    • Read-access geographically redundant storage
    • Auto Scale
  • Azure automation public preview now available
This is just a summary of the announcements at this year’s Build conference. If you are interested in further details about any of the topics, please head to the Channel 9 website where you can find the complete list of sessions and the recordings available.

We hope you have found this week’s edition of "To The Point" by Claudiu Tomescu to be helpful and informative. Look out for our next week instalment as we continue to explore unique topics from business to the latest technology.

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