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Build 2014

Ben Dewey

//build was a great event this year. Given that I’m the mobile guy I’m particularly excited that they started the day 1 keynote with Windows Phone and Windows 8 announcements.

Windows Phone 8.1

Microsoft announced their latest version of Windows Phone, version 8.1, this new version is due out this summer and is compatible with all existing Windows Phone 8.0 devices. In addition manufacturers, such as Nokia, are coming out with new devices tailored to Windows Phone 8.1.

Regarding Windows Phone 8.1 the new features include Cortana, a new Notification Center, Enterprise VPN and Workplace features, among many new apps and app updates. Cortana looks really cool, she’s far more than ‘Siri for the Windows Phone’ as she’s been called. I like how she mimics a personal assistant and offers something unique in this world of privacy concerns, where she opens her ‘notebook’ and provides transparency about what information she’s tracking about you, such as likes, favorite places, and favorite people, which she calls your inner circle. You can also modify any of this information if it’s incorrect.

The Notification center is huge, it allows apps of your choice to provide a higher level of feedback to the user regarding content. I’m also excited about the Workplace features because it makes Windows Phone an enterprise ready device, not that it wasn’t already, but the new features, such as VPN, cover many more use cases that come up in larger organizations. Windows Phone has also been updated with all the power of Internet Explorer (IE) 11, including in-private browsing on the phone.

While Windows Phone 8.0 runs on the Windows Runtime (WinRT), there were many APIs, suchs as the camera APIs which were different between Windows and Windows Phone. Windows Phone 8.1 includes developer changes to make the APIs consistent and created a new style of WinRT apps for Windows Phone called Universal Apps.

Windows 8.1 Update

Windows 8.1 also received an update, which is already available on MSDN. This update includes visual updates, such as a Windows Store apps surfacing on the task bar, better mouse and keyboard support within Windows Store apps, and the addition of a power and search button on the start screen.

There is also new pricing around enterprise side loading of apps which makes it more economical to deploy internal Windows 8 apps. The final feature they announces was a feature called Enterprise mode within IE 11, which enables legacy functionality so those internal sites can still be compatible.

I’ve always loved the Windows platform and these updates make it that much more compelling. I really encourage people to take a non-biased look at Windows 8 if they haven’t done so already. They also leaked some secrets about unreleased features like a desktop Start Menu, yes menu, not Start Screen, and Windows Store apps running on the desktop in resizable windows. It’s nice to see Microsoft showing their hand to the community and being transparent.

Universal Apps

It’s been rumored that Microsoft was converging Windows Phone and Windows Store apps. At //build they announce a new app development template that makes this much easier. These new templates work for both .NET and JavaScript for new apps and, as they showed in the keynote, existing apps.

With the convergence of the Windows Phone APIs and Windows Runtime APIs Universal apps for Windows Phone and Store can share basically all of your app code and view code. But, it doesn’t stop there. Microsoft is using this Universal app template with the help of Xamarin to create apps with shared .NET code for iOS and Andriod as well.

While day 1 came many highly anticipated announcements about Mobile and Windows, I was expecting most of them because I follow that space so closely. The day 2 keynote offered new announcements that I wasn’t expecting.

Azure

There are so many updates around Azure that it’s hard to keep up. It’s hard not to be compelled by all the amazing Platform as a Service (PaaS) tools that are available for Azure. The big announcement for Azure was a preview version of a brand new portal, which surfaces pricing and monitoring right up front. Additionally, we have new .NET support for Mobile Services, a new traffic manager, and Web Jobs for Azure websites, some of which have been in preview mode and announced earlier. Brady Gaster and Joe Levy also announced, in their session, the deployment of a new Microsoft Azure Management Libraries (MAML) which provide a simplified .NET wrapper over the REST management services for Azure.

VS 2013 Update 2 RC

Visual Studio 2013 also received an update, currently in RC. This update comes with numerous Azure integration improvements to the Server Explorer toolbox, like the ability to create a VM directly from Visual Studio, or create an Azure website directly from the file new website wizard. Visual Studio 2013 Update 2 also adds all the juicy new Windows Phone 8.1 and Universal App Templates. Finally a really cool feature, which they also showed in the keynote, is the ability to sync your development environment with the F12 debugger tools of your browser (not just IE). This feature is powered by BrowserLink. Scott Hanselman and Scott Hunter have a great session describing these new features.

TypeScript

While TypeScript wasn’t really mentioned in either keynote, Anders Hejlsberg announced the version 1.0 release of Typescript in his session. Unfortunately I haven’t had a chance to use TypeScript much, but I’m following it closely and looking forward to an opportunity use it.

Roslyn

You can’t mention Anders Hejlsberg without mentioning C#, and the big announcement during the day 2 keynote was the open sourcing of the Rosyln project and the creation of the .NET Foundation. The C# compiler has been around for quite some time and, as you can imagine, the codebase has some technical debt that has made some new features extremely complex. Additionally most compilers to date are black boxes. For these reasons, they decided to re-write the C# compiler as a service with an open API. This makes the numerous syntax features from the backlog super easy, but also enables third party and even in house creation of custom refactorings and behaviors extremely easy to write.

While Roslyn itself it awesome, open sourcing it means that the community can closely watch any changes and discussions and even supply patches. They are even posting their internal meeting minutes for their design sessions. Follow it for yourself at http://roslyn.codeplex.com

Project N

There was another major announcement that wasn’t announced at the keynotes and that is ‘Project N’. It is a new preview for a project also known as .NET Native, which increases performance for .NET apps by running them through a native compiler to pre-JIT and optimize .NET code into pure native code. Currently this project is in preview and supports C# for Windows Store apps on ARM and x64 only, but they’ve discussed expanding this in the future. See the FAQ for more information.

This year’s //build conference was really amazing for me. In addition to the numerous updates mentioned above, this year was a great networking experience for me personally. Since I was awarded my MVP this year, I’ve had a wonderful opportunity to meet so many new people, albeit virtually. The conference gave me an opportunity to meet these people face-to-face. It was also nice to see all the Microsoft folks. Overall a great event lots of content to follow up on, thankfully it’s all recorded online at http://channel9.msdn.com/Events/Build/2014.

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