18Sep 2016

BUILD 2016: The big developer round up


Microsoft opened its annual developer conference, BUILD, with a range of important announcements for the company’s future vision. In this article we’ll round-up some of the highlights, but Microsoft’s event itself was designed to round-up all developers, of any platform, and ensure Windows and Microsoft’s services are the “home” for their development. Hence, the double-entendre of a headline.

Perhaps the biggest announcement of the day was Microsoft’s partnership with Canonical to bring the Linux command line, Bash, to Windows 10. “This is not a VM. This is not cross-compiled tools. This is native,” Microsoft’s Kevin Gallo said on stage at the keynote.

Microsoft is focused on enabling more human engagement with devices through natural interactions.

The announcement of Bash support goes a long way to prove Microsoft’s stance on open-source development, and further announcements have been teased as “coming soon” by Windows VP Terry Myerson. A quick mention was made about Xamarin, and how the cross-platform tool acquired by Microsoft last month will help developers share their code across platforms like iOS and Android.

Legacy developers of Windows apps haven’t been forgotten by Microsoft, and the company has announced the launch of ‘Project Centennial’ to easily convert Win32 and .NET apps into UWP applications with full support of all the platform’s latest features such as live tiles, notifications, and Cortana. “Reach every Windows device. Once all functionality moves from the full-trust portion of your app and into the app container portion, your app will be able to reach every Windows device,” Microsoft says.

Speaking of devices, since Windows 8 the whole idea was for it to run anywhere. Microsoft’s latest game console, the Xbox One, is selling faster than any other generation of Xbox and it has been announced the console will be able to run UWP applications this summer. Better still, any existing Xbox One can be turned into a development kit through downloading the activation software.

Microsoft has performed some magic in ensuring the various input methods work across devices – whether touch, mouse, keyboard, controller, or even voice where appropriate. An on-stage demonstration showed a developer converting their Xbox One into a dev kit, deploying their app remotely using Visual Studio, controlling it with the Xbox controller, and even using voice input to write a grammatically-correct sentence within the app.

The announced features have little use without good SDKs behind them, and thankfully it seems Redmond has delivered from early-indications. Microsoft is focused on enabling more human engagement with devices through natural interactions like writing, voice, facial recognition, and fingerprints, which is represented in the following SDK updates:

  • Windows Ink APIs – Many people still love pen and paper, and Microsoft has been working for a while now to make writing on a computer as simple as paper but with all the powerful functionality enabled by a digital platform. With just two lines of code, you can add basic Windows Ink functionality into your apps. A few more, and you can add the ability to customise ink experiences. Microsoft demonstrated their new ink functionality by jotting down a sticky note note that was recognised by Cortana and turned into a reminder.
  • Cortana – Microsoft wants the next big platform to be AI bots, and Cortana is the one to rule them all. New APIs for Cortana allow her to be ever more immersed within third-party applications to enable more proactive actions, plus drive user engagement. Fun fact: Nearly 1,000 apps use Cortana.
  • Windows Hello – The facial recognition system in Windows 10 is already seamless, but it’s about to get even more impressive as Microsoft allows web developers to bring its functionality into their websites using JavaScript APIs in Microsoft Edge.
  • HoloLens – Microsoft’s incredible augmented reality headset is now shipping to developers, and will allow new methods of engagement as developers build holograms in their UWP apps for users to engage with. Several open-source projects have been made available to provide examples; including Galaxy Explorer and HoloToolkit.

Other major announcements were made, albeit not on the keynote stage due to a lack of time and sheer amount of content to get through. Some of the other significant announcements include:

  • Connected Devices – We are bringing new ways to connect to, communicate with, and manage multiple devices and apps. This technology enables Cortana extensibility and the new Action Center in the Cloud, and it’s being introduced today.
  • Background execution – We are bringing the ability to run your application in the background without requiring two separate processes. Along with extended execution and opportunistic tasks, writing applications that run when they need to will become simpler and more powerful.
  • App Extensions – UWP now supports app extensibility allowing you to build an ecosystem based on your application. Microsoft Edge uses this technology for its own extensions.
  • Action Center in the Cloud – Enables your app to engage with users on all their devices. You can now dismiss notifications on one device and they will be dismissed everywhere.
  • Windows Store & Dev Center – Significate new tools include user roles in Dev Center, app flighting, improved analytics, an analytics API that allows you to grab your data and use it outside of the dashboard, user segmentation and targeting, A/B testing, app subscriptions, advertising improvements, and more.

Microsoft is pulling out all their cards to attract developers to Windows and their services, and we feel UWP has matured to a point where it’s become a very attractive proposition. It’s now easier than ever to bring applications to Windows, and filling its store’s gaps could be a lucrative move in the near future.