We had the opportunity to attend Microsoft’s Build conference in San Francisco. The conference is targeted at developers and development managers using Microsoft tools and technology stack. As traditional the conference sold out quickly and was as well attended as last year. Comparing it with other events held at Moscone (West), we can say that Microsoft attracts probably the biggest developer audience, especially considering international aspects…. In less than half a day I could hear all 5 other languages I speak on many occasions. But San Francisco was just the kickoff to an impressive 25 city world tour.


The leitmotiv of the conference was all about developer enablement on innovative platforms. Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella went all the way back invoking the first Microsoft product – Basic – to exemplify that making developers productive is in the Microsoft DNA. But developers only build on platforms that are popular and that can monetize their work. So Nadella shared that Microsoft wants to see 1B Windows 10 devices 3-4 years after the launch.

Microsoft announced a ton of really interesting things, so very tough to select the Top 3 – but here you go:

Azure becomes the intelligence cloud – Microsoft has built out Azure to 19 regions, Guthrie said that over 1M servers now make up Azure and Microsoft will keep investing billions into the platform. Almost no surprise – Docker runs on Azure now – demonstrated by Russinovich. ‘salvaging’ a .Net application running in Docker on a Windows machine. And the same runs on Docker on Linux. So the formerly exclusive to Windows .Net runs now on Linux and Mac (preview for now). The benefit for developers is that they don’t need to rewrite .Net apps, of who often code and details are no longer as present. Instead of that Microsoft wants them to build new applications. For instance using the new Azure App Service, an improved SQL Server and more.
Azure stats shared at Build 2013-2015
SQL Server (or is it Azure DB?) grows up – Good to see Microsoft not forgetting that most enterprise applications need a RDBMS at some point, and Microsoft keeps investing into SQL Server. Guthrie shared that SQL Server DBs are created (and taken down) at a rate of 160k DB a day. Among many innovations the SQL Server elastic pool was the most exciting enhancement from my perspective. Azure uses an elastic data base pool, Microsoft said it uses machine learning to create a resource pool to pick the right resources, a huge de-mystification of the resource pool creation. Sizing is no longer a critical design step, but Azure will size database up and down. That elasticity is key for cost savings and performance and makes the capability critical for next generation applications. Elastic Database query across databases in the resource pool is shipping as a beta in a few weeks from now. 
The Azure Data Lake
On the BI / Analytics side Microsoft announced SQL Data Warehouse, creating the foundation for more advanced analytical services. SQL Datawarehouse can scale up and down dynamically, and it is easy to integrate all sorts of data (Guthrie mentioned SAP and Dynamics). Valuable code creating insights gleaned from machine learning can be wrapped as an API and made available via the Azure App Service. And Microsoft is certain that SQL Data Warehouse is more elastic than its major competitor, AWS Redshift. 
All Azure Analyic Services
And of course no conference without IoT – the coolest example was the NFL. Microsoft also announced the Azure Data Lake service, a feature rich version 1 to create the base for IoT projects. It exposes data via HDFS, opening itself to standard Hadoop jobs. It also supports Hadoop clusters built with Cloudera, Hortonworks and Pivotal. 
The Windows Universal App
Windows 10 makes Windows different – Nadella was clearly proud of the latest version of Windows, which also is now becoming one single platform, updated and run as a service with a unified access and delivery to platform features and code constructs build on top of Windows 10. The appeal to developers per Myerson was to make Windows 10 the most innovative platform to build applications on, mentioning Cortana intelligent voice recognition service, and e.g. the new Hololens experience. And the Universal Windows App that delivers the same binary across all the different Windows powered devices. Microsoft has thought this through, as it announced carrier billing, already integrated with 90 carriers. Enterprises will appreciate the creation of a Windows Store for Business. And Microsoft thinks that 3-4 years after the launch of Windows 10 there will be more than 1 B Windows 10 devices out there – eclipsing both the Apple (iOS) and Google (Android) ecosystems as Microsoft shared its ambitions. Microsoft created 4 new types of Windows applications: The first being web sites, with the capability to re-use existing code. And Win32 and .Net code will run on Windows 10 too. The coup is that Android applications can also run on Windows 10, using (my guess) and Android player, but also Java and C++ applications. And finally ObjectiveC applications can run (re-compiled) on Windows 10, too.
The 4 Applications that will power Microsoft to 1B Windows 10 devices

Analyst Tidbits

  • Office goes standard to become a platform – Office gets easier to integrate and to add integrations, as Microsoft exposes unified APIs to Office, including group and security access. The Me-token is a powerful concept to get data out of Office in an easy way. My guess is that Microsoft is opening up APIs it has built for the Office Graph (aka Delve, aka Oslo). . It was a positive surprise that the Graph can now be extended by 3rd parties, one of them being Skype.
An improved Windows Store for Business
  • Windows 10 - it is Windows but it is different – The Start menu is back, tiles are becoming livelier, translucency from Windows 7 is back and more features are showing that Microsoft is working hard to undo errors from the past. Dynamic app aging is a nice feature, lock screens become more personal. And Microsoft re-uses what works, Bing quality like pictures come to the Windows lock screen, with personalization. Continuum is a powerful new technology that allows to extend e.g. Windows Phone to HDMI connected displays. Thanks to the Windows Universal App technology, the same functionality as on a PC is available on the display, but only powered by the phone. The goal as Belfiore shared is that any display can become as powerful as a PC, but powered by a phone. 
The Start Menu is back!
    • Project Spartan becomes Edge – It was the honor to Belfiore to share the official name of the new browser in Windows10, now called Edge (bye bye Explorer). It is pretty cool that Microsoft writes Edge as a Universal Windows App – talking about drinking your own champagne. Belfiore shared that Explorer is being currently opened more than one billion times a day. And again along the lines of re-using other platforms code, Edge can leverage web extensions, e.g. Chrome extension, with only ‘minimal’ modifications. 
    The Edge differntiators 
      • Hololens changes the way we work – Mixing digital content into the real world is a very powerful concept, and the demos were convincing. The biggest advantage I thought is that every application in side of Windows can be pinned somewhere in the visual perimeter of a user. And yes – there is a holographic start menu. Read more on the Hololens in this separate blog post
      The Hololens demo


        The Microsoft strategy to remain relevant and maybe win in the fight of the platform of the future is becoming clear, it is built on three pillars:

        Openness – Microsoft knows that it has for now lost the mobile race. It wants to attract developers by making it easy to bring non Microsoft code to the new Microsoft platforms, e.g. iOS and Android applications, Java code etc.

        Value creation – Microsoft wants to make it easy to re-use code and the Windows Universal Platform is the tool for it – build your code once, port it once and deploy it on any Windows device. Platform capabilities like the ones added to Azure, like Edge, like Continuum, like Hololens allow for platform differentiation that is intended to attract more developers and customers.

        Investment protection – There are platform changes ahead for Microsoft, but the vendor has understood well that it will be more successful when it can free as much developer’s capacity to build new applications on the new platforms. So not forcing existing Windows developers to go back to re-build applications is key and hence .Net applications keep running not just on Windows but other platforms, too. Nothing allows developers more to build new applications than giving them the most valuable resource of our age, time to build new things.

        Overall good progress by Microsoft and a good mix between organic platform innovation and growth, as well as a more aggressive stance towards competitors in order to win over developers. But Microsoft knows that ultimately money rules and needs to attract a larger platform that attracts developers through better monetization. But Microsoft has been playing catch up mode for most of the platform capabilities. It is only now catching up, but has created differentiators that are systemic, and allow for an optimistic outlook on Microsoft's future. The absence of a PaaS message and product is remarkable though.
        Finally the ambition to 1B devices is a lofty one, we will all be there to see if Microsoft will be reaching that goal 3-4 years from today. 

        More about Microsoft:
        • First Hand with Microsoft Hololens - read here
        • Event Report - Microsoft TechEd - Top 3 Enterprise takeaways - read here
        • First Take - Microsoft discovers data ambience and delivers an organic approach to in memory database - read here
        • Event Report - Microsoft Build - Azure grows and blossoms - enough for enterprises (yet)? Read here.
        • Event Report - Microsoft Build Day 1 Keynote - Top Enterprise Takeaways - read here.
        • Microsoft gets even more serious about devices - acquire Nokia - read here.
        • Microsoft does not need one new CEO - but six - read here.
        • Microsoft makes the cloud a platform play - Or: Azure and her 7 friends - read here.
        • How the Cloud can make the unlikeliest bedfellows - read here.
        • How hard is multi-channel CRM in 2013? - Read here.
        • How hard is it to install Office 365? Or: The harsh reality of customer support - read here.
        Find more coverage on the Constellation Research website here.