9 Important Things That Happened At Microsoft's 'Build' Developer Conference

If You 'Build' It, They Will Come

Microsoft held its Build conference for developers this week in San Francisco, and this year there was so much news and information to digest that the proverbial "drinking from the fire hose" analogy didn't even begin to describe the intensity of the information deluge.

With Windows 10 looming on the horizon, Office 365 growing like gangbusters and the Azure business making steady progress, Microsoft has lots of ground to cover at this year's Build. But setting products aside for a minute, the most important trend at Microsoft right now is cross-platform development, and there was lots of news there as well.

Microsoft is going through some seismic changes these days, and Build served as a stage for gauging developers' excitement with the direction the company is headed. CRN here presents eight important things that happened at Build this year, along with one thing that (kind of surprisingly) did not.

9. Microsoft Picks Azure As Lead-Off Hitter

Azure is the most important business for Microsoft's future, even though the software giant still isn't breaking out results for this unit. That's probably why Microsoft decided to kick off Day 1 of Build with a highly detailed set of technical demos from the Azure brain trust, which includes heavy hitters like Scott Guthrie, head of Microsoft's Cloud and Enterprise unit, and Azure CTO Mark Russinovich.

CEO Satya Nadella also got in on the action, which isn't surprising, as he was Microsoft's top cloud executive before being named to the role.

The deep technical bent of the Azure material might not have gone over well with Build attendees who'd come to hear about Windows 10, but, hey, this was a developer event. And it's safe to say the hard-core developers in the audience were thrilled with the level of detail Microsoft provided.

8. Microsoft Brings Visual Studio To Macs And Linux

A few years ago, speculating about Microsoft releasing a free version of Visual Studio for Mac OS X and Linux would have caused friends to question your grip on reality. But at Build, Microsoft unveiled Visual Studio Code, a free cross-platform code editor for Mac OS X and Linux (and Windows, of course), which supports dozens of languages out of the box. It's now available for download.

Visual Studio Code isn't a full version of Visual Studio, but that shouldn't detract from its significance. Microsoft used to view Linux and Mac as enemies, but that's no longer the case.

"This makes the point that Visual Studio is now a family of tools for every developer, and that Azure is the back end for everyone," Scott Hanselman, principal program manager lead in Microsoft's Developer Division, said in a Build keynote.

7. Microsoft Shows Off Progress On Windows 10

Although the Windows cash cow isn't looking as strong as it once did, Microsoft Build attendees came to the event expecting to get an update on Windows 10, which is slated for launch sometime this summer -- or winter, if you live in Australia.

Microsoft updated everyone on its plans for Universal Windows apps that run on any kind of device, as well as the integration of the Cortana digital assistant into the Windows OS. But the big surprise came when Microsoft said it has set a goal of getting Windows 10 running on 1 billion devices by 2018.

Talk about setting a high bar. Windows 10 hasn't even hit the market yet, and while Microsoft has removed most of the things people didn't like about Windows 8, there's no guarantee that they're going to forgive and forget the annoyances that OS visited upon them.

6. Microsoft Goes Deep With Its Machine Learning Story

Microsoft launched its Azure Machine Learning service in February, and some developers think this emerging technology could be a big differentiator for the software giant.

Spearheading Microsoft's machine learning push is Joseph Sirosh, a corporate vice president who joined the software giant in 2013 after nine years at Amazon Web Services. Microsoft now has the inside track on AWS, which debuted its own cloud machine learning earlier this month

At Build, Sirosh led a presentation that showed how machine learning and analytics can improve the efficiency of dairy farms and power grids and aid in the early detection of diseases. With that power now in the hands of developers, we're likely to see some amazing apps at next year's Build.

5. Microsoft Launched A Preview Of Windows 10 Internet Of Things Version

Microsoft unveiled Windows 10 IoT Core Insider Preview, a version of Windows 10 for sensors and other small devices that it will offer to folks who love building their own stuff -- called "Makers" -- and commercial device builders for free. It runs on the Raspberry Pi 2 and Intel MinnowBoard Max computers.

Microsoft also partnered with Arduino, an open-source hardware and software platform company whose technology is used for things like motion sensors, thermostats and controlling robots.

Establishing Windows 10 as the OS of choice for the Internet Of Things is a hugely important endeavor for Microsoft, as it could help counteract the ongoing effects of declining PC usage, and bring a fresh sheen of health to the Windows cash cow.

4. Microsoft Says Azure Is Better For Data Warehousing Than AWS

Microsoft hasn't done much trash-talking about Amazon Web Services, probably because it's been breathing the AWS exhaust just like every other cloud player out there.

At Build, that changed a little bit. Scott Guthrie, head of Microsoft's Cloud and Enterprise unit, showed a slide that drew some comparisons between his new SQL Data Warehouse offering and AWS' similar Redshift service.

Guthrie noted several advantages Microsoft enjoys here, like letting customers adjust their ratio of compute versus storage, something AWS doesn't do. Azure capacity can grow or shrink in seconds based on workload needs, while AWS takes "hours to days to resize," Guthrie said.

While Azure isn't poised to overtake AWS anytime soon, Guthrie said some 40 percent of Azure usage is now coming from startups and ISVs, a traditional stronghold for AWS.

3. Microsoft Debuts Tools For Office Developers

Microsoft has been talking about Office as a platform for a while now, and with some 1.2 billion Office users, that's no hollow claim. At Build, Microsoft touted its new API for Office Graph, a technology that lets developers build apps that make use of Office data and machine learning.

Microsoft is also now supporting add-ins for Excel For iPad, which means developers can augment the product and expand their target base by some 100 million users. Microsoft also said add-in support for iPad versions of Word and PowerPoint are "coming soon."

2. Microsoft Makes It Easy For Android, iOS Devs To Port Code To Windows 10

Microsoft has more than a year showing the industry that it's now committed to getting its apps running on competing platforms. At Build, Microsoft showed a glimpse of its old self with tools that let Android and iOS developers port their code to build Windows 10 apps.

This means Android developers will be able to take Java and C++ code and build apps that run on Windows 10 devices, as will Apple developers versed in Objective-C.

In Microsoft's view, cross-platform development is a two-way street, and Apple and Android developers would no doubt love a chance to write apps for the 1 billion devices Microsoft envisions will be running Windows 10 in a few years.

1. Xamarin Doesn't Get Much Air Time At Build

Xamarin, the mobile startup whose technology lets developers write apps for Android and iOS using Microsoft's C# programming language, was the star of the show at last year's Build. Microsoft even considered acquiring Xamarin in the weeks before the event.

This year was very different for Xamarin, however. By CRN's tally, Xamarin was mentioned just once during the Wednesday and Thursday keynotes, and even that was a passing reference to last year's Build. Plus, Microsoft debuted a free version of Visual Studio for editing Mac OS X code, which competes in some ways with Xamarin.

Many Microsoft developers would love to see the software giant buy Xamarin and make it either cheaper or free, but it doesn't look like that's in the cards.

What Microsoft unveiled Wednesday is basically the reverse of what Xamarin, a mobile vendor that lets developers code Android and iOS apps using Microsoft's C# programming language, offers today.