Thinking About Build and the Future

Posted on April 16, 2018 by Paul Thurrott in Dev, Hardware, Mobile, Windows 10 with 15 Comments

Thinking About Build and the Future

Note: While trying to address a comment spam-related issue, we inadvertently deleted our live content database earlier today. So after recovering our site backup, I had to repost this article. Unfortunately, we lost any earlier comments to the original version. —Paul

When we think about Microsoft’s customer base, we often limit the members list to commercial and consumer. But there is a third, equally important part of the base that Microsoft must address on a regular basis too. And that audience, of developers, has been lost to Microsoft for many years.

But they keep trying. And Microsoft’s biggest developer show of the year, Build, will once again provide insight into how the software giant feels that it and its developers fit into the broader scheme of things.

On that note, Microsoft recently released a list of some of the sessions that will be available at Build this year. It’s saving the most interesting and forward-leaning sessions for later, so this isn’t a full list. But it does provide some clues about what matters to developers, according to Microsoft.

Most of it is, of course, cloud-based, and most of that list is also Azure-based. That makes sense.

But looking at the sessions aimed at solely at client/edge development, we see a handful of trends, which I’ve listed in order of strategic importance.

IoT. A few sessions—Building the future of IoT apps and Starting your IoT project in minutes with SaaS and preconfigured solutions—are focused on what Microsoft calls the “intelligent edge.” I think this is just the tip of that iceberg, and that we will see tons of new content soon.

Web apps. With Progressive Web Apps (PWAs) set to reform Windows 10’s lackluster Microsoft Store, web apps should settle in as the second-most important client trend at Build this year. There are three web app sessions listed now, including one about building performant, offline-capable web apps.

Mobile apps. Microsoft’s mobile app story hasn’t changed year over year—unless you consider Windows Mobile being completely irrelevant now a change—so the developer story hasn’t either: There are at least two Xamarin sessions in the list, including Using your C# and .NET skills to build for Android, iOS, and Windows, which speaks to a multi-pronged approach that Microsoft has for moving its traditional .NET/C# developers forward.

UX. There is a single session about Microsoft’s evolving Fluent Design System, which has been slowly appearing in parts of Windows 10 since last year. This stuff will only be interesting to developers when they can use it in their web and mobile apps. Right now, it’s very much Windows 10-only

And that’s about it.

Obviously, there will be more, though I think whatever surprises await will fall into one of the four buckets I’ve already listed. But it’s the fifth major trend with which I’m most interested.

That trend is Windows.

You’ve seen the reports about Terry Myerson leaving Microsoft and the subsequent dismantling of the Windows team, all on the eve of delivering a major new Windows 10 version (Redstone 4). You’ve likewise probably seen the reports about Microsoft halting development of new apps and experiences that were planned for Redstone 5. That these people were all offered jobs on the Microsoft Edge team. And that the ones I know about all declined that offer.

That’s the background drama.

Looking ahead to Build, you are also probably aware that Joe Belfiore will be providing a talk during the only Build keynote this year, and that his talk will be about Windows. So I, like you, will be paying very close attention to what is said then. And what is not said.

Some probably believe that Joe will announce some rationale for slowing down Windows development so that it will add fewer new features in each new version and focus instead on fit and finish.

This is a reasonable assumption. But I feel like there’s just as good a chance that Microsoft will use this talk as a way of presenting a “nothing to see here” view of what’s happening. Put on a happy face. And just announce new features for the future, just as they did last year.

In other words, Microsoft could downplay or even refute “rumors” about what may or may not have happened. And it could then trot out a laundry list of new features. Even while it is quietly working internally to figure out what Windows even means going forward.

The issue here is that whatever they do show at Build doesn’t necessarily equate to some strategy or direction. We should view the remaining Redstone 5 plans/features for what they are: Something conjured up by the last regime.

I do feel that Joe will at least be more careful about discussing “when” new features will appear: After promising to deliver several major new features in Redstone 3 (1709) last year, Microsoft repeatedly denied it had ever made such claims; a quick look at the Build keynote video shows that they did, in fact, promise when these features would arrive. But it canceled or delayed almost all of them.

Fixing the language is easy.

“Microsoft is hoping to release this functionality in a coming version of Windows 10. Not necessarily the next one. Oh, and it could fall short and never appear at all, so don’t get too attached to it.”

They could even have fun with the complaints about their past behavior and put a cute “FULL DISCLOSURE” slide on-stage when Joe starts talking. But I’m not sure humor is the right approach here.

Regardless, it is the substance of this talk—which, let’s face it, could literally just be 15 minutes or less—that concerns me. I’m going to over-analyze it, looking for the true meaning behind the carefully-chosen words.

There’s no way for me not to.

 

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Comments (15)

15 responses to “Thinking About Build and the Future”

  1. skane2600

    So, as I suspected, not a lot at build for traditional Windows developers unless they're really into Fluent Design. Despite the hype non-IoT, non-UWP, non-PWA Windows will continue to dominate.

  2. atulmarathe

    I'm wondering if the large amount of diagnostics and telemetry data Microsoft collects from all the Windows 10 devices - at least from consumers - is a major factor in deciding what features / apps / experiences they develop or not develop for RS5 and later releases. Maybe they've found that there are not enough people interested in using UWP apps, or they're happy with the Win32 counterparts, or maybe most people simply use Windows to run their favorite browser to carry on with their work.


    The executive team is running a business so they are aligning their resources behind the more profitable segments, and Windows is probably not one of them.


  3. James Hancock

    That Xamarin is mentioned at all should tell you that this is a complete fail before it starts.


    If the only mention of Xamarin is: We killed it, it's on life support, here's a conversion tool to UWP AND WE'VE MADE UWP WORK NATIVELY ON IOS AND ANDROID and YOU DON'T NEED MAC TO DO IT EITHER! then MS has lost developers permanently.


    If the second mention of Xamarin isn't: We rolled the other half of the Xamarin team into Blazor AND NOW YOU CAN COMPILE BLAZOR APPS TO WEB, NATIVE IOS, ANDROID AND UWP, and YOU DON'T NEED A MAC TO DO IT EITHER! then they've lost developers completely.


    The chances of MS being in the consumer space in 24 months can be directly measured by whether none, one or both of those statements are made.


    Paul, that's all you have to analyze. All of the rest of the stuff is just playing to Nadella's strengths in server and server connected devices. Only these two points matter for if Windows has a consumer future.


    Bonus: Here's the Surface Phone! It's awesome, and it run Android apps on windows better than Android does! Oh and it runs those cross platform UWP apps you're going to build amazingly too!


    Bonus 2: Yes we listened, the stupid Surface Connect port is gone, here's new Surface Pro, Surface Book, Surface Laptop, and Surface Studio with 2 thunderbolt 3 ports at full speed using the latest Intel 8th gen processors with up to 6 cores across the entire line.


    If they hit all 4 then MS is within their comfort zone of in it to win it. The fewer out of 4 the less chance MS is in the consumer space in 24 months. Pretty simple. Everything else is an admission of failure and that they're going to write off $500 billion in value over the next 24 months quietly and pull an IBM.

    • s195659

      In reply to JohnGalt1717:

      I read this kind of comment for 6 years. If they don't do X in the next Y days they will disappear in Z months

      • James Hancock

        In reply to s195659:

        … and just like economics you can predict the crash and not exactly when the crash will happen. Given Microsoft's decline in the last 6 years which is quickly accelerating into irrelevance for anyone other than cloud/developers what you've been hearing is 100% right.


        Take a look at the last 6 years of earnings... there's almost $100 billion in write offs, write downs, and lower revenue from consumer.


        QED. We're at the watershed moment like IBM when they decided to sell their PC business to Lenovo instead of doubling down and innovating.

  4. mrdrwest

    Sadly, I'm not really looking forward to the event.

  5. garyprusso

    I'll be looking for any Quantum Computing-related news. I don't see any sessions about it but I'm still hopeful.

    https://www.microsoft.com/en-us/build/sessions

    I'm expecting to see the availability of an exciting new Microsoft Quantum Computing Azure service within the next 5 years. Google and IBM will also have great quantum computing services by then too.


    The advent of new 128+ Qubit quantum computing services would be the beginning of dramatically better AI database tech. The Azure Cosmos DB document-plus-graph approach would be a key beneficiary.


  6. Siv

    I just wish they would reset and say:


    1. We are going to fix all the outstanding unfixed issues that have been left unattended in Windows for years.

    2. We are going to fully settle on Settings and make sure no old capability is lost from control panel.

    3. We are going to add a new feature to the setup routine that asks the user whether they want a touch ui or a proper one.

    4. We are not going to add any more crap UWP apps until we have made all the existing ones represent the best in Windows development and if that means waiting for a better UWP that isn't slewed towards a touch UI so be it.

    5. We are going to ensure all Windows Updates are properly tested before release.

    6. We are not going to add any new "features" until the prior points are complete.

    7. We are going to focus next on performance NOT adding more bloat.

    • jboman32768

      In reply to Siv:


      That's a nice dream - and that would benefit people who already use (probably through no option) Windows. But would that drive revenue growth? Increase marketshare? produce any benefits for Microsoft shareholders?


      Sadly No. The effort to create a Microsoft ecosystem has failed.


      It seems that Microsoft have come to the realisation that no matter what they do to Windows they can't get people to write any new software for it. Its not worth investing in anymore - and I agree with Paul's assessment that Windows will now just be in maintenance mode as a platform people use to run their existing apps and future Progressive Web Apps/Web Assembly.


      Mac's running ARM CPUs with IOS apps and Chomebooks running Android apps will in the long term provide a more compelling productivity story - and Microsoft will be there too.


      I have Microsoft to thank for my career as the partnering model it uses for dealing with enterprise customers creates opportunities unlike Google/Apple. It looks like the sun is setting on this chapter, but it has been a wild ride.



      • Siv

        In reply to jboman32768:

        In a way I agree with you and in another I don't. I think the vast majority of the core Windows base are not the people Microsoft felt they should go after. They always seem to be trying to emulate Apple and the reason why most people used Windows was because either they valued function over form (particularly where it kept the price of a computer reasonable and they had limited means to spend on a PC) rather than the other way around.


        Admittedly beige boxes in the 90s were not cool, but they were reasonably priced and with Windows got the job done.


        In the real World if you want to do well usually that means selling at the budget end things that are good enough. Aston Martin & Ferrari sell fabulous things but often struggle to make a profit, where the Ford's and Volkswagon's of the world make massive profits by comparison.


        Apple are the one company that thanks to Jobs' charisma and reality distortion field have managed to turn a generation of consumers into Lemmings who waste vast sums of money on shiny things that are really not much better if at all than similar shiny things costing half their price.


        I feel that Microsoft have deserted their core base and my comment above was a wish to bring them back to their users and stop chasing the Lemmings who are mostly never going to go for a Windows product. There are supposedly 1.5 billion Windows users and Microsoft seems to be going out of their way to piss them all off over the last 5 years.


        If MS take the view that they still need Windows even if it's to just provide a platform to access their cloud and other services, then they should do all the things I mentioned above. Stop chasing tablets and touch as that has mostly gone away and never really appealed to Windows core users (business and gamers). Start making the old girl a world class operating system again that pleases its users not frustrates the hell out of them that runs on lesser hardware, is reliable and pleasant to use. If they don't I think business in particular could head off in a different direction and that would be very foolish of Microsoft.

  7. jrzoomer

    Paul do you think that Satya will cancel Surface, or at least cut most of it down? I feel like the hardware is next X on the list after Windows, as it doesn't fit the agenda. I'm sure its gotta be burning him up inside. (BTW I'm looking to buy a Surface Studio 2 but I'm afraid it may never happen)

  8. mariusmuntensky

    more bla bla at this conference...Google's I/O will completely steal all the hype because they will show more interesting things that they will commit to.

  9. Hassan Timité

    I am a developper who work mainly on .Net based solutions, so why i am not really appealed by build 2018 ? [/sarcasm]


  10. edboyhan

    For the first time in several years, I will not be attending Build. I think MS is at an inflection point in its planning, and there won't be much of interest at this year's event. The few things that might be important I will probably get via Channel 9. (I will miss your and Mary Jo's meetup which has always been a highlight :grin).

    I think changes will have marinated some by the time Ignite rolls around -- so I'll be attending that.

    All the IOT stuff at this point is directional -- I doubt that there will be anything concrete announced at this Build.

    As for Fluent -- to me that is mostly about cosmetics and aesthetics -- not about meaningful UI/productivity changes ( I did attend a Fluent session at the last Ignite, and there was some cheering and clapping from the audience, but they were mostly creative types from Ad Agencies and Web site builders).

    One thing: I am getting weekly emails from MS asking me to please register for Build which is a far cry from past years where registrations closed out 30 minutes after they opened. Could Build attendance be in decline?

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