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.