Build 2016 Preview: Looking Forward By Looking Back

Posted on March 26, 2016 by Paul Thurrott in Dev, Windows 10 with 0

Build 2016 Preview: Looking Forward By Looking Back

From all the pre-show hype, it’s very clear that Build 2016 will focus overwhelmingly on Microsoft’s cloud initiatives. But don’t despair if you’re more concerned, as I am, with Windows and other client-side products, as I think we’ll have plenty to talk about. So to get ready for Build 2016, let’s take a look back at last year’s show and see how Microsoft came through—or didn’t—on its 2015 initiatives.

As you may recall, Microsoft made us wait an astonishing 90 minutes—yes, a full hour and a half—into its Build 2015 Day One keynote before it started discussing Windows. While some of that was theatrical—remember, we were very eager for Windows 10 news at the time—part of it was about giving cloud its due too, and about continuing to position “the mobility of experience.”

Whatever. When they finally did get to Windows, we were treated to a laundry list of news and information. Among that was:

One billion devices. “Our ambition is to see one billion Windows 10 deviceswithin two to three years,” Microsoft executive vice president of operating systems Terry Myerson told me. “We are going on record, this is the goal.” To date, Microsoft has announced that Windows 10 is on over 200 million devices, and I expect an update on that figure next Wednesday.

Windows will be “the most attractive development platform ever.” Tied to the one billion devices bit, Mr. Myerson said during his Build 2015 that Microsoft’s goal was to make Windows the most attractive development environment ever. There’s no indication that will ever happen. Both Android and iOS have over 1 billion users already, and mobile developers are still flocking to these rivals, and not to Windows.

Universal Windows Platform apps are real. The notion of a single app that can run across the platforms supported by Windows 10 is in fact a reality, though the apps promoted in the keynote (WeChat for PCs, USA Today for Xbox One) are still not available. And while we’re still at the beginning of the curve, Microsoft has really come through on this promise. There are some holes, of course—we can’t create Xbox One UWP apps, at least not yet—but I expect those holes to be filled this year, with news at Build 2016.

Windows 10 device variety. One thing that has improved immeasurebly since last year is device availability and diversity: We have an incredible array of Windows 10-based PCs in the market, plus phones, IoT devices (Raspberry Pi, etc.), HoloLens (in developer preview), Surface Hub, and Xbox One.

Windows Store. Microsoft’s Windows Store promises—the apps are easy to discover, are safe and reliable, and so—are very real. But this store remains the laughing stock of the mobile apps world. And it can only continue to get better. I’m curious to see if Microsoft addresses the lack of quality and quantity with Windows Store and its apps platform.

Windows Store for Business. Microsoft announced the Windows Store for Business at Build 2015, and it’s available now of course. It’s also hampered by the same basic issues as the consumer store, though of course the big deal is in-house LOB apps.

Leverage existing code to create new UWP apps. Introducing the so-calledWindows bridges, Mr. Myerson explained Microsoft’s strategy for helping developers bring existing apps to the Windows Store. Only one of these bridges is available in (non-beta) shipping form. And as you’ll see, one bridge has been canceled.

Bridge #1: Web apps. Microsoft’s Hosted Web Apps bridge (Project Westminster) is aimed at packaging web apps into a shell that can be deployed through the Windows Store. I believe this one is generally available.

Bridge #2: Desktop Windows apps. Project Centennial—there’s no “real” name, yet—is conceptually similar to Westminster in that it lets developers package apps, in this case Win32 and .NET desktop applications, into Windows Store app packages, in this case based on App-V, which provides sandboxing and app virtualization functionality. Microsoft promised that Adobe Photoshop Elements and Premiere Elements would be in the Windows Store by the end of 2015, but that never happened. In fact, I don’t believe there is a single Centennial app in the store yet.

Bridge #3: Android apps. The Windows Bridge for Android (“Project Astoria”) was canceled by Microsoft in fall 2015 when they discovered how easily and well Android apps ran on Windows 10 (Mobile; Astoria was only for phones). The worry? This capability was a Pandora’s Box that negated the need for UWP apps. Plus, it was phone-only, and Microsoft gave up on Windows phone in July.

Bridge #4: iOS apps. The Windows Bridge for iOS (“Project Islandwood”) has seen several beta releases and was recently bolstered by all the former Project Astoria workers. Oddly, Islandwood is very different from Astoria, and it requires you to convert an Objective-C Xcode project into a Visual Studio Solution and then build out the UWP version separately from the iOS version.

So, some hits, some misses. But what about this year? I expect updates on a lot of the initiatives Microsoft announced last year, especially the bridges. But here are a few more things I think we could see:

UWP apps on Xbox One. This one is a no-brainer, and I’d be really surprised if we didn’t get concrete information plus timing on this overdue change.

UWP apps on … other platforms. I’ve long felt that the term “universal” should be extended to include apps on competing platforms, especially Android. I’m not sure whether Microsoft will ever be ready to take such a step, but Build would be the place/time if so.

Xamarin integration. Microsoft purchased Xamarin recently, and it’s a big deal: This technology lets Microsoft-focused developers port their C#-based apps to mobile platforms like Android and iOS (so it’s sort of a “reverse bridge”). My hope? Xamarin capabilities are just integrated into Visual Studio and are free for everyone. My expectation? You’ll need to buy Visual Studio to get this.

Swift support. Project Islandwood currently only supports Objective-C projects, but I expect Microsoft to fully support Apple’s new Swift language going forward, in Visual Studio and beyond. Swift is excellent, and it’s like Visual Basic, but designed by and for adults.

Next week is going to be very interesting and potentially exciting as well. See you in San Francisco!


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