This year’s Microsoft’s Build conference seems to mark the culmination of a giant turning point for the company. While it would be easy to credit the momentum of a new CEO for all of the company’s changes, the transition from plodding behemoth feeding on expensive proprietary systems to open-source community enthusiast is both stark and amazing.
A historical photograph of Microsoft, circa 1998
Visual (Su Su) Studio Code
Tools are essential to a developer’s workflow. An informal survey of web developers I’ve met shows most using Webstorm, Sublime Text, or (for the purists) vim as a text editor. Macbooks are most common, with a few Thinkpads and Dells running Ubuntu thrown in.
None of these are Microsoft technologies.
Until Build 2015, Microsoft insisted that Visual Studio be limited to Windows operating systems only. Anyone who’s had to write code in a Windows environment knows that the lack of a good terminal and low adoption from the open-source community mean pain for developers. It seems like Microsoft has seen the writing on the wall, and decided to release one of their best tools as open-source software.
Ubuntu, meet Microsoft
Visual Studio Code brings two awesome features to the crowded IDE/code editor landscape: Intellisense and cross-platform compatibility. Intellisense is a context-aware code completion tool. It is a combination of code snippets, syntax guides, and autocomplete that detects what language you are in and presents appropriate options. Hard to explain, so check out this video to see how Intellisense can help you code faster.
As awesome as Intellisense is, the bigger story may be the fact that VSCode is being released across Mac and Linux operating systems. Developers like to try out shiny new toys, so eliminating barriers of entry should lead to increased adoption of Microsoft products. Combined with the open source releast of .NET, Microsoft is definitely on the right track to get their software in as many hands as possible
Windows 10 Universality-ness
The next item isn’t just one item, but more of an overall theme. Microsoft has clearly focused on creating a more universal platform with Windows 10.
Starting with the Windows phone platform, Microsoft showed off two technologies that integrate the desktop and mobile experience: Continuum and “universal” Windows 10 apps. Continuum allows a Windows phone to connect to a Windows 10 desktop via HDMI, and run any mobile apps natively on the desktop. These changes erase the line between what is a “mobile” app versus a “desktop” app on a Windows platform, a feat neither Apple nor Google have yet to accomplish.
Speaking of the competition, Microsoft have not forgotten about their southern rivals. The company reported that developers will be able to port their Android and iOS apps easily to Windows 10. How do they accomplish this incredible feat?
Windows Phones will include a Android subsystem that can run the majority of existing code from an Android app. Developers can use Windows APIs along with their existing code to get live tiles and other features working.
While most iOS developers won't bother with porting their apps to Windows 10, Android support is intriguing due to Microsoft's recent investment in CyanogenMod. Could Microsoft be gearing up to reincarnate the Windows Phone platform with a full-blown Android replacement OS based on CyanogenMod? The bigger question might be, would you buy one?
how-old.net destroys the Interwebs
Not even close, I swear
Much like how Tim Cook called Dr. Dre from an on-stage laptop, Microsoft wasn’t afraid to show a lighter side to their products at their conference. As part of the day 2 keynote, Microsoft announced how-old.net, an advanced image processing algorithm disguised as a social-media distraction. How-old.net guesses the age and gender of any photo uploaded to the site. The hit-or-miss nature of the guesses were perfect fodder for social media networks craving maximum meme virality. Microsoft quietly accompanied the site with a comprehensive blog post on the tech ( a combination of machine learning APIs, Azure, and real-time analytics), while others on the internet found important uses for the site.
What does it all mean?
Does this mean that if the entire world isn’t using a Windows 10 laptop hooked in a Windows Phone hooked into a Hololens that Build 2015 is a complete failure? No. What these announcements do mean is a sea change in the software industry. If a giant like Microsoft can see the light of open source, and pivot so fully and wholeheartedly in a short span of time, what is stopping anyone else?