A few of us from the Excella Team recently headed to Seattle for Build, Microsoft’s annual flagship developer conference. The three-day event was packed with announcements, updates, and demos of the latest and greatest Microsoft developer tools. We all heard a lot of interesting news, but by the end there were a few highlights for each of us.
Excited About More Cross Platform and Open Source Development Tools – Seth Puckett
For me the most exciting thing to see at Build was Microsoft’s continuing efforts to promote open source and cross platform development tools. I have been a fan of C# and the .NET Framework for years, and it’s always been a sore point that they are Windows only and that many of the tools are expensive, proprietary, and closed source. There were several big announcements at last year’s Build around these efforts, including the release of .Net Core 1.0, Linux support on Windows, and many updates to the free, cross platform code editor Visual Studio Code. This year’s announcements were just as interesting.
I was particularly excited about the announcement of .NET Core 2.0. The preview was made available to developers everywhere during the conference and can be downloaded from the Microsoft website. The initial release last year was a great first step, but as is often the case with 1.0 releases there were missing features, the documentation wasn’t all there, and conventions seemed to be changing daily. With the 2.0 release, things have settled down a bit and Microsoft has done a good job filling in the feature and documentation gaps. Of particular interest was the ease with which new projects could be created, built, and run from the command line within seconds. Microsoft has traditionally preferred IDE tools over command line tools, despite many developers being more comfortable in a command line environment. The increased support for command line tools will no doubt be a welcome addition to a lot of people, especially those familiar with developing on Mac or Linux.
Mixed Reality Paves the Way For a New Microsoft – Jon La Marr
One of the biggest releases at Build this year came around Microsoft partnering with Acer to release a mixed reality headset, complete with new mixed reality controllers. These are set to be released towards the end of 2017. The controllers that are currently on the market require you to pay for and place sensors around the room you’re in. However, the new controllers that are scheduled to be released no longer require you to purchase these, thus dramatically reducing the price. Not only is this new set going to be cheaper, but they’re also going to be much more portable since you no longer must bring all the sensors around with you.
Azure Cognitive Services was another hot topic this year. While most people think of Cortana as a just a simple helper tool for the Windows platform, there were quite a few talks this year that expanded on further applications of it. One speaker designed a bot app at her talk where she could order pizza by voice command using Microsoft’s Custom Speech Service—something I know we all wish we had. Another great application of Cortana was workplace safety. Cortana was used in the keynote on the second day to assist workers in keeping track of workplace equipment and communicating more effectively with teammates about this equipment. Through facial and non-human object recognition (Face API and Computer Vision respectively), Cortana alerted supervisors whenever there were potential workplace hazards or when a worker was trying to use equipment they were not authorized for.
Xamarin is another topic that I was very interested in seeing, especially because I own a Windows Phone. I had never used Xamarin before, but I liked the idea of being able to easily build cross-platform native apps that finally worked for the Windows Phone, as well as iOS and Android. A few of the presenters created apps in front of attendees and it was amazing to see how easy it was to develop on the framework. Usually there isn’t much code reusability when creating native apps on other frameworks, but I was surprised at how much of the code was actually reusable, which makes it extremely easy to create apps for all three platforms.
Speaking of Global Distribution! – Allen Tuggle
I was really impressed with Azure Cosmos DB. A globally distributed multi-model and mission-critical database. This database will guarantee access to users around the world, and promises global distribution, elastic scale out, guaranteed low latency, five consistency models, and comprehensive SLA’s. It also allows you to scale up or down regionally or globally.
What really stood out to me about Cosmos DB is the impressive five well-defined consistency models. Traditionally you have two consistency models. The Strong and Eventual models forcing developers to make large tradeoffs, now you have three more options when choosing a consistency model for your database. Strong, Bounded Staleness, Session, Consistent Prefix, and Eventual. Once you configure a default consistency level for your Cosmos DB, later you can override the consistency on specific read request.
Also Cosmos DB is schema-free, meaning it auto indexes all the data put into it. Since it auto indexes and has no schema you no longer need to manage indexes or schema versioning or database migrations. I’m excited to hear this, and I look forward to learning how this is accomplished!