This year’s Build developer conference was kicked off by Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella, who focused on how his company is empowering developers to do good in the world.
“This conference is about this community’s role, responsibility, and opportunity to shape what comes next,” Nadella said, highlighting some of the challenges of the past year, such as the ongoing global health pandemic, an economic crisis, climate change, and issues of racial injustice and inequity.
However, not all of the major changes were announced during Nadella’s keynote. Some of the most exciting news was revealed via press releases and technical sessions. So far, here are some of the key highlights from this year’s conference:
Nadella teases big changes to Windows 10
Windows, in the eyes of the average person, is at the heart of what Microsoft does. Although Build will never be a consumer-focused event, Nadella did tease some significant changes coming to Windows 10 in the future.
“We will soon share one of the most significant updates to Windows in a decade to unlock greater economic opportunity for developers and creators,” Nadella teased. “I’ve been self-hosting it for a few months now, and I’m very excited about the next generation of Windows. Our promise to you is that we will create more opportunities for every Windows developer today, and we will welcome any creator looking for the most innovative, new, open platform to build, distribute, and monetize applications. We hope to share more information with you soon.”
We already know that the Sun Valley update will give Windows 10 a visual makeover later this year, but it appears that there is a much larger plan in the works for Windows 10.
Windows 10 on ARM
Microsoft has announced increased support for Windows 10 on ARM, which was not mentioned in the opening keynote.
“Windows is implicit in all of the opportunities I’ve highlighted today,” Nadella said during his keynote. “It has never been more critical. More than 1.3 billion people use Windows 10 to work, learn, connect, and play. And it all starts with Windows as a development platform.”
Though he didn’t reveal much about the developer box during Microsoft’s brief 30-minute presentation, Microsoft had previously announced that it will make a big push with Windows on ARM this year, with Qualcomm’s help. The Snapdragon Developer Kit, which resembles Apple’s Mac mini developer kit announced last summer at that company’s developer conference, was unveiled ahead of Nadella’s keynote.
Microsoft’s developer box, which will be available in the Microsoft Store this summer, will assist developers in porting their apps to the ARM-based PC platform. Pricing and other information are not yet available. In addition to the developer kit, existing Windows PCs on ARM, such as Microsoft’s own Surface Pro X, are available.
It’s not quite as significant as Apple’s switch to its own M1 silicon, but it appears that Microsoft is finally getting serious about supporting ARM PCs.
Updates to Teams and Outlook
As more businesses shift to remote work during the pandemic, Microsoft announced significant changes to Teams and Outlook to assist organizations in adapting.
That is why we built Teams as an organizing layer for all the ways people work, learn, and collaborate,” Nadella said, noting that Teams now has over 145 million daily users, nearly double the number from a year ago. “It is the only solution that combines meetings, calls, chat, document collaboration, and workflow into a single integrated user experience, allowing you to put collaboration at the forefront of app design.”
Without a doubt, Teams has seen tremendous growth in the last year. But what comes next? According to Nadella, it is a “new category of cross-device collaborative applications,” and it is comparable to Win32 in terms of defining a new era for app development.
On stage, a use case with partner ServiceNow was demonstrated to demonstrate how this works. ServiceNow had created a collaborative app for an incident response that used Teams as the user interface, the Microsoft Graph to connect to the appropriate people within the organization, and a bot to alert them when it was time to join a conference call on Teams.
“And they’re going even further, adding fluid components to Teams and Office, assisting you in integrating your apps into critical endpoints, such as Teams meetings, delivering a unified development model for message extensions across Teams and Outlook, and making teams’ app development experience easier with improved developer tools and a new developer portal,” Nadella explained. “When you take a step back, it’s clear that as every company becomes a digital company, the most significant developer opportunity is building industry-specific business processes like SaaS applications.”
Microsoft announced new meeting event APIs, a new Together mode toolkit, and media APIs as part of its work on Teams apps for meetings.
Within Teams, you can hold a virtual meeting using the Together mode. The feature employs artificial intelligence to place your face and shoulders alongside images of your coworkers inside a virtual space. Microsoft has announced that it will provide developers with a toolkit for creating their own virtual meeting rooms.
Microsoft also announced that third-party apps will be able to access real-time audio and video streams for transcription and note-taking purposes, which will help you keep documentation for your meetings.
“If you can build web apps, you can build extensions into Teams chats, channels, and meetings,” Microsoft 365 collaboration head Jeff Teper told The Verge. “You only need to build once, run once, and deploy anywhere.” Teams third-party apps will be able to run on Windows, Mac, the web, Linux, and mobile platforms.
The fluid components used by ServiceNow are currently in private preview and will be made available to more customers in the coming months. The components are intended to be edited in real-time and are compatible with Teams and Office apps.
Third-party app license subscriptions can be purchased from the Microsoft Teams App Store and Teams Admin Center, according to VentureBeat. Microsoft will offer credit card payment as well as invoice billing options on both stores, with previews beginning this summer.
Microsoft will also support message extensions in Outlook on the web. This will make it easier for users to work with Teams and Outlook.
Microsoft also discussed the metaverse and digital twins, as well as how its core technologies can be used to enable real-time collaboration.
The metaverse and the state of technology
Nadella also discussed how technology will become more important in the world, both as a solution to the world’s most difficult problems and as a percentage of GDP, or gross domestic product.
“Imagine the world in 2030, when technology as a percentage of total GDP will have doubled from 5% to 10%,” Nadella said. “However, the most notable aspect is what happened to the other 90%. The digital transformation that was predicted to take place over the next ten years is now taking place.”
Nadella emphasized that tech hires at non-tech firms are outpacing traditional jobs as businesses strive to use technology to become and remain more productive. Microsoft used Anheuser-Busch InBev as an example, highlighting how the company is using its broad portfolio of technologies to bottle beverages and reduce downtime in its factories.
“Anheuser-Busch InBev has used our middleware stack to track every bottle from the wheat field through manufacturing and distribution,” Nadella explained. “They built a complete digital twin of their breweries and supply chain. The digital twin is linked to the physical brewery. It comprehends the complexities of the relationships between equipment and natural ingredients. It allows brewmasters to make adjustments based on dynamic conditions; it keeps many machines required during the packaging process operational; and it tracks the entire supply chain to reduce emissions. For remote assistance, they even use mixed reality with their digital twin.”
Anheuser-Busch & Co. InBev is an intriguing example of a metaverse use case. The company employs digital twins to assist it in resolving production issues in its factories and breweries.
“Finally, as the virtual and physical worlds converge in the metaverse, comprised of digital twins and simulated environments,” Nadella said, “mixed reality is emerging as a first-class platform.” “The metaverse transforms the entire world into your app canvas. You can use Azure digital twins to model any asset or location using Azure IoT and keep the digital twin live and up to date. Synapse analyzes the history of digital twins to find patterns that can be used to predict future states.”
Microsoft Edge 91 updates roll out
Microsoft also announced Edge browser updates that will improve performance and battery life. Sleeping Tabs and a startup boost are two new features announced at Build but not mentioned in Nadella’s keynote.
The company claims that Sleeping Tabs can reduce memory usage by up to 82 percent. Both features will be available in the browser’s version 91 this week.
These features were previously announced, but they will be available to real users for the first time this week.
Despite talking about its efforts to bring new features to Azure and across the development stack, Microsoft used a significant portion of its rather brief keynote to detail how it could help developers leverage technology for good. Throughout Nadella’s presentation, he mentioned responsible AI, solving the world’s greatest challenges, and trust. Microsoft is clearly positioning itself as the platform for good, following rival Google’s recent abandonment of its “do no evil” motto.
“By design, we will require trust,” Nadella stated. “Privacy, cybersecurity, digital safety, and responsible A.I. must be prioritized throughout the design and development process. No one wants technology that scales quickly but breaks the world around us.”
Nadella emphasized the significant technological and societal shifts that are opening up new opportunities for developers, and Build is all about developers.
“We will equip you to seize these opportunities and create what comes next,” he added. “Our goal is to become the platform for platform creators. This conference is not about enforcing new rules or imposing constraints on how or what you should build. It’s not even about celebrating our own innovation; it’s about enabling yours and opening up new doors for you. We want to assist you in helping the world. That is central to our mission.”