Build 2016 Recap

Microsoft’s recent developer conference, Build, finished up last week in San Francisco. Every year, Skyline sends a team of people to Build to understand Microsoft’s direction for our customers in the coming year

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Here are some of the key takeaways

Xamarin – Microsoft recently closed their purchase of Xamarin, a toolset for developing cross platform mobile applications across Windows, iOS and Android. The big news out of Build was that Microsoft was making the Xamarin tooling free for everyone. While free is great news, Microsoft also announced they were open sourcing Xamarin. This should encourage organizations who were hesitant about Xamarin because of cost constraints to re-evaluate!

BASH – Microsoft is bringing the Bash Shell to Windows! This may not mean anything to a lot of folks, but to developers, it is a huge deal. The Bash Shell is the most popular Unix shell, which is the command line interface (CLI) developers use. With a lot of Open Source tooling, it was always a source of friction between how development would work on Windows vs OS X or Linux. With Microsoft teaming up with Canonical, the maker of the popular Ubuntu Linux distribution, to bring Bash to Windows this should make developing applications for multiple platforms on Windows much easier!

Bots – One of the more interesting reveals at Build this year was the release of the Microsoft Bot platform ( Bots are really mini pieces of functionality done in an interactive environment. For example, you could create a bot to show movie times. Another bot may be able to show you bus times. The impetus for this is really two fold. First, Microsoft feels people are at peak app, which is the idea that users have so many apps, they aren’t downloading more. Does someone really need to download an app to get a bus schedule they need once or twice a year? Microsoft thinks Bots answer that question.

Cognitive Services – The second piece of the Bot strategy is Microsoft’s introduction of Cognitive Services ( This is a way of bringing intelligence into applications and is the evolvement of Project Oxford via an API. Microsoft has several of these “intelligence” APIs for things such as natural language query, image recognition, etc. One example of this is an application and website that Microsoft created where you can upload a picture to the Azure cloud of a person, and have it use the AI backend Microsoft has created to tell you how old the person is (

Conversational UX – By combing Microsoft’s Bot strategy and cognitive services together, they are ultimately trying to create a new User Experience, via conversations. This is where you can interact with a service via your voice or typing and have it perform actions. An example shown during the keynote was ordering a pizza from Dominos via a bot you were interacting with on Skype.

HoloLens – Microsoft officially celebrated their release of HoloLens, their impressive augmented reality headset during the first day keynote, in an oddly stilted demonstration of HoloLens. It will be a bit before we are all playing Minecraft in our living rooms via HoloLens, but the technology is shipping to devs now and it is impressive. Most of the initial applications appear to be focused on education and the enterprise, especially engineering and manufacturing scenarios.

One of the impressive demos of HoloLens to attendees was a NASA/Microsoft created demo of going to the surface of Mars. Using photos from Nasa rovers, a 3D environment was created that enabled attendees to look and walk around the surface of Mars. Very cool demonstration of the potential!

New Windows – Microsoft discussed bits and pieces of the upcoming release of Windows this summer, Windows Anniversary edition, which was previously codenamed Redstone. While there wasn’t a ton of information about Redstone, the Start Menu is being evolved, Live Tiles are getting richer and better notifications are coming to the platform. Further, the Edge browser is getting new features including the ability to have extensions (yeah!).

Satya Nadella Keynote

Build this year was an interesting one. Microsoft, after many years of trying to get folks behind their mobile plans essentially decided to jump past mobile and envision what is after mobile. Some of their ideas include augmented reality with HoloLens as well as new ways for user to interact and do their job, via conversation with intelligent agents. When you look at the inclusion of the Bash shell and giving all developers the ability to create mobile apps for free for all platforms using C#, and you know you are dealing with a different Microsoft, a more open and diverse computing company. This is exciting to see for developers and organizations and opens both to many new and interesting opportunities.

This post originally appeared at Skyline Technologies.


NEWDUG 2016 CodeCamp - Gulp All The Things

Thanks to everyone who came to my presentation at NEWDUG 2016 this year! I am always appreciative of the great tech talent we have in NorthEast Wisconsin, and it was certainly evident with the number of attendees and the quality of the presentations.

If you are interested, the code from the presentation is available on GitHub. The PowerPoint presention is also available on GitHub.


Google I/O and the Death of the Web

Google recently wrapped up their annual developer conference, Google I/O, and I was struck by how very little was said about the Web during the keynote. While the death of the web may be a bit of click bait title, the 2015 Google I/O conference highlights it is an app world now and a connected world is on the way. We can start to envision a future where we use a Web Browser as much as we use a VHS player.

Google I/O Logo

To provide some background, Google I/O is a developer conference where Google reaches out to get developers excited about their platform. Microsoft has their Build conference and Apple has WWDC and they all do the same thing; encourage developers to create great things on their respective platforms and show their vision of the future and why developers should invest their time in adopting this vision.

The Google we know today, with its $350 Billion (USD) market capitalization and $48 billion (USD) in cash reserves, is a result of building great tools for the Web such as search and Gmail. Google also has many great web technologies that developers use every day.
AngularJS is an exceedingly popular JavaScript framework. Google App Engine is a popular cloud Platform As A Service (PAAS) service offering. Google Analytics is embedded on nearly every web page on the Internet. Google Maps are displayed on millions of web pages across the Internet. Google Ad Sense is responsible for the vast majority of Google's $48 billion cash hoard. Even tools like Google Chart are used every day by millions.

So how many of these apps or services were mentioned during Google's I/O keynote. Nary a one, despite the wide adoption and support these tools/apps have. The biggest web technology Google focused on during their keynote was Polymer, a web toolkit based on their Material design standard that was released at the conference. Their was also the release of Google Photos, but that is more about capturing the images you take on your phone than the next great Web thing. Google used its developer conference to discuss very little of its web technologies.

What does this all mean? Google's mantra as of late has been the next billion users, and those users aren't coming from the web. They are coming for mobile devices, TV watchers and even cars. Google is racing towards a world where all devices are connected, and they want to be there first. Self driving cars are impressive technology, but they are also rolling data collectors that tell Google more about you and the world around you than your phone currently does. Android users in emerging economies will never own a PC and will experience the Internet through devices and apps instead of the web. Chromecast devices tell Google what media you like to consume. All of this data feeds to Google and provides data and context, which tells Google more about us and the world, all in order to serve up ads to sell you tickets to go see Ant Man.

Google and Apple are very well entrenched in the mobile world. However, they come from very different places. Google wants context and information about you, and they store it in their massively scalable cloud. For you to give this to them, they provide much of these services for free. Apple wants to create amazing devices and experiences for users, charge you a premium for it and have you keep coming back. Nothing illustrates the difference in thought between these two companies than their photo strategy. Google wants everything you can give it, and you can have it for free. Apple gives you a paltry 5 GB for photo storage and then wants you to pay.

However, the next massive area for tech growth is a world where everything is connected and Google is winning. Apple is not ready to play in that world, and I haven't seen anything to indicate they are planning to. They do not have their own scalable cloud infrastructure in place, though they are working on it, but it is for their services, not for developers to utilize in creating applications. Their development tools are focused on selling hardware devices, not cloud. They are capturing context with iBeacons and iPhones, but not to the scale of Google, where it permeates Android.

Google is exceptionally well prepared to be ready for the connected world, it is in their DNA to do massive scale and be a little bit creepy in what they capture about users. They are also creating and or buying companies that feed data to this connected world. Nest thermostats, self driving cars, Android all feed data and context to Google.

Who is going to compete with Goolge? One option is Microsoft. They have lost mobile, but they are positioned to execute in a connected world, with their Azure service for scale, and their Internet of Things strategy. However, unlike Google, they aren't building the connected devices like Android, Android Wear, automobiles that consumers want and will feed data and context. Microsoft is also more of an Enterprise company these days than a consumer company, though they are working to move the bar.

Or maybe it is Amazon that will be there to fight Google for market share. They have the leading cloud service so they can do scale. Their shopping service provides context. However, their disastrous Fire launch indicates mobile will not be an option for providing data and context. Their focus on growth in shopping does not provide the cash that Apple, Google and Microsoft have to buy share.

The web browser is now hitting the Grandparent stage of life, having begat a mobile world and we are seeing the start of a connected world. It has been a great ride for the web. Google and Apple own the mobile world. The question is who else is going to be battling with Google for the connected world?


John Ptacek I'm John Ptacek, a software developer for Skyline Technologies. This blog is my contains my content and opinionss, which are not those of my employer.

Currently, I am reading Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman

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