Microsoft Build: Something for everyone

SAN FRANCISCO – The heart of any ecosystem are developers. If they aren’t happy they won’t build applications, and without applications buyers have no reason to invest in a platform.

At its annual Build conference for developers here on Wednesday Microsoft Corp. made a number of announcements to keep its developers in the fold as well as capabilities to appeal to enterprises.

“Our vision, simply put is to thrive in this world of mobile first, cloud first,” said new CEO Satya Nadella. “There is going to be more ubiquitous computing everywhere and there’s going to be ambient intelligence everywhere … everything we do is going to be digitized… Our goal is to build platforms, create the best end-user experiences, the best developer opportunities and infrastructure for this ubiquitous computing world.”

In short, there were a wide range of announcements to keep almost everyone pleased.

They include

–updates to Windows 8.1 for desktop and the new Windows Phone 8.1 coming next month that will allow developers to more easily build apps that run across four of its platforms – the desktop, WinPhone, Windows tablets and the Xbox gaming system. Microsoft dubs these universal Windows apps.

An update to Visual Studio 13 will help developers with this, if they chose to use that tool;

–for businesses, WinPhone 8.1 update will  support enterprise VPNs for more secure communications, plus support for  S/MIME so users can can read and write encrypted email;

–Cortana, a Siri-like personal digital assistant for WinPhone 8.1, that replaces the search button. Not only can it do the usual thinks like schedule events and reminder, it can be linked to third party apps. Cortana also keeps things it learns from user patterns in a editable notebook so with headings like “remind me,” “inner circle” (people) it infers from your interactions, “quiet hours.” Because the notebook file is editable users can easily correct mistakes.

Cortana — which leverages Microsoft Bing for searches so it’s country-specific — is in beta now and will be in full release later in the year in the U.S. There’s no word on when it comes to Canada;

–for enterprises with applications tailored for older versions of Internet Explorer there’s an updated version of IE11 that will enable the sites to run on Windows touch-enabled PCs and tablets;

–for Windows 8.1 desktop, the update will allow users to right click on tiles for context menus. In addition, eventually the familiar Start button will return, which millions of users got used to since Windows 95.

But enterprises will also cheer, said Ken Dulaney, vice-president of mobile computing research at Gartner, because it will help them roll out Windows 8.1 across multiple Windows platforms. They’ll be able to resize new Win8.1 Modern applications to look more like the older apps users are familiar with, he explained in an interview.

— to improve WinPhone’s Wi-Fi  performance, version 8.1 update will include “Wi-Fi Sense”  which will automatically find and sign into nearby free networks. For people who have Wi-Fi at home, Wi-Fi Sense will also let visitors get safe access to their network without having to learn their password;

–WinPhone 8.1’s update will also have a new Action Center for notifications, the ability to put more tiles on the desktop and to customize the Start page;

–those WinPhone 8.1 update announcements enabled the head of Microsoft’s soon to acquired Nokia smart phone division Nokia, Steven Elop, to take the stage an announce new handsets.

The Nokia 930 will be a handset with a 5-in. screen and a quad-core CPU that will cost about US$600 when released later this year. The Nokia 630/635 will have 4.5-in screens and are entry-level handsets. The 630 will come in two 3G versions (one with dual SIM cards), while the 635 will be a 4G phone.

No details on Canadian availability or pricing.


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Howard Solomon
Howard Solomon
Currently a freelance writer, I'm the former editor of and Computing Canada. An IT journalist since 1997, I've written for several of ITWC's sister publications including and Computer Dealer News. Before that I was a staff reporter at the Calgary Herald and the Brampton (Ont.) Daily Times. I can be reached at hsolomon [@]

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