Over the decades, Microsoft’s developer conferences have provided the first glimpse of some of the company’s most important products, from Windows 95 and Internet Explorer 5.5 to the .NET framework and Azure cloud computing platform. But has also been the launchpad for some of its biggest flops, like “Longhorn,” which morphed into the doomed Windows Vista after its coming out party at the 2003 Professional Developers conference.
So how will Microsoft Build be remembered? In part, at least, for the fact that Microsoft was way ahead on this whole trust and privacy thing.
“A few years ago when we started talking about it, it felt a bit prosaic to talk about responsibility at tech conferences where it’s all about the glitz of technology, but it’s no longer the case,” said Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella, before outlining the company’s agenda for privacy, cybersecurity and “responsible” artificial intelligence.
In fact, privacy and trust are the new hot thing in a tech industry facing a backlash over repeated leaks and revelations about online manipulation of elections and politics.
“Now we’ll talk a lot about this opportunity throughout this keynote and throughout this conference, but we also share a deep responsibility together,” Nadella said. “It starts with us as platform providers, but we have a collective responsibility. To us really thinking about trust in everything that we build, in the technology we build, is so core, and as engineers we need to truly incorporate this into the core design process.”
Nadella’s remarks stood out as a natural extension of the conversation Microsoft has been having for years, rather than what amounted to an abrupt change of direction from Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg at the social network’s privacy-oriented F8 conference last week.
Backing up its comments with actual technologies, Microsoft unveiled new tools for campaigns and elections officials to operate more securely and returned to the theme of trust and privacy throughout the Build keynote address.
— Bloomberg TV (@BloombergTV) May 2, 2019
But even as the company is lauded for its turnaround under Nadella, it still needs to drum up excitement among developers, whose decisions and loyalties can make or break technology platforms. With Windows settling into its role as a reliable utility on PCs and laptops, and no popular smartphone platform to call its own, Microsoft faces a significant challenge on that front.
A demo glitch to kick off the show didn’t help, as a re-enactment of the Apollo 11 moon landing went bust due to an unspecified technical problem. The company focused heavily on business technologies and applications, sticking to the focus that has fueled its resurgence.
Many of the company’s initial announcements at Build were updates to existing technologies, not enough to give this developer conference a place in the history books. The company is bringing back Internet Explorer as a mode inside the Edge browser, open-sourcing elements of its quantum computing programming language, and demonstrating new advances in conversational AI.
Even for this highly technical audience, there wasn’t anything on the level of the Azure Cosmos DB globally distributed database announcement at Build 2016.
But as with many Microsoft developer conferences past, it may take more time for the real story of this Build to emerge. At the very end, Microsoft teased an upcoming augmented reality version of Minecraft, appearing to allow gamers to play Minecraft in the real world, a la Pokémon Go.
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