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Written on 8th April 2016 - 3 minutes

Microsoft Build 2016: fun for developers and good news for business

San Francisco played host to Microsoft’s Build Conference last week. It was with excitement and anticipation (plus a little envy) that I caught up with the keynotes and presentations online. And I wasn’t disappointed – Microsoft has certainly made some clever moves to bring even better services to the development community with businesses likely to reap huge benefits.

Four top news announcements from Microsoft Build 2016

If you didn’t have the time to either fly to San Francisco or watch the conference online, here are my key take outs that are likely to impact our clients in the near future:

1. Microsoft makes Xamarin cross platform development available for free

Microsoft has successfully removed the two major barriers to building apps for all mobile devices: cost and complexity. In February this year Microsoft announced the acquisition of Xamarin. For anyone who hasn’t come across Xamarin, it’s the leading provider for cross platform mobile development. Through Xamarin, developers can target multiple platforms with a common codebase.

However the price of using Xamarin was quite cost prohibitive for many developers with a model based on price per developer, per platform, per year (if you want updates, which you would). And if you didn’t use a platform such as Xamarin or PhoneGap, developers would need to write code separately for iOS and Android, compounding the cost issue even further.

So for Microsoft to make Xamarin freely available, marks a major turning point for cross platform app development. Now anyone with a PC (and a Mac for iOS development) can in theory develop mobile apps that deliver the same native mobile experience to all major devices.

For those techies among you this means the ability to build mobile apps using Visual Studio and C#, bringing all the power of .NET to mobile app development. C# enables developers to write native APIs for each platform to easily share code and deliver better results.

2. Microsoft HoloLens for business applications

Yes that’s right, HoloLens isn’t just about gaming! At the conference Microsoft demonstrated a range of useful and innovative business applications for the emerging technology. HoloLens is helping to bring ideas and products to life across a range of industries.

In engineering and manufacturing HoloLens enables you to design new components of a product without having to physically build them. In the fields of medicine and education, HoloLens is providing incredible potential for simulated training from every angle. And even Nasa is on board using the power of HoloLens to explore Mars from the comfort of the Earth.

Not only is Microsoft making virtual reality a reality for businesses, the development has been made easier too with the ability to now write universal Windows apps that can run across all devices including HoloLens and Xbox and PCs. This provides fantastic potential for businesses to work better using HoloLens but also integrate information and data derived from it quickly and securely.

3. Microsoft makes Linux available on Windows

Developers spoke and Microsoft listened. You can now use Microsoft tools to build apps, sites and services on Linux. Specifically the Microsoft is bringing the full set of Ubuntu tools and applications to Window including the sopen source tool Bash.

Linux is often favoured by businesses for its cost effectiveness when running your own hosted applications or servers. Unlike Windows, you don’t face the high licensing costs associated with each client licence regardless of actual usage (although this isn’t an issue in the cloud).

For developers this latest move by Microsoft means the ability to use Linux-based development tools within their Windows apps. The new functionality will be enabled as part of Microsoft’s anniversary update to Windows 10 this summer.

4. Microsoft AI bots powered by machine learning

Although Microsoft’s Azure machine learning services have been around for a while, at Build 2016 we learned that AI bots (intelligent APIs that recognise voice and language) are the future. Building on the existing machine learning marketplace of datasets, logic and analytics, businesses can now plug into an increasing framework of Microsoft bots to do everything from booking hotels to ordering lunch without having to ever manually enter any data. And it’s quite simple too. With some relatively straightforward coding, the technology is open to anyone.

So how does it work? Using the wealth of data available from Cortana and Bing, Microsoft has shaped these bots to recognise natural language, images and even translation. Developers can create their own bots to integrate with services such as Skype to enable users to perform tasks with voice recognition alone. A great example was a demonstration within Skype of a user requesting a hotel for a conference. There was no need to insert any dates or times anywhere, the bot simply returned a selection of hotels in the right location and at the right time.

The future of the AI bot framework lies in continuously improving machine learning. Microsoft can keep refining these services based on real-time user information to make them even more effective.

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