My home in lower Manhattan is without power, but I’m sitting in Building 92 on the Microsoft campus, attending the company's Windows-focused Build conference. I’ve left the storm behind for a calmer environment. And I’m finding that to be a metaphor for this year’s Build event, versus last year’s.
I’ve left the storm behind for a calmer environment. And I’m finding that to be a metaphor for this year’s Build event, versus last year’s.
Last year, Build was all about the unveiling of a completely "re-imagined" Windows. The venue was the Anaheim, CA Convention Center, and the keynotes were in its arena. We were shown the erstwhile-named Metro user interface, we were taught about the Windows Runtime (WinRT) APIs, and we pondered the first-ever touch-centric version of desktop Windows. The event was run by the Windows team, and was presided over by Windows Division president Steven Sinofsky (so much so, one rumor says, that he even selected the attendee snacks).
Last year, Build was a developer event, but it was not run by the Developer Division, nor by the Developer and Platform Evangelism (DPE) team that is now a part of it. Steve Ballmer did participate in the keynote effort, but only on Day 2 and only, really, in a cameo role. All attendees got a somewhat unwieldy Samsung Series 7-derived tablet running the Developer Preview of Windows 8, with a bunch of demo apps written by summer interns (and few others).
What a difference a year makes
This year, everything’s different. DPE is running the show. Ballmer was the keynote speaker. (Steven Sinofsky was spotted in the venue, but did not take the stage today at all.) In addition to Windows 8, this year’s event features Windows Phone and Windows Azure. WOA -- Windows on ARM -- is now Windows RT, and its details are no longer secret. Apps are popping up for Windows 8 and Windows Phone 8.
This year, there’s no clunky Intel-based tablet. Instead, all attendees get a 32GB Surface RT, with the Touch Cover keyboard. And they are getting Nokia Lumia 920s as well. This year, Build’s venue is the Microsoft campus, in two buildings on opposite sides of the freeway, and the keynotes are in a big tent. Last year, Build replaced the Professional Developer’s Conference (PDC). This year, Build really feels like an on-campus PDC.
This year, the velvet ropes are down. Now we have to see which, and how many, developers come on in.
The real difference this year, venue logistics aside, is integration. The Windows 8 and Windows Phone 8 platforms have a common API set. And that common API set seems to be encouraging some commonality in apps: certain Windows Phone apps are showing up on Windows 8, and a few of the latter are showing up on the former, too. The Developer Division and DPE, who last year couldn’t talk much about Windows 8, can finally get back to innovating on, and evangelizing, the platform.
There’s still an element of secrecy, mind you. Session details were not shared until today, for example. But Windows 8 finally feels mainstream, and open. Everyone, from within Microsoft and without, is invited to the party. The velvet ropes are down. Now we have to see which, and how many, developers come on in.