Microsoft cancels its in-person Build 2020 developers conference due to COVID-19 coronavirus

Microsoft's Build 2020 developers conference, planned for Seattle in mid-May, will be a virtual-only event due to health concerns around COVID-19.
Written by Mary Jo Foley, Senior Contributing Editor
Credit: Microsoft

On the heels of cancelling several of its smaller in-person events due to the threat of the spread of the COVID-19 virus, Microsoft has announced it is cancelling its in-person Build 2020 developer event. The Build show will go on in a virtual way, officials said, in the same mid-May time slot that the regular conference was planned. 

A Microsoft spokesperson provided me on the evening of March12 the following  boilerplate statement:

"The safety of our community is a top priority. In light of the health safety recommendations for Washington State, we will deliver our annual Microsoft Build event for developers as a digital event, in lieu of an in-person event. We look forward to bringing together our ecosystem of developers in this new virtual format to learn, connect and code together. Stay tuned for more details to come."

The news of Build's cancellation isn't surprising, especially given Microsoft's disclosure earlier this month that it is encouraging most Seattle- and Bay Area-based employees to work at home through March 25, as well as the fact that two of its employees have been diagnosed with COVID-19. 

On March 2, Microsoft posted this update to its Build web site:

"In light of the global health concerns due to the novel coronavirus (COVID-19), Microsoft is monitoring public health guidance in relation to in-person events. We are looking carefully at our event calendar as well as our presence at industry events in the coming months. We are not taking decisions lightly, but the health and well-being of our customers, partners, guests, suppliers, and employees remain our ultimate priority.

"We will continue to monitor and make any necessary changes as the situation evolves."

As of nearly 10 p.m. ET on March 12, Microsoft had yet to update the placeholder statement on its Build site.

Microsoft already provided information on getting refunds for Build (and the Microsoft Business Applications Summit) for those residing in countries on the CDC COVID-19 list and/or in the case their employers had instituted a travel ban due to COVID-19.

Yesterday, March 11, Washington state governor Jay Inslee announced restrictions on events attracting more than 250 people to try to help stem the spread of COVID-19. The restrictions apply to King, Snohomish and Pierce counties. Seattle is in King county.

Build is one of Microsoft's handful of key in-person conferences. Recently, it has attracted around 5,000 attendees or so per year. This year's Build is expected to be where Microsoft opens up about more of its dual-screen Surface Neo/Duo strategy, as well as its evolving WinUI framework. In recent years, Microsoft will likely focus at Build more on its Azure and IoT messages at Build, given the company's interest in making itself less dependent on Windows as a core business.

Microsoft has been whittling down major conference list over the past couple of years so that it has basically three big events per year: Build for developers; Inspire for reseller/integrator partners; and Ignite for IT professionals. There were rumors a year ago that Microsoft officials were looking for a graceful way to drop Build from the list, possibly by including more developer content in its Ignite session list. But that didn't happen this year. The plan was to host another Build in Seattle.

I find the value of in-person events to be almost entirely around the in-person networking with colleagues and contacts. Given that Microsoft posts quickly almost all the session content from its major events online and live streams the major keynotes from most of its big events, there is less and less reason to attend in person if all you care about is session content.

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