Microsoft's Build 2024: 10 quick developer focused announcements you need to know about

We explore ten developer offerings from Microsoft's Build 2024, with a big focus on adding AI to your developer toolkit.
Written by David Gewirtz, Senior Contributing Editor
Microsoft event
Sabrina Ortiz/ZDNET

It's time for a quick "lightning round" of developer features and enhancements Microsoft is announcing at Build 2024.

Also: Every Copilot+ PC Microsoft just announced to take on Apple's M3 MacBooks

Strap in, because we'll be moving fast and covering a lot of ground.

1. Copilot extensions

Of all the programming-related announcements at Build 2024, this is the one that could have the most impact on mainstream users. Microsoft is adding the ability to extend Copilot. Developers using Microsoft Copilot Studio or Microsoft Teams Toolkit for Visual Studio Code can create their own custom extensions.

Microsoft clearly thinks this is an idea with legs for independent developers because the company is offering a breakout session entitled "Grow your business with Copilot extensions and marketplace." The main pitch is, "Learn how your extensions can be monetized and how to get certified through the M365 Compliance program."

Also: 3 AI features coming to Copilot+ PCs that I wish were on my MacBook

Let us know in the comments below if you think there's gold in them thar Copilot extension hills.

2. GitHub Copilot extensions

In addition to general Copilot extensions, Microsoft is announcing GitHub Copilot extensions. The press release contains barely a paragraph of information, but the one extension spotlighted is GitHub Copilot for Azure, which enables coders to develop, build, troubleshoot, and deploy apps on Azure. This feature showcases, "How building in natural language with a broader range of capabilities can propel development velocity."

There is a Build breakout session on Extending GitHub Copilot. That's probably worth a look to get more details on where this all fits. Microsoft says the session will provide a "sneak peak" into the internals of GitHub Copilot.

3. Custom copilots using Azure AI Studio

We first discussed Azure AI Studio, Microsoft's all-in-one AI toolkit, at Ignite last November. Now, six months later, Azure AI Studio is generally available and allows users to build custom copilots that support custom applications like "enterprise chat, content generation, data analysis, project management, automation of routine tasks and more," according to Microsoft.

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Developers can choose to build using what Microsoft calls a "friendly user interface" as well as through code. Developers will have access to all of Azure AI Studio's resources, including coding tools, the latest foundation models, a comprehensive AI toolchain, prompt flow orchestration, tracing and debugging, and monitoring of generative AI apps.

By the way, "copilot" written with a lower-case "c" is used to refer to any custom copilots users build. "Copilot" written with an upper-case "C" is used to refer to Microsoft's various branded Copilot offerings. And now you know.

4. New Dev Box features

Last year at Build 2023, we discussed Microsoft's upcoming release of Dev Box, its coding-machine-as-a-service offering. Dev Box helps improve developer productivity by providing an on-demand coding environment along with enterprise management capabilities. This can substantially improve development workflows.

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This year, Dev Box is generally available and Microsoft is adding new capabilities to its "ready-to-code" pre-configured programming environments. The company is adding team customizations and images, project-based catalogs, and an improved connection experience inside the Windows App.

On the enterprise management side, Dev Box connection telemetry will be available through the Azure Monitor, to help track performance data and system events. Developers can now automatically set their boxes to hibernate on disconnect, which could substantially reduce costs if developers regularly forget to hibernate their metered boxes before closing a connection.

5. AI Toolkit for Visual Studio Code

Microsoft has extended Visual Studio Code with AI tool integration, giving developers a more seamless approach to developing and deploying intelligent applications.

From within Visual Studio Code, developers will be able to acquire and run language models, choose local and cloud compute capabilities to optimize and finetune models, and then deploy models into Azure AI Studio using container images.

6. Improvements to Azure AI Search

We spoke about Azure AI Search last fall, when Microsoft announced the capability at Inspire 2023. The idea of AI search is that the very customizable search service uses a wide variety of AI technologies to deliver a better search experience.

Also: What is Gemini? Everything you should know about Google's new AI model

These include vector and hybrid search (which uses advanced algorithms to provide more accurate and relevant search results), retrieval-augmented generation (which combines search results with generated content to improve accuracy and relevance), seamless data integrations (which allows unified search across various data sources for comprehensive results), enhanced search relevance (which improves the accuracy and relevance of search results based on user interactions), integrated vectorization (which understands the context and meaning of data for better search outcomes), and AI-powered insights and analytics (which provides insights and analytics to optimize and improve search performance).

7. New features for Azure Functions

Azure Functions is a serverless compute service that allows developers to write code without the need to manage or provision infrastructure. It's useful for building microservices, automating workflows, and managing data streams. Developers can build small, reusable code chunks that can be combined into more complex applications, all without worrying about server infrastructure.

Key features introduced at Build 2024 include a Flex Consumption Plan designed to give users more flexibility and customization, an extension that will allow developers to incorporate AI services in their projects, and a browser-based developer experience powered by Visual Studio Code for Web.

Also: The best AI search engines: Google, Perplexity, and more

For those looking for more of a deep dive, there's a lab session at Build entitled, Build and deploy serverless apps with Azure Functions and Azure AI at 2:15 p.m. on Tuesday, May 21. The session will be repeated on May 22 at 2:15 p.m. and May 23 at 11:00 a.m. Unfortunately, these sessions are only in Seattle and will not be available online or recorded.

Microsoft also moved Azure Functions on Azure Container Apps and the Dapr extension for Azure Functions out of preview and into general availability.

8. Azure App Service new features

Azure App Service has been around for a long time, since 2015 or so. Like Azure Functions, Azure App Service is an Azure compute service, but while Azure Functions run, well, functions, Azure App Service runs entire web apps. With Azure Functions, you pay per execution. With Azure App Service, you pay based on the number and size of the instances you use.

The news here at Build 2024 is that Microsoft is showing three interesting new capabilities for Azure App Service that are in preview. Sidecar Patterns adds extra features alongside the main app. WebJobs Integration runs background tasks with web apps. GitHub Copilot Skills for Azure Migrate provides AI-assisted migration recommendations and support.

Also: Microsoft Azure gets 'Models as a Service,' enhanced RAG offerings for enterprise generative AI

Microsoft also announced that automatic scaling, availability zones, and TLS 1.3 encryption features are now in general availability.

9. Azure Container Apps previews dynamic sessions

Azure Container Apps is another Azure compute service that lets customers run containerized applications and microservices with automatic scaling and integrated event-driven capabilities, without managing the underlying infrastructure. This service differs from Azure App Service in that it provides a flexible environment for any containerized workload rather than being specifically tailored for web applications.

Microsoft announced that it's now previewing the addition of dynamic sessions. This capability enables scalable, personalized, and efficient resource management, enhancing user experiences through real time updates and secure session handling. It also helps optimize costs by aligning resource usage with actual demand.

Microsoft also announced support for Java monitoring, and a dashboard for Microsoft .NET Aspire. These are also entering preview.

10. Azure API Center in general availability

An API (application programming interface) is a set of defined programming calls that allows one program to use the features of another program or service. One of the ways programmers can save a lot of time is to choose powerful APIs that do a lot of the heavy lifting. For example, a programmer who wants to add some AI capabilities doesn't need to start from scratch inventing AI technology. Instead, they simply use an API, which accesses an AI service (like those we've talked about in this article) and the called service does all the heavy work.

Also: Microsoft Copilot vs. Copilot Pro: Is the subscription fee worth it?

The problem is that there are a tremendous number of APIs. Each API used adds complexity, security risks, billing and cost challenges, and vendor-v.s.-vendor incompatibility difficulties.

Last year at Build 2023, Microsoft previewed Azure API Center, a tool designed to help companies manage their APIs by providing a centralized governance, discovery, and monitoring platform.

Now, at Build 2024, Microsoft is announcing the general availability of the Azure API Center, along with additional capabilities to manage generative AI deployments. These include token limit policy for managing resource allocation, import of the Azure OpenAI Service endpoints as APIs, and a load balancer.

More from Build 2024

We hope you've enjoyed this lightning round of developer updates from Build. Stay tuned to ZDNET for the latest up-to-the-minute coverage of Build 2024, including even more coverage of the Redmond-based company's announcements.

You can follow my day-to-day project updates on social media. Be sure to subscribe to my weekly update newsletter, and follow me on Twitter/X at @DavidGewirtz, on Facebook at Facebook.com/DavidGewirtz, on Instagram at Instagram.com/DavidGewirtz, and on YouTube at YouTube.com/DavidGewirtzTV.

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