App Development

Four Mobile Takeaways from Microsoft Build 2016

Microsoft’s developer conference, Build, wrapped up last week and there were some pretty big announcements this year. Interestingly, though, many of the app-related announcements we are most excited about and plan to research extensively in the coming year flew under the radar. Here they are.

1. Xbox Development and the Universal Windows App Store

At Build, Microsoft made the announcement that every retail Xbox One can now be used as a development kit, allowing anyone with the Xbox One console, a copy of Windows 10, and Visual Studio the ability to develop apps and games for the platform.*

While this was announced during the gaming portion of the keynote, Microsoft’s move to make every Xbox a DevKit impacts the app world as well. In the past, one of the questions about whether or not there was a good reason to develop for Windows or Windows Phone was because of the lack of an audience. Windows Phone penetration is well behind Android and iOS, so there was little to no return on investment for building an app in that ecosystem, and Windows 10 isn’t seen as an app platform, even by most of its users.

This changes slightly with the introduction of Xbox One as a potential deployment target. Now, you have the much larger Xbox audience, which is already accustomed to downloading and using apps on the platform, and since the Universal Windows Platform (UWP) is the platform of choice, it means an Xbox app can easily be made to work on the desktop, Surface, and Phone platforms with the same code.

This is an incredibly smart move by Microsoft in the app space, though we’ll have to see if it plays out or if it’s too little, too late for their mobile platforms.

2. Windows is for Developers

It became abundantly clear at Build that Microsoft’s direction is to make Windows and .NET your development platform of choice, be it development for iOS, Android, Web, or even Linux.

To start, Microsoft showed off Bash on Windows. While this may not seem like a big deal, the actual technology behind it is a pretty big deal. This is an implementation of Linux / POSIX commands, on top of which Windows is running a genuine Ubuntu user-mode image. Not only can you run bash, you can run any binary built for Ubuntu linux on Windows. This is a huge boon for developers that are used to working with Linux servers for their deployments day to day, and for utilizing a large amount of open source software that assumes a Linux environment.

Additionally, Microsoft quietly showed off some tools to help developers program on Windows, but ship to non-Microsoft platforms, including the ability to compile, deploy, and debug applications on remote Ubuntu boxes. This feature is also integrated as a plugin for C++ into Visual Studio Code, a cross-platform Atom based editor that isn’t as fully featured as it’s main Visual Studio, but is still a great offering for developers.

3. Xamarin For Everyone

Microsoft acquired Xamarin earlier this year, and since then, we’ve been interested to see how that acquisition will play out.

At Build, Microsoft announced their inclusion of Xamarin into Visual Studio licenses for free, including a Community edition of Xamarin with Visual Studio Community. This is more full-featured than Xamarin’s previous free and indie licenses, which means more people will be able to make and distribute cross-platform mobile apps using Microsoft’s technologies. And they can do it with little to no barrier to entry.

More importantly, Microsoft announced that Mono, the open-source project backing the technology behind Xamarin, will be switching its license from LGPL to MIT. Further, Xamarin’s proprietary extensions built to work with mobile platforms will be brought into Mono with the same license. Moving forward, this means you could technically use Mono and .NET on mobile platforms without a Xamarin license, something expressly forbidden by the LGPL license prior to this announcement. It will be interesting to watch and see how Mono and .NET are adopted now that they are completely open.

4. Hololens

With the first Hololenses now shipping to partners, we’re starting to get a better glimpse of what we can do with the platform. Thankfully, Microsoft is now being a bit more clear concerning the device’s actual capabilities and field of view in its advertising.

While this device may not seem as impressive as the new VR headsets making the rounds, the fact that it’s completely wireless and uses Augmented Reality (AR) over VR has us very excited. We’re looking forward to seeing what types of apps we can create, especially in the enterprise and productivity spaces, and to really taking advantage of the mixed-reality concept.

* Microsoft has stated that while anyone can now develop for Xbox One, only games that pass their quality standards (also known as “Cert”) will be available in the Games store for the Xbox. They have not made any mention of App restrictions.

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