Developer

The Universal Windows Platform flexes its muscles at Build 2016

The annual Microsoft Build Conference highlights new tools for Windows developers. For 2016, it was all about the UWP and new ways to converse with our devices.

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Image: Microsoft News

Since taking over the helm, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella has made some significant practical and philosophical changes to the way his company does business. But he also knows that the key to getting all these strategic changes to work together successfully rests with the collective imagination and inspiration of the application developer community.

This is why Microsoft's annual Build Conferences are so vital to the company's overall success. Build also provides a hint to the company's overall strategic thinking for the next year or so. Build 2016, held March 30 to April 1 in San Francisco, concentrated on updates to Windows 10 and the advantages of the Universal Windows Platform (UWP).

Build 2016 Keynote Presentation (2+ hours)

Anniversary Update

For the enterprise, the obvious announcement to note in the Keynote Presentation involved Microsoft's plans for a major update to Windows 10, to be released this summer. Microsoft has dubbed the release Windows 10 Anniversary Update.

One new feature that may appeal to enterprise developers is the native support for biometric security protocols in Windows 10 and Edge. A set of already written biometric security functions, protocols, and code could simplify an app developer's life greatly. Who knows, perhaps this could be the beginning of the end for the alphanumeric password.

Another Anniversary Update feature Microsoft is emphasizing as part of its vision for changing the "conversation" we have with our computing devices is Ink. During the Keynote Presentation, the company spent a great deal of time showing off what users could do with a pen and a Surface Pro. A pen is not my preferred interface for computers, but I can see how Ink could make interactions with a mobile device more intuitive.

SEE: Microsoft Build: 5 big moves you need to know

Also stemming from the concept of "having a conversation" with your devices is an upgrade planned for Cortana. Again, talking to my devices is not my preferred interface, but I can see how it might appeal to certain people. However, judging by the demonstration during the presentation, the amount of personal information you have to provide and the degree of permissions to third parties required to make Cortana truly powerful is a bit unsettling.

Unified platform

For developers, the continued expansion of the Universal Windows Platform is the element from Build 2016 to get excited about. Besides adding Linux-based development tools like Bash to Windows 10, Microsoft has created universal development tools for Xbox One.

SEE: Microsoft universal app platform could be a game changer

The idea, in a nutshell, is that developers can create apps for Windows 10, Xbox One, or both and make those apps available for either platform via one single deploy on a cross-platform Unified Windows Store. This feature alone could save a developer a significant amount of time and effort and possibly prevent a headache or two.

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Image: Microsoft News

Microsoft glossed over this a tidbit of information in the Keynote Presentation, but it could be significant for entertainment and games development. Besides being a Unified Windows Store, the new Store will provide infrastructure for mods and other community-based activities, like lobbies and forums.

Reading between the lines, this means that Microsoft and its Unified Windows Store are going to compete with Steam directly. For PC-gamers, Steam has become the de facto game delivery platform, but now it looks likes like there will be deep-pocket competition. As a PC-gamer myself, I'll be interested to see how this plays out. To be certain, this will be a tough nut for Microsoft to crack.

Bottom line

Microsoft's annual Build Conference typically gives developers plenty of new tools to contemplate, and Build 2016 was no exception. Concentrating on the benefits of the Universal Windows Platform and new interfaces like Cortana, HoloLens, and Ink, Microsoft is trying to motivate developers to create some excitement in the Windows ecosystem. By the time Build 2017 rolls around, we'll know how successful it was in that endeavor.

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Your thoughts

As a developer, are you excited about the potential of the Universal Windows Platform? As a consumer, are you excited about what developers can create with UWP? Share your opinions with fellow TechRepublic members.

About Mark Kaelin

Mark W. Kaelin has been writing and editing stories about the IT industry, gadgets, finance, accounting, and tech-life for more than 25 years. Most recently, he has been a regular contributor to BreakingModern.com, aNewDomain.net, and TechRepublic.

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