ASP.NET vNext, 'Roslyn,' and Cordova: Three examples of Microsoft embracing open source

This TechEd 2014 news roundup covers Visual Studio 2013 Update 2 RC, ASP.NET vNext, the .NET compiler platform 'Roslyn,' the app builder framework Apache Cordova, and more.

Image: Apache Cordova

Microsoft TechEd North America 2014 (May 12-15) in Houston, Texas did not elicit feelings of excitement like I've had when attending the conference in years past, because there was a lot of "more of the same." I highlight what I deem to be the most interesting and noteworthy announcements from the event.

Onward and upward with mobile and cloud

The main item covered in the keynote was Microsoft's strategy to embrace a mobile-first, cloud-first world. Getting from strategy to implementation is the tricky part being addressed by Microsoft with a slew of products and services that help enterprises embrace and thrive in this new world.

Four years ago Microsoft unveiled its cloud offering called Windows Azure (since renamed Microsoft Azure). It has been a rocky road with growing pains, but Azure presence at TechEd grows every year. Azure is the backbone of Microsoft's cloud-first goal with several new products and services available to help enterprises meet this goal. This includes Microsoft Azure ExpressRoute (connect on-premises infrastructure to the cloud); Microsoft Azure Recovery Manager for disaster recovery; Microsoft Azure File Service for sharing files in the cloud, as well as the continued development of Office 365 that provides Microsoft Office features via the cloud (think Google Docs).

The cloud meets mobile with the Enterprise Mobility Suite, which is a set of cloud services that assists customers with managing mobile devices.

A big part of Microsoft adopting the mobile-first initiative is that Windows-based mobile devices (Windows Phone, Surface, etc.) are only a small fraction of the market dominated by Android and Apple products. Microsoft released Office for iPad before releasing a version for its touch device/platform Surface; this is a big change from the past when everything was Windows first and other platforms later. In addition, Microsoft is making it easier to develop for multiple platforms with latest Visual Studio updates.

Developing for the future now

It is good to know about Microsoft's overall plans, but as a developer I am more interested in the tools and technologies for building applications.

While there was no major product releases, the second update of Visual Studio 2013 was announced. One of the bigger pieces of this release is enabling developers to build universal Windows applications -- that is, you can build something that works on Windows Phone as well as Windows 8.1. It allows you to use a core code and user interface elements with specific design options for each device. This can all be achieved within a single Visual Studio solution using XAML, .NET, or HTML/CSS and JavaScript. In addition, Visual Studio Online continues to grow with new APIs and service hooks, making it easy to integrate with other products and services.

Continuing to embrace open source

There were plenty of TypeScript sessions at the conference, with extensive coverage of the latest TypeScript 1.0 release. I am not a big TypeScript developer, but what it offers to current JavaScript developers is impressive. With JavaScript's current popularity, it will be interesting to see how TypeScript evolves and accepted within the development community.

One of the more interesting announcements was Apache Cordova integration with Visual Studio via an extension. Cordova provides an open source platform for building multi-device hybrid mobile applications. Applications are built with HTML, CSS, and JavaScript (or TypeScript), thus no native applications. You can use the framework you prefer -- the options include Backbone.js, jQuery, AngularJS, Bootstrap, and WinJS. The interesting feature is it fully supports Android and iOS platforms, so you can create applications for non-Microsoft mobile devices with Visual Studio. By default, it uses the Apple Ripple simulator for testing, but this can be reconfigured. While this extension is currently in preview, it's an exciting addition to the flagship Microsoft development environment. If you prefer native, you can still use the Xamarin option.

What's next in ASP.NET

The vNext tag has been placed on the next version of ASP.NET; I saw it tagged on the next version of Forefront as well, so maybe vNext will be used for all upcoming product versions.

ASP.NET vNext will be optimized for the cloud, which means applications will (or should) have only the pieces that it needs. In addition, it promises more flexible componentization and better class performance and startup times. An interesting twist is ASP.NET vNext will be an open source project as part of the .NET Foundation. In addition, the .NET compiler platform "Roslyn" is open sourced as well.

The beat goes on

Microsoft's change in course seems more necessary than eye-opening; after all, who does not realize cloud and mobile computing is the future (as we see it now)? My biggest takeaway from the event is that I'm looking forward to building new applications that use Cordova and my Visual Studio tools.

What announcement from TechEd 2014 piques your interest the most? Tell us in the discussion.

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By Tony Patton

Tony Patton has worn many hats over his 15+ years in the IT industry while witnessing many technologies come and go. He currently focuses on .NET and Web Development while trying to grasp the many facets of supporting such technologies in a productio...