On this year’s Build conference in San Francisco, Windows, Windows Phone and Azure were the stars of the show. Lots of new features being added across the board making the platform even better than it already was. The web, or web development were not really put in the spotlights but Microsoft made it very clear that their efforts in web application development and tooling are very much a priority. Being a developer of things on the web I mostly attended sessions that expanded on this subject. Here are some of the big things I picked up while attending sessions.

Web app to Store app
A thing that stood out to me is how Microsoft is starting to blur the line between web app and Windows Store app. Quite a few sessions expanded on how a web application can be made into a Store app with very minimal changes. More importantly, the transition to Store app can be done very gradually. Things like showing an icon when a website is pinned to the Windows Start screen, offering different pinned tile sizes and even full live tile support can be achieved without affecting the rest of an existing web app at all. The next stage is moving the website into an app container, where Microsoft has made it possible to add native device functionality such as notifications on top of the existing web app (which at this point still remains a web app). And then the final stage where the web application is completely transformed into a native Store application. Since Store apps can be built in HTML/JS/CSS code reuse is maximized and most of the layout and styling can be left untouched. If the application is built using the now open-sourced WinJS framework the transition is even easier.

Internet Explorer 11
The Internet Explorer development tools are also being updated and are even more awesome than the last version, which was also awesome. Performance profiling can now be done across multiple resources like CPU, memory and bandwidth at the same time and a snapshotting feature of those profiling sessions make sniffing out memory leaks a lot easier. Also a big feature: ‘Just my code’ debugging! No more stepping through endless lines of obscure jQuery/Knockout/your framework of choice because you made a typo in your code that called into one of those frameworks. You can even selectively mark your own JS files as 3rd party if to exclude it from debugging sessions. Forgot what styles you tweaked in the style editor? No problem, there is now a change tracker that keeps track of every tweak you make in the dev tools and allows easy copy-pasting of changes to your editor of choice.

To make sure every developer that targets IE 11 knows what features are available in IE, Microsoft has created http://status.modern.ie to show what the Internet Explorer development team is working on and has planned for implementation.

Visual Studio 2013 (update 2 (RC))
Visual Studio 2013 also gets new features. We already had browser-link added to live-update changes we make in the editor to the browser but things go in the opposite direction now as well. Highlighting an element in the IE Dom explorer will highlight the matching markup in the Visual Studio code editor. An even cooler feature is debugging a site on a mobile device. Link your Windows Phone device to your dev machine and you get the option of launching the site on that device with the debugger attached! Makes for some very easy coding for mobile devices. Don’t have a real device? You can also start the device emulator and run your site in that. The Web Essentials plugin is also moving more into the open and is now directly working with other teams to try new things in the plugin and move things that work very well into Visual Studio.

Universal apps
Taking the web apps to store apps to a whole new level is the introduction of universal apps. The underlying framework now allows developers to write an app once and publish it across all the app stores: Windows Phone, Windows and soon to the Xbox marketplace as well!

The most notable thing though is how Microsoft is positioning itself with all this fantastic new tech. Microsoft is changing. Windows becoming free for certain device form factors, open-sourcing a lot of their new code (Roslyn!), not just open-sourcing but also taking pull-requests for that open code to improve it! Making efforts for small devices (‘The internet of things’) with a special version of Windows 8. Open lines of communication with the developer communities. To keep track of all the new open-ness, Microsoft set up http://dotnetfoundation.org that is to become the hub of the whole open-source community in and around the .NET platform.
It’s a whole new Microsoft and I think Microsoft is taking big steps in all the right directions. Being open, supporting the developer community and creating a stable ecosystem that is ready for the future.

* While a lot of the stuff is ready for use, a lot of the things shown were Release Candidates or updates waiting for deployment so not everything is available right now.

Sander Harrewijnen Developer

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