//build/ 2014: My personal top 3

Two weeks ago, the 2014 incarnation of Microsoft’s biggest developer conference, also known as //build/, has closed its doors. By now all the important stories have been recorded, distributed and forgotten. And it’s time to recap the stories that made it through my 2-week filter 🙂


So what are my three longer-term memories?


  • Cortana. Of course. Cortana’s story might not be that important from a developer’s perspective. But to users and media it’s the story that could easily make or break Windows Phone 8.1. Who doesn’t want to have a personal assistant, who reminds us of everything we need to know, who gatekeeps our schedules and who prevents unimportant items to reach our desk/phone? Intriguing? For sure! Scary? Oh yes!
    A good personal assistant knows *everything* about us: our schedule, our preferences, our strengths, our weaknesses, our desires, our mood, what we like, what we dislike, our friends, our partners, our family, people we would like to avoid, people who can approach us 24/7, our hobbies, our financial situation, our health, *everything*. Why does a good assistant know it? Because it’s what a good assistant needs to know to get the job done well. But since that information is so sensitive, we expect them to use that knowledge *exclusively* to do their job. If they don’t, we will fire them, unless in very exceptional cases, we will marry them. And then we will sue them. Most likely, they won’t find a job anymore once that happens.
    What about their digital counterparts? Yes, they need all that information, too. But can we trust them? And what can we do when they leak information about us? When neither firing nor marrying is an option?
    So far, Microsoft might have been in a more trustworthy position than Google: after all, Microsoft was in the business of selling features to end consumers, whereas Google is in the business of selling data to businesses. However, now that Microsoft is handing out free copies of its OS, this established world of business models will change. How? To be seen.
  • Universal apps. Wow! Again: wow! Ok, one of the commonly ignored beauties of Windows 8 has always been: you can use your favorite Windows 8 apps on your tablet, your laptop, and your desktop. No need to re-purchase, no need to re-learn user interfaces. The concept of universal apps takes that 1-2 steps further: Creating the same app for tablet, laptop, desktop, phone, and gaming console in one go is a developer’s dream-come-true.
    Make no mistake: of course, universal apps do not solve all the inherent issues related to cross-device development. Good user experience requires attention to detail and a detailed understanding of our specific target devices. Still, universal apps and VisualStudio combined make it much easier to focus on the hard parts of creating outstanding user experiences. If there will not be any outstanding cross-device apps in the Windows world in the future, at least we cannot blame Microsoft anymore.
  • Leslie Lamport. Leslie who? I guess, 90% of my readers will not know, who Leslie Lamport is. But maybe I am wrong? Maybe it’s closer to 98%. Anyway: Leslie Lamport is one of the heroes of my student days. His LaTeX framework (on top of Donald Knuth’s TeX typesetting framework) allowed us imbecile novices to create *beautifully* looking PostScript documents. No matter how flawed our theses were, at least they looked good on paper! 🙂
    And when/where I least expected it, I finally ended up in a talk given by Leslie Lamport on a topic that I would not have expected at such an event: a talk about, yes, specifications. No, Leslie Lamport wasn’t talking about fashionable, “the truth is in the code”, white-boarded or backside-of-napkin sketches. He was talking about, Lord behold, formalisms, mathematics and his TLA framework.
    Microsoft has hired Leslie. Amazon is using TLA. Check it out, especially if you’re working on a platform solution. Or if you don’t, blame yourself for making your life unnecessarily harder! 🙂


And if you want to form an opinion on //build/ yourself, here’s your chance: you can find all videos on http://channel9.msdn.com/Events/Build/2014