Highlights from Build 2016


Even though I have never attended a Microsoft Build conference in person I always learn so much from them.

Every year there are new platforms to try, lots of documentation to read, and many presentations and recoded sessions to watch.

I still have a lot of videos to watch, but here are some of top announcements from Build 2016 which matter to me the most as a developer.

Windows 10 as the best OS for Developers

A number of new features coming to Windows 10 in the “Anniversary” update were shown in the day-one keynote, and then even more features where shown at sessions throughout the conference. Solid improvements to the inking, biometrics, and the Action Center were all well received.

Windows Ink

Many of the features shown help fix minor annoyances in the system. For example, pressing on a live tile showing a preview of a news article can now take you directly to it, and notifications dismissed on the PC or tablet will automatically get dismissed on the phone too.

One of the most exciting new features was the addition of Bash (on Ubuntu) on Windows which is both technically very interesting and extremely useful for many development workflows. The new Ubuntu subsystem will allow any (command-line) Linux application to run natively on Windows. This instantly unlocks a massive amount of tools and utilities for developers, making common scenarios significantly easier from Windows.

Bash on Windows

As a huge fan of command line interfaces I’m going to go into this in more detail in a future article – but essentially Microsoft are positioning Windows to be the ultimate developer platform, no matter what operating systems you use for your solutions.

Azure is growing up with more data centres and services

Microsoft would prefer you use Azure when you deploy your applications though, and the day-two keynote showed that is still serious about the cloud.

Improvements which interested me the most included Azure Functions, Service Fabric, Containers, DocumentDB, and much, much more.


Azure is the future of Microsoft, and by the numbers they going strong. They’re expanding their datacentres and really betting big on the cloud. This is no surprise to Microsoft watchers, but it’s good to see steady improvements here. Many of which I will use.

Visual Studio keeps getting better

I spend absolutely huge amounts of time in Visual Studio so any improvements here have a very positive effect on my productivity.

Visual Studio 2015 Update 2 was released (with lots of improvements) and an early preview version of Visual Studio vNext was also shown. I’ve tried both and they’re definitely going in the right direction for me.

Visual Studio

I’m especially looking forward to some of the improvements coming in the Visual Studio installation experience moving forward. This should make setting up new development environments much faster, and the side-by-side installations means there’s much less risk when installing previews.

App development for Windows, iOS, Android

The mobile app development story from Microsoft is stronger than it ever has been. This year brings a number of improvements to the Universal Windows Platform (UWP) itself, and a more integrated store experience which now includes the apps on the Xbox One and HoloLens.

The Desktop App Converter lets you wrap up existing Win32 and .NET apps into UWP packages, allowing access to new features like UWP APIs – including Live Tiles. Even though I don’t currently develop any Win32 or .NET applications that I want to put in the store, this is an important step and I’m looking forward to the benefits of this as an app user.


For targeting non-Windows devices, the Xamarin platform is now the obvious choice. After recently purchasing Xamarin (and their amazing talent) they’ve decided to make Xamarin available for no extra charge with Visual Studio. And that includes shipping it with the free Community version. Very cool.

The combination of UWP and Xamarin means I can directly apply my C# and .NET skills to making applications for a wide range of platforms, sharing many code components. It’s really coming together nicely.

.NET and the continued move into Open Source

As well as making Xamarin’s development tools free to Visual Studio users, the folks over at Microsoft also announced their intention to open source the Xamarin SDK (including the runtime, the libraries, and command line tools), and give the governance of it over to the .NET Foundation.

Mono, the cross platform and open source sibling of the full .NET Framework has also been re-licenced to be even more permissive, and given to the .NET Foundation. (To be honest I actually thought this was already the case!)

.NET Core, the future replacement of both the .NET Framework and Mono, also saw steady improvements – my favourite of which was official F# language support:

$ cd hellofs/
$ ls
$ dotnet new --lang f#
Created new F# project in /home/julian/hellofs.
$ # I can now dotnet restore and run this F# app using .NET Core!

The Future of Cortana and Conversation as a Platform

So far everything I have mentioned has been mostly around solid updates to existing platforms, but this year’s Build included a slightly different way of thinking about productivity with the idea of Conversation as a Platform.

Conversation as a Platform

The Microsoft Bot Framework provides templates for creating bots with C# and JavaScript, as well as connectors to simplify their interaction with services like Slack and Skype. When linked with the new Cognitive Services, these bots can understand natural language and perform tasks for the user.


The demonstration of talking to Cortana through Skype was very interesting – where essentially Cortana can act as a broker between the user and other bots on the Internet which can act as experts in their field. I found this very compelling, and something I can see myself using.

As this is as subject that interests me greatly, I’ll be writing more about this over the next week or so.

And everything else…

Of course, there’s no way I could summarise everything I looked at so I have skipped a number of cool announcements ranging from Microsoft Graph to HoloLens.

The hard-working folk over at Channel 9 have videos for many of the events and topics, so be sure to check them out if you’re interested. I’m very thankful that these videos are all made available for everyone to watch, I really enjoy watching them.

Two Weeks with Microsoft Band 2

First off, all the sensors and technology in the first Microsoft Band is still in the new 2015 version, but now we have a barometer too, taking the count up to eleven.

  1. Heart rate monitor
  2. GPS
  3. Accelerometer
  4. Gyrometer
  5. Light sensor
  6. Microphone
  7. UV sensors
  8. Thermometer
  9. Capacitive sensor
  10. Galvanic skin response
  11. Barometer

The real changes are in how the device feels on my wrist.

The screen is now curved and made of glass, the main body is now metal and also curves around the wrist. The band itself is now significantly more flexible (as it doesn’t include the batteries) and the overall experience is one of a much higher quality device.

New Microsoft Band

I didn’t really have any problems with the original device feeling too bulky at the time, but when compared to this updated version it would be hard to go back.

There are other less obvious changes too. The software on the device is much nicer to use – the team has clearly been listening to feedback and made various screens much more useful. An example is pausing a run. The previous version was all too easy to accidently end the run by brushing the screen with your finger by mistake – now you need to swipe across and press the end run button.

The existing sensors have also been put to better use too. You can now set alerts for UV and use a smart alarm feature to wake up at the optimal time. Very handy.

Microsoft’s approach to personal health has changed recently with the shuttering of the MSN Health & Fitness app, and I’m hoping that they bulk up their new Microsoft Health offering with more of the smart insights we were promised – but I’ll save that discussion for another day… hopefully when the long awaited universal version of the app comes out for the Windows 10 desktop. It’s soon, right?

Microsoft Band 2

Using the Microsoft Band has helped me get fitter and feel healthier. The Band 2 does all of that and packs it all into a better looking and higher quality package.

I recommend it.


I had been looking at a replacement for Outlook tasks for the longest time. Since Windows Phone 7 came out, Microsoft’s mobile offerings for Outlook tasks have been… sub-optimal.

I had heard of Wunderlist through sites like Lifehacker and The Verge, and in 2014 6Wunderkinder released a new real-time sync engine as well as new beta versions for Windows Phone and Windows 8. I thought it was about time I switched from Outlook, so I gave it a shot.

A year later and I’m still using it every day.

Wunderlist is intuitive and easy to use. The free version does more than other apps, and it’s totally cross platform with first-class apps for Apple’s platforms (including Watch), Android, Windows and the web. It features recurring to-dos, subtasks, reminders, due dates, multiple lists and folders to organise them. Smart views let me order the to-dos by today or this week. This is where I spend most of my time when actually doing things. I like working through to-dos in due-date order, across all of the lists.

The latest new feature was a Wunderlist API. Integration with Slack and Sunrise has been useful, but I’m still waiting on integration with Outlook (coming soon) and IFTTT.


Now Wunderlist is part of my Action Management System and vital to how I get stuff done. Here’s how I have it set up.


The Inbox is where I collect any of my to-dos as I record them. I try to keep my inbox fairly minimal, so I regularly review it. I often put links or other small reminders to myself in here and check them off without ever organising them into folders. The way I use inbox is in a similar way to my email: it’s a great collection point, but it should be regularly emptied – either by doing the to-do, or organising it into one of my folders.


Anything that takes longer than a couple of minutes goes from the Inbox and into here. Pretty much anything goes, as long as doesn’t fit into any of my other lists. I regularly review this list to add due dates or subtasks.


Daily, weekly, and monthly habits are stored here. All of these to-dos are recurring, so as soon as I check them off they return for the next date. For example, every week I review my finances and every month I review my projects list. These will appear on my weekly smart list as they need to be addressed.


There are often things I am thinking about doing or getting which are either just ideas or not feasible right now. This is where my wish list comes in. Putting items in here gets them off my mind into a place where I can review regularly.


This list keeps track of any items I’m waiting for including Kickstarter projects, deliveries, book and music release dates and other things like that. I also use list to keep track of things that I am waiting on from people too, including items loaned to friends.

Projects, Objectives and anything else

All of the above to-do lists are actually inside a folder marked ‘Personal’. As well as this folder, I also have a folder called ‘Projects’ which contains number of to-do lists for projects I am working on – and these come and go depending on what’s happening in my life. In fact, some of these lists may even be shared with other people.

Currently I also have an ‘Objectives’ folder which is keeping track of a some bigger picture things I want to achieve, but this is not permanent. I like to keep things flexible inside Wunderlist, and creating ad hoc lists and folders makes it easy for me to do so. I always review my to-do lists once a week a week anyway.

Highlights from Build 2015

The Build 2015 conference has just taken place in San Francisco.

Like last year, this has been another huge event for Microsoft, and a big deal for the people who build solutions using their technologies.

There have been way more interesting things happening than I can possibly cover in one article, but I have decided to cover the three most important to me:

.NET, Windows and Azure.

An exciting future for .NET and Open Source

The future of .NET is the continued push to an open source .NET Core, which is at the centre of both the latest ASP.NET runtime and the Universal Windows app platform. In the future, this will expand and include other application types. In my opinion, they’ve picked the right place to start.

Applications running on the CoreCLR can be developed and deployed on cloud and server-based infrastructures running different operating systems including Windows, Linux and OS X. I have been watching the development efforts on GitHub for a while now, and I’ve set it up on my own machines running both Windows and Linux. It sure is a sight to see.

As well as the core runtime itself going open source, other technologies like Roslyn have enabled products that many wouldn’t have guessed would see the light of day. Having an open source compiler platform has enabled Visual Studio Code – a new cross platform text editor with Intellisense – to be built.

I was lucky enough to see Visual Studio Code before it was announced, and it changed the way I thought about collaboration with Mac users instantly. I’ll have more on this new text editor soon.

Visual Studio Code

With the RC of Visual Studio 2015 there have been some big improvements in the languages supported including both the more traditional C# and Visual Basic, and (my personal favourite) F#.

The Visual F# improvements in ‘every day’ activities are dramatic for anyone who has been using the language. This is all thanks to the new open source attitude, and the amazing community around F# who have helped to develop the Visual F# tools on GitHub.

This new world of cross-platform and open source .NET technology is going to enable some amazing scenarios for .NET developers like myself.

Windows 10’s application platform takes shape

The aforementioned Universal Windows app platform is really taking shape now. Gone are the days of very prescriptive (and maybe too forward-looking) design patterns of Windows 8, and in is the ‘do what’s right for your applications‘ model that has been working well for some for a while.

Universal Windows apps scale from the smallest phones and Internet of Things devices up to the large screens of the Xbox One and the Surface Hub. The most ‘universal’ of these apps are built with just one binary which includes a scalable UI. This allows you to even have the ‘desktop’ app experience when used on a landscape 5.7 inch phone, or when plugged into an external screen using an amazing new Continuum for Phones feature.

For app developers there are some interesting (and controversial) new ways for software venders to build for Windows. The biggest of which are the bridges from Android and iOS. These two are extremely important for the phone and work especially well for iOS games which don’t rely too heavily on the operating specific UI elements. Combined with the bridges for ‘classic windows’ apps and websites using Microsoft Edge, the Store should get a lot more apps on this Windows 10 wave of releases.

From a user’s view, Windows 10 has really rounded out, with the latest Insider Preview feeling a lot more polished than any of the previous builds. Seeing HoloLens run standard Windows Universal apps was a big deal too.

I’ll have more thoughts on these in the future as the Insider Preview continues, and more information for HoloLoens is released at E3.

Microsoft <3 Docker and other Azure improvements

Azure, and the Microsoft Cloud in general, continue to amaze me. Microsoft has managed to embrace this new way of building (and selling) software in at breakneck speed. Additional services were added throughout the platform all the way from storage and networking, to analytics and machine learning. Way too many for this article.

Two of the biggest highlights were the ability to run the complete Azure Stack locally, and Azure’s new Data Lake features too, something which Amazon has had a lot of success with.

Microsoft <3 Docker

For me though, the most interesting changes were around Docker support across Windows and Azure. Docker has been on my radar for a while, but I have yet to use it in production. I have plans to do so in the not too distant future.

Feeling Good with Microsoft Band

Microsoft Band

Like the Fitbit before it, the Microsoft Band is now well and truly part of my everyday life. Thanks to the addition of the exercise tracking and the Guided Workouts I have seen some tremendous improvements in my health and fitness since strapping the device to my wrist for the first time two months ago.

I have seen an increase in the number in the steps I do and a huge increase in the amount of time I spend exercising every day. At the same time I have measured a decrease in my weight, and my average blood pressure is a little bit lower too. Most importantly I feel better.

I’ve always been driven by these kinds of statistics and throughout my life I have found that mindfulness is always a key driving factor in making improvements to myself. The Band gives me that health mindfulness on a new level, though the motivation to be better is all my own.

Microsoft Health

Positive results aside, I have some notes on a more technical level to share:

And finally I have one more point, which is probably the most important, when you think about it. It isn’t accurate when measuring lower heart rates. In some situations it literally doubles the reading I’m getting through another device – and this is usually when I’m very relaxed or sleeping. I have tweeted Microsoft, but they haven’t replied.

I’m sure the accuracy of the lower heart rates will improve in time, so I’m not too concerned about it. I do look forward to seeing the kind of insights we were promised when the device first came out, as well as web access to the data. I’m sure it’s coming soon.