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Wednesday, May 10, 2017
BUILD 2017: Microsoft Announces New Tools and Services to Help Developers Build More Intelligent Apps

Satya Nadella, Scott Guthrie and Harry Shum welcomed developers to Seattle for Build 2017 - Microsoft's annual developer conference. They announced new Azure data and cloud services to help developers modernize their existing apps, new AI and Azure services and showcased new data, IoT edge and AI services built for a future with an intelligent cloud.

During his opening keynote Nadella announced that Windows had reached 500 million Windows 10 monthly active devices and noted how - together - Windows, Microsoft Office and Microsoft Azure offer developers more than a billion opportunities to connect their innovations with Microsoft customers.

"In a world of near infinite compute power and an exponential growth in data, we are focused on empowering every developer to build applications for this new era of intelligent cloud and intelligent edge," said Satya Nadella, CEO, Microsoft.

Microsoft announced the following:

  • A preview of Azure IoT Edge, technology that extends the intelligence - and other benefits - of cloud computing to edge devices.
  • Extensions to the Microsoft Graph to combine insights from the world of work with device insights and contextual awareness of the physical world.
  • Technology that will allow you to search the real world in the same way you search the digital world

Microsoft showcased new Microsoft Azure and Visual Studio services and tools to help developers modernize existing applications and build intelligent apps for all major platforms:

  • The company introduced Azure Cosmos DB, built from the ground up to power planet-scale cloud services and data-intensive applications - from IoT to AI to mobile - with performance, fault tolerance and support for every type of data, including graph. Microsoft says the database service delivers horizontal scale with guaranteed uptime, throughput, consistency and single-digit millisecond latency at the 99th percentile. Developers get flexibility with the only schema-free database service, with support for NoSQL APIs, that also offers five consistency choices while auto-indexing all your data.
  • New MySQL- and PostgreSQL-managed services that join Azure SQL Database to give developers flexibility on a service platform that delivers high availability and scalability, with minimal downtime, and data retention and recovery.
  • An early preview of Microsoft's new database migration services, which will allow Oracle and SQL Server users to more easily move their data and quickly modernize their apps.
  • Azure SQL Database improvements:
    • A new Managed Instance private preview, which offers Microsoft's customers SQL Server instance-level compatibility and makes it easier for organizations to migrate existing SQL Server apps to Azure SQL Database.
    • General availability of Threat Detection and preview of Graph support.
  • General availability of Visual Studio 2017 for Mac, which enables developers to work across Windows and Mac environments with full support for mobile, web and cloud workloads, and previews of Docker tools, Azure Functions and Xamarin.IoT support.
  • Support for containers of nearly every type, on every platform, with the general availability of Windows Server Containers support in Azure Service Fabric, with Visual Studio tooling, and a preview of the ability to use Docker Compose support for Service Fabric to deploy containerized apps to Service Fabric - enabling developers to deliver mission-critical, scalable apps and services.
  • DocuSign today announced Microsoft Azure is its preferred cloud for global expansion, starting in Canada. DocuSign uses Azure SQL Database to process enormous volumes of digital transactions.

Today Microsoft also announced plans to better connect developers with Office 365 customers:

  • Any developer can now publish for Microsoft Teams, the new chat-based workspace in Office 365. Coming soon, apps in Teams will be more discoverable for end users through a new app experience. Developers can also add new capabilities to Teams apps, including third-party notifications in the activity feed, Compose Extensions and Actionable Messages.
  • Microsoft also made new Microsoft Graph APIs available to developers, including APIs from SharePoint and Planner. The Microsoft Graph gives developers access to Office 365 data and intelligence and helps connect the dots between people, conversations, projects, schedules, processes and content. These insights help developers build smarter apps, enabling smarter ways to work.
  • Developers and ISVs who host their production SaaS applications on Microsoft Azure and sign up through the Azure website can now have their apps' data and workflow automatically extended to authorized Office 365 customers through standard connectors for PowerApps and Microsoft Flow. To help ISVs expand their business even further, Microsoft is also providing additional incentives to its sales force when they jointly co-sell eligible SaaS apps and services to enterprise customers.

AI to augment the capabilities of every developer, organization, platform and person

Microsoft highlighted its vision to amplify human ingenuity with intelligent technology, bringing AI to every developer through the combination of the Microsoft cloud and AI. New announcements included the following:

  • The company added new cognitive services for developers with customization options. That enables developers to infuse off-the-shelf or custom intelligence capabilities such as vision, speech, language, knowledge and search into their app and bot experiences in any scenario. New services include Bing Custom Search, Custom Vision Service, Custom Decision Service and Video Indexer. A new PowerPoint add-in called Presentation Translator, which leverages Microsoft's Translation APIs, was featured, allowing real-time translation to multiple languages during any presentation. The new Cognitive Services Labs were also launched, enabling developers to experiment with new services, such as a Gesture API, still in the early stages of development.
  • Video Indexer is a new image and video recognition products which could help it court businesses worried about running ads next to offensive content.
    The company said its new Video Indexer can identify faces, voices and emotions in moving pictures. Separately, its Custom Vision Search lets companies build apps that recognize images with just a few lines of code. Microsoft's Video Indexer has similarities to a tool Google launched in March; also said last month it could flag insulting images via a cloud-based service.
  • Using the new adaptive cards supported by the Microsoft Bot Framework, developers can write cards once that look great across multiple apps and platforms. Using the Bot Framework, developers can also now publish to new channels including Bing, Cortana and Skype for Business, and implement Microsoft's payment request API for fast and easy checkout in their bots.
  • Azure Batch AI Training is a new Azure offering, available in private preview only, that will allow developers and data scientists to configure an environment with parameters and run their models against multiple CPUs, multiple GPUs and eventually field-programmable gate arrays.
  • In addition to Harman Kardon's Invoke intelligent speaker with Cortana, partnerships were also signed with HP on devices and Intel on reference platforms to deliver Cortana-enabled devices.
  • The Cortana Skills Kit is now in public preview. Developers can build skills for Cortana by creating a bot and publishing it to the new Cortana channel of the Bot Framework. This is available across Windows 10, Android, iOS and the new Cortana-powered Harman Kardon Invoke speaker. The Cortana Skills kit is currently available in the U.S. only.
  • A demonstration was provided on how multiple Microsoft products and services, including Dynamics 365, Office 365, Microsoft Teams, Cortana Skills, Microsoft Graph and Sentiment Analysis, will be integrated into Tact, the sales experience platform that turns any connected device into a AI-powered virtual sales assistant, later this year.

Nadella has made both AI and internet-based computing key areas of investment for Microsoft as it looks for new areas of growth. In both spaces, Redmond, Washington-based Microsoft is squaring up to rivals like - Amazon Web Services is previewing a product to make IoT devices smarter too - as well as Alphabet. At the same time, it's trying to steal business from older competitors such as Oracle, even as the database giant makes its own foray into the cloud.

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