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High expectations pressure Microsoft to deliver at BUILD

Gregg Keizer | June 27, 2013
Today's keynote will show whether the software maker can rebound from sluggish start to Windows 8.

That will be a huge win for Microsoft, which has never pushed Windows development at this tempo. The rapid cadence is the norm for consumer technology platforms, and if Microsoft wants to be a player in the space, it has to keep up with the Joneses.

Not surprisingly, analysts who spend their days analyzing corporate technology argued that Microsoft must document how Windows 8.1 will overcome enterprise objections to the original Windows 8.

"The world is watching how Microsoft will bring back the things that enterprises need," said David Johnson of Forrester, ticking off the pseudo-Start button — called "Start tip" by Microsoft — and an expected reduction in the jarring switches between the "Modern" user interface and the old-school desktop.

Michael Cherry, an analyst with Directions on Microsoft, concurred. "How will Windows 8.1 work with the other pieces?" he asked, referring to the other portfolios Microsoft will upgrade this year, including Windows Server 2012 R2, SQL Server 2014, Visual Studio 2013 and System Center 2012 R2. Several of those were made available to Microsoft Developer Network (MSDN) subscribers on Monday.

Johnson hoped Microsoft can make good on earlier promises. "They have to convince developers that [Windows] apps are quick and easy to develop, that all the necessary services are going to be accessible and that there will be strong demand for apps," Johnson said.

He admitted Microsoft has made those promises at previous BUILDs, with mixed results, but hoped this time the company would be more convincing. "Microsoft is in a unique position to create consistency across platforms," he said, and with new services, such as Azure Active Authentication, which Microsoft announced earlier this month, he said the company's pitch might be more effective.

Milanesi also had a wish list of what she wants to see and hear aimed at developers. "Microsoft should show developers how they can create apps across different devices," she said. "They talk about 'one kernel,' but what does that mean?"

Gillett saw clues to Microsoft's seriousness in its selection of San Francisco as the venue. "It's a symbolic statement holding it in downtown San Francisco," Gillett said of the first Microsoft-hosted developers meeting in the city since 1996. "The kind of developers they want are in the San Francisco area and significantly influenced by the technology companies there. Microsoft really wants to connect with them."

Both Apple and Google are in the neighborhood, the former in Cupertino, the latter in Mountain View. Both held their most recent developers conferences at the Moscone Center, BUILD's home this week.

If the location helps Microsoft flesh out its Windows ecosystem, which critics have hammered for having an app gap, that too will be tagged as a win for the company and evidence it can recover from a sluggish start.


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