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Microsoft Build 2022 Keynote: AI and Cloud Take Center Stage

Microsoft's role as builder of platforms for organizations was the theme of Tuesday's Build keynote by CEO Satya Nadella.

At the developer-focused event, Nadella highlighted 10 general technologies that Microsoft has fostered to make life easier for devs, which include:

  • Developer flow
  • Cloud ubiquity
  • App ubiquity
  • Cloud native
  • Unified data
  • Models as platforms
  • Hybrid AI
  • Low code/no code
  • Collaborative apps
  • Metaverse.

Developer Flow
Nadella opined that Microsoft's cloud services support developer flow in building applications.

"We want to make it easy for you to go from idea to code, and code to cloud, and cloud to the world," he said.

GitHub Code Spaces, a dev environment hosted from Microsoft's cloud, was one example introduced last year. It's for Web development and cloud native apps.

For building apps for the PC, mobile and embedded devices, Nadella suggested that developers would need a Windows-based development environment. One new service to that end, announced during Build, is Microsoft Dev Box. It provides access to "high-performance workstations preconfigured and ready-to-code for specific projects." Microsoft Dev Box is integrated with Windows 365, allowing IT pros to use Microsoft Endpoint Manager and Microsoft Intune for management.

GitHub Copilot, an "AI pair programmer," was previewed a year ago but it'll be at the "general availability" commercial-release stage sometime this summer, Nadella announced. Build attendees will have "free access to the GA" release, he promised, and it'll be free for students and open source contributors.

Microsoft also has a "Copilot Explain" research project that "translates code into natural language descriptions" to help novice developers, as noted in Microsoft's "Book of News" compendium of Build announcements. Another highlighted solution is OpenAI Codex that "translates natural language into code." The OpenAI Codex was described as "the model that powers GitHub Copilot."

Cloud Ubiquity
Nadella touted various Microsoft cloud services as enabling "cloud ubiquity," which he quantified.

"Azure is the world's computer, with 60-plus datacenter regions connected by over 175,000 miles of fiber over 190 points of presence," he said.

Azure Arc, Microsoft's multicloud management solution, lets organizations run "mission critical data workloads in their own environments while meeting latency and regulatory requirements," Nadella noted.

Microsoft is adding a "landing zone accelerator" to Azure Arc used with Kubernetes to "simplify hybrid and multicloud" best practices, according to the "Book of News." Also being added to Azure Arc for use with
the SQL Managed Instance service is a "Business Critical service tier" that enables "unlimited CPU and memory" customizations to optimize SQL workload performance.

Microsoft's Azure for Operators service supports telcos deploying 5G wireless services at the network edge. It can be paired with Azure Orbital, which provides ground stations for "fast downlinking of data," Nadella explained.

App Ubiquity
The Microsoft 365 desktop as a service and Azure Virtual Desktop virtual desktop infrastructure service were both cited by Nadella as enabling everywhere app access. He also pointed to Azure Public Multi-Access Edge Compute (MEC), a service for telcos that supports low-latency applications using 5G wireless.

"The real magic happens when you accelerate Windows Cloud PCs with Azure Public MEC," he said. "We're testing these scenarios today."

The idea floated during the talk regarding Azure Public MEC was that a worker can use a mobile app in the field and then access the same saved work on a desktop device later in an office.

A bunch enhancements to the new Microsoft Store was part of Microsoft's app ubiquity theme. The new Microsoft Store now includes "new tools for Win32 and PWA [progressive Web app] developers." Win32 apps can be made discoverable for testing now, and Microsoft is adding new analytics dashboards for them. For PWA builders, there's a new "Starter" capability for addressing performance issues, a PWA Studio extension to Visual Studio Code, and tooling for Meta Quest virtual and mixed reality developers.

Developers will be able to automate app submissions to the store from their CI/CD tools using "new GitHub Action or REST APIs." Developers also will be able to create ad campaigns in the store via Microsoft Advertising "in the coming months."

A preview of Amazon Appstore Android applications within the new Microsoft Store will be expanding from the United States to five other countries, namely "France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the United Kingdom."

Cloud Native App Development
Microservices and containers are at the heart of cloud-native app development. Nadella touted the Kubernetes-based Azure Container Apps, now at general availability, as facilitating the building of containerized apps without having to worry about managing infrastructure.

The Azure Kubernetes Service is also getting updates. It has Azure Confidential Computing support, for instance, and can use Azure DCsv3 virtual machines with Intel Software Guard Extensions, which is at general availability, according to the "Book of News."

"We are now the only cloud provider supporting the latest confidential-capable CPUs from Intel and AMD as well as confidential GPUs with Nvidia," Nadella said.

Unified Data
Nadella argued that data often resides in database silos, making analysis and governance a struggle. Microsoft's solution to that problem is its new Microsoft Intelligent Data Platform, now generally available. The platform is described as unifying "data, analytics and governance" to address customer pain points, per the "Book of News" description.

An example where such a solution may be needed is an e-commerce Web site that customizes its sales pitches to potential buyers, where "the site needs to connect and correlate customers with products inventory suppliers, logistics, and even social sentiment, all while respecting customer data privacy," Nadella said.

Models as Platforms
Large artificial intelligence (AI) models are "becoming powerful platforms," Nadella said. He cited the Turing model for "rich language understanding," the Z-Code model for language translation and the Florence model for visual recognition.

Microsoft has been working with its partner OpenAI on the GPT model for "human-like language generation" and DALL-E for "realistic image generation."

In general, Microsoft has been "building models as platforms in Azure" so that developers can use such advances. The advances are also used in Microsoft products like Dynamics 365, which summarizes customer conversations for service agents, for instance. Developers can use Azure Cognitive Services to "embed these capabilities in your own applications," Nadella said.

Hybrid AI
Computers will be able to draw on the "combined compute power of CPUs, GPUs and NPUs [neural processing units], and even a new coprocessor, Azure Compute," Nadella said, without elaborating on this apparently new Azure Compute coprocessor. The ability to tap those processors will enable a "whole new class of experiences" in software vendors' applications, he added.

One example is a new "Hybrid Loop" capability. It's a "cross-platform development pattern for building AI experiences that span the cloud in the edge," Nadella explained. It uses the ONNX runtime with the Azure Machine Learning service and can "dynamically shift the load between client and cloud."

Also, for Windows development on machines with Arm-based CPUs and NPUs, Microsoft has a Project Volterra dev kit, with native Arm64 Visual Studio and .NET support. Project Volterra will be "available later this year."

Low Code and No Code
Microsoft also has low-code and no-code tools in its Power BI suite. A new Express Design in Power Apps tool, based on Azure Cognitive Services, lets such developers design Power Apps application interfaces via hand-drawn sketches or uploaded PDF files. A preview of Express Design is now available to all Power Apps users at no extra cost, according to this announcement.

Microsoft also announced a preview of Power Pages, which is billed as letting users launch "business-centric web sites" even when they have "no HTML or Web skills." This feature was previously known as Power Apps Portals. Power Pages is now added as "the fifth member of the Power Platform family," according to an announcement.

Collaborative Apps
Nadella touted developer use of the Microsoft Graph for building "third-party apps." It underlies Microsoft 365 applications and enhances collaborations. Developers can also use Loop components to "create interactive experiences."

The Microsoft Graph can be used to build applications for Microsoft Teams, Microsoft's collaboration service. Nadella said that "monthly usage of third-party apps and custom-built solutions on Teams has grown 10x over the last two years."

At Build, Microsoft introduced a Live Share experience for apps in Teams meetings, which enable "real-time collaborative meeting capabilities." Developers will be able to implement Live Share in Teams in coming SDKs, Nadella indicated. Live Share is based on the Microsoft Fluid Framework and allows "developers to create synchronized meeting experiences, entirely client-side, with just a few lines of code," according to the "Book of News."

The Metaverse
Nadella had a lot to say about the "metaverse" during November's Microsoft Ignite keynote speech. However, he was a bit muted on the topic this time around during Tuesday's Build keynote.

"We are building out a diverse set of platform capabilities to help you build even richer applications that transcend both business and consumer scenarios and extend across all device platforms," Nadella said during the Build keynote about Microsoft's metaverse development efforts.

In that context, Nadella pointed to the front-row view in Teams, placing people at eye level during videoconferencing sessions. The use of AI with Teams Rooms conferencing devices is making PowerPoint presentations seem more inclusive for distant viewers. He also touted the use of digital-twins avatars in meetings, which lets users "interact with all of the artifacts in the meeting."

Microsoft Mesh, introduced during the March 2021 Ignite event, is getting built as an Azure service platform that will enable organizations to "build your own immersive worlds," Nadella said. These worlds will be cross-platform accessible via "HoloLens, VR headsets, phones, tablets, or PCs," he added.

Nadella also highlighted Microsoft's "industrial metaverse" solutions with Azure IoT, Azure Digital Twins, Microsoft Mesh and the HoloLens platform.

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