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At the end of May, I had the tremendous opportunity to attend Microsoft Build 2023, the premiere developer conference from Microsoft. This year it finally returned to a fully hybrid form, and I was lucky enough to be there in person in Seattle. While most of the sessions were aired live so everyone could watch them online, some remained in-person only – and I would love to share a few with you today!
The most valuable sessions I have attended this year at Build were the Q & A sessions, which were unfortunately in-person only. These were held in small rooms for about 30 attendees each, with the team members behind a featured product answering questions from the audience. I attended four of these in total.
In the Microsoft Store Q&A session, the developers explained how they strive to make the Store app the best showcase of Windows app development by adding beautiful (but at the same time meaningful) animations and transitions throughout the product and trying to include a wide range of available APIs. It was surprising to hear that the Store itself does not use any non-public APIs so that any app can achieve these beautiful effects. They also mentioned that their extensive use of Composition APIs had led to the discovery of some platform bugs that had to be fixed by the Windows team. Finally, we also learnt the new AI review summary feature was created as part of an internal hackathon and then became a full-blown feature, which is cool!
Next, I attended the File Explorer team Q&A, where we learnt about the challenges of modernizing such a complex application as file explorer undoubtedly is. The developers explained that getting WinUI2 islands and WinUI3 to run side-by-side in a single codebase requires a lot of dark magic, but it can be done successfully, as we see in the latest Insider Preview builds of Windows 11. They also explained how the new Gallery view and Preview pane were created and how they approached the design of new controls like AnnotatedScrollBar and ItemsView.
.NET languages Q&A was very insightful – we learnt how the team approaches C# language innovation without making compromises. When a change is being discussed during language design meetings, everyone can voice their opinion, and all concerns must be addressed before any decision is made. The team also mentioned that working in the open made the language much more agile and brought many great new ideas from the community.
The final Q&A I attended focused on the new Dev Drive feature in Windows, allowing developers to dedicate a separate partition on disk optimized for better performance in developer scenarios. This required a joint effort from several groups, including the Windows Defender team. The team mentioned the feature is in its early stages and will get more advanced and get additional improvements over time. For now, the focus is on developer scenarios, but they did not rule out potential future use for other purposes like gaming and graphics. It was also great to hear that all feedback is warmly welcomed, and the team will definitely use it to adjust future updates.
One of the news this year was that the conference took place in the new Seattle Convention Center Summit building. This was finished just before the pandemic started, so Build 2023 was just the fourth event to occur here (the previous was ComicCon). The whole place is visually stunning and huge. Not only this means the views from the top floor were spectacular, but also it meant this year, participants could attend all the sessions in one single building as opposed to previous years, where some sessions were held in the building across the street from the main venue, which was not too efficient and required planning ahead to actually arrive on time.
At Build, there has been for a long time a friendly competition to try to queue up for the keynotes early to be first in line – for a chance to get the best seats in the keynote room and, of course, for that coveted “first-in-line” title. For many years, the undefeated champion of this was Phillip J. Labar, who used to “initialize” the queue as early as 4 AM! This year Phillip, unfortunately, didn’t attend, and I was lucky enough to pick up the torch and secure the first spot when I arrived at 4:45 AM. My early arrival contributed to my participation, but also, a big part was the considerable jet lag after coming from Czechia. Others joined me not too long after, and because the doors were closed till about 6 AM, the organizers were nice enough to bring us a cup of coffee to warm up.
There are two clear things – incorporating AI is now a big focus of all teams in Microsoft, and Windows is finally back in full force with Windows Copilot and many cool new developer-focused enhancements. And we finally had a chance to see Panos Panay live on stage (and even off stage), sharing his passion for the future of Windows. It is awesome to see such commitment from Microsoft again.
One of the cool news in this year’s Build was the change to a more sustainable swag distribution. There were several different T-shirt designs for participants to choose from, but instead of having them pre-printed, Microsoft instead gave out “vouchers,” which allowed everyone to pick a design, size and fit of their preference, and then the shirts were printed on-site individually. This is a very nice change from before, as I am pretty sure that hundreds of shirts must have been wasted in previous in-person Build conferences.
This year Build had several focus areas – including AI (of course), Windows (of course!), cloud, developer tools, low-code and others. Each area had its own “expo room” filled with expert booths focusing on specific aspects of that area and partner booths. This allowed participants to have direct discussions with team members responsible for various Microsoft products to provide feedback or get help with their issues. This opportunity was invaluable as the team members were very open and honest – and it is great to put real-world faces on many of the people you follow and retweet online! I learnt a lot of cool things, especially during my visit to the Windows room – I was shown the new Dev Home app, learnt how to build Widgets for PWA apps and even that I was missing out on many new features in PowerToys on Windows 11.
As a grand finale, a attendee party took place directly in the Seattle Convention Center Summit building, on the top floor on the second day of the conference. We could enjoy a wide variety of food options, special drinks courtesy of AMD, and a number of activities including AI artist, dueling pianos, various table games, and even a selection of classic arcade games.
Microsoft Build 2023 was a great experience, and it was the best in-person edition yet (and I have been to quite a few so far!). I met so many great people there, gave away all of the Uno Platform swag I brought, and overall had the best time. I hope this hybrid format will be kept going forward, as the ability to talk with the people behind the products and tools we use every day is extremely valuable and makes the conference worth attending. The only downside? I have to up my exercise game now after all the great US food 😁 .
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