For the first time, a conference for Microsoft developers is held in an online format, this is the first Build that was created as such, and this is only the first bird, all companies will transfer their conferences to the Internet. It is surprising and somewhat strange, but such is modern life.
Kevin Gallo, corporate vice president in charge of Microsoft’s developer platform, became the star of the program. Usually top managers love to start their speeches with a loud number, Kevin took this chance and said that there are a billion devices running Windows 10 in the world and therefore development for this platform is important. Have any doubts that Windows is the main platform for PCs? I definitely didn’t. Another statistic is interesting – 4 trillion (!) Minutes are spent monthly by users in Windows 10. This kind of statistics is impressive. This is 75% more than a year ago, which can be easily explained by the growth in the number of Windows 10 computers.
The key direction of Microsoft’s development is the unification of all development tools, their integration with the web browser, and the change of the latter. A lot of content is on the web, these are websites, and it is necessary to create an environment in which users will see exactly what they are used to. Hence the integration of elements familiar to browsers and pages in applications (WebView2, if that tells you something). They want to make Windows applications universal, that is, they should work both in Windows and in the browser (and vice versa). We’ll talk about this a little below in the section on changes to the EDGE browser.
The Microsoft 365 platform has received a new level of integration, for example, in the search bar, you can start looking for information about an employee and immediately see all the information in the same window.
Cloud computing is another strategic direction for Microsoft and a growth point. Everything is fine in Azure, but Microsoft spends a lot of time at Build 2020 on virtual desktops in the cloud, rolling out jobs. Which is logical for the current situation.
Satya Nadella recently said, “Two years of digital transformation today turned into two months.” And this is what you need to keep in mind. External factors forced the market to change overnight. And in many ways this Build is about it. The focus is clearly on developers, but in today’s environment Microsoft Teams, a suite of collaboration apps, is becoming the star. Developers will be interested in scripting “teams”, that is, this is an idea of typical businesses and their needs, various chatbots and much more. For B2C, this is the ability to schedule meetings in Teams for users, for example, it can be support. Microsoft highlights its strengths, the tool that’s important at this time.
I will not say anything about the momentary, namely Microsoft Cloud for Health, if you wish, you can find the relevant news.
Microsoft EDGE – browser improvements from Microsoft
Satya Nadella changed Microsoft so much that the company learned to turn away from the mistakes of the past as it tried year after year to convince others and itself that everything was going according to plan. The war in the browser market is forgotten by today’s users, but that’s when Internet Explorer took off, Netscape fell, and there were ships. By the time Internet Explorer became one of the key players, these courts only came to an end, and the winners, as you know, are not judged. But most of the browsers in the world were based on Chromium, and Microsoft used its own engine. And the fact that in 2019 for the EDGE browser there was a rejection of its own technologies and the transition to such an engine can be safely called another revolution. Microsoft stopped reinventing the wheel, but on the contrary, attracted thousands of developers, improved the long-term prospects of its product. Not everyone took this step for granted. Many considered it a loss, a rejection of the legacy of the past. But as for me, this is logical, and such a step opens up very wide opportunities for Microsoft.
Initially, EDGE on the Chromium engine was shown in 2018, in the spring of 2019 a version for MacOS was released, this happened for the first time in 13 years. Microsoft began to add versions of EDGE for previous versions of Windows, which made this browser the key product of the company, which it originally was. This browser has become noticeably better than EDGE on the Microsoft engine, more efficient in all aspects. Let’s take a look at the main changes that users are interested in.
The browser has long become one of the main applications for working on a computer, it’s hard to argue with that. The key feature of the browser is to increase the number of its capabilities with the help of “extensions”. For example, I use Evernote, and without such an extension, the browser becomes clipped for me, not functional enough. Everyone has their own set of software, and there are thousands of such extensions and programs. The entry point for their search is a separate resource from Microsoft, it is receiving an update – new categories, other cards for extensions. In short, a complete overhaul of the extension search entry point. In my opinion, this place can be compared to an Android app store, the similarities are obvious. And in this paradigm, the browser becomes the center of the universe on the computer.
For interest, I looked at the statistics of using applications on my laptop. During the day, I have two of the most popular applications – a text editor and a browser. But the distribution of time between them is curious, 65 to 35. If you remove my specifics, then most users will have the first place using the browser.
PWA – Windows 10 style web apps
Web apps are versatile, but they’ve always suffered from looking simpler than apps built for Windows. MS EDGE and Windows 10 are trying to level this gap, now such applications installed in EDGE receive the settings mode in the familiar Windows menu, you can send content both to them and from them to other applications (this is a very important option), these applications appear in the Start menu. A first look at these apps is available this month for members of the Windows Insider program.
Integration of MS EDGE collections with Pinterest
In EDGE, you can collect collections, this is information combined on the basis that you have chosen yourself. For example, it can be recipes for some dishes, and the collection contains not just links, but a variety of information – links, photos, pages, your notes. The Pinterest integration adds several new features. So, in each collection a link to this service appears, by clicking on it, you will get suggestions about what might suit you. This is a kind of service for finding similar things on Pinterest, and everything will depend on how well and accurately they will guess what you need. Sounds healthy, but convenience is always in the details.
Reverse export is also possible when you submit your collection to Pinterest.
You can upload your collections in Word / Excel, now OneNote is added to them.
For the American market, where Pinterest is popular, this is a big story to be claimed. This is not so important in Russia. But the very direction of integration and splicing of different services is becoming a priority. You need to bring content to browsers, and the choice of such content is due to the involvement of users in a particular service. The approach is correct and very clear.
Search in the sidebar
To search for this or that information today in EDGE, you need to open a new bookmark, but now there is a search option in the sidebar (opening through the context menu, open by right-clicking, before highlighting the necessary words). A simple but handy feature.
Corporate clients – personal and corporate account
Security policy in EDGE now allows you to separate personal and corporate accounts, to separate opening links in different profiles. The same can be said for data synchronization.
Microsoft’s supercomputer in Azure
Last year, Microsoft announced a collaboration to build a supercomputer in the Azure cloud, now the machine has been announced as one of five publicly announced supercomputers. It was created for the OpenAI company, this supercomputer will process data for various models and AI algorithms. This is both the processing of data taken from ordinary speech and computer models, the construction of new algorithms on large databases.
Talking about the tasks of the supercomputer, the CTO of Microsoft focused on the fact that today researchers are creating relatively small, well-prepared models. By creating Microsoft’s Turing model, the company expects to be able to feed it raw data – Bing searches, in-game chats, just web pages, and more. A year ago, a model tied to recognizing ordinary speech had about a billion parameters, which is often compared to synapses of the nervous system, in Turing there are 17 billion parameters, and this is the largest open AI algorithm available publicly.
That is, this is a different class of problems, where the initial information is presented in the usual format, and the company’s algorithms will organize it to create their own models. This is a very promising direction, but it is not clear to what extent such a computer will be able to solve these problems; only practice can answer this. Even an illustration of this supercomputer looks like this.
The supercomputer specifications are as follows: 285.000 CPU cores, 10.000 GPUs, and 400 gigabits per second of network bandwidth for each GPU server. This machine is included in the top five supercomputers according to calculations by Microsoft, they are based on publicly available data. This is not so important to me, since the type of calculations on this computer is very different from what most supercomputers do today. To some extent, we can say that this is a different class of calculations, and there is no need to compare them directly (yes, I know about NVidia cars in the same area, but such a comparison will still be rather crooked). I will be careful to say that a breakthrough can happen, but in any case, it is a thorny path, and there are many players on it. The competition between the players here is somewhat reminiscent of the Formula 1 race, this is the development of technology for everyone without exception. But only the largest companies can participate in the races.
Machine learning and AI algorithms – responsibility for the result
Among the various technical topics that developers are interested in, I liked the story about responsibility for AI algorithms and machine learning. For the layman, all these algorithms look very simple: you feed the computer a set of data, and at the output you get what you need. But few people think about exactly how the algorithm works, through what details it creates its forecast or sorts the data. One of the developers shared a story about how they trained an algorithm that distinguished wolves and huskies in the photographs. The photo originally showed one version of the animal, either a wolf or a husky. The algorithm sorted the photos correctly, but people made different assumptions – it was an analysis of hair, color, front teeth. The fact is that the algorithm also used background analysis, in particular, the presence of at least a small amount of snow there, which increased the chances of a husky in the photo. This is a great example of the fact that we often do not guess and do not understand what is happening inside the AI algorithm, for us it is a black box. Efforts by Microsoft and others are to ensure that this understanding emerges, and hence the trust in these algorithms.
One of the examples of working with AI algorithms was the example of the SAS airline, before the pandemic, it served 800 flights daily, carried 30 million passengers annually. The EuroBonus loyalty program allows you to buy flights or discounts on them using award points. Fraudsters try to get the maximum number of points in the system using its flaws and vulnerabilities. This leads to the fact that ordinary passengers cannot get their flights, as they are already taken, and this puts the entire system in question. SAS has integrated AI algorithms using Microsoft (everything in the Azure cloud), and hundreds of parameters are being analyzed. And the system can assume when it encounters the behavior of a real person, and when there is someone who is trying to extract benefits from shortcomings in it. Often, the system can identify a “ghost”, that is, an artificial account, which exploits the disadvantages of EuroBonus, for an airline this is a savings that translates into a noticeable budget. But in each case, when analyzing the data, people must understand how a decision is made, based on what factors. This will avoid consumer anger. You know, this is a great story, as it reveals a whole layer of problems that usually pass our attention and only concern companies.
And one more little thing
Companies hold large amounts of data in Azure, and they can and should be analyzed. Microsoft introduced Azure Synapse Analytics technology last year, but the problem was that operational data was decoupled from the analytics system. Now Microsoft is creating a system where analytics gets data directly, it’s cheaper, easier and faster. Believe me, this is just a superpunk that will bribe many corporations. In the literal sense of the word, you can keep information at your fingertips, analyze big data in almost real time.
In summary, I want to say the following. The format of the online presentation is not as bad as one might think, it is convenient. And Build 2020 definitely turned out to be interesting for its target audience. Working through the technical details of interest to developers, I left only those questions that are important to everyone. This is not a detailed analysis of the syntax of certain applications, but rather an attempt to show what was happening interesting for us, ordinary users. And also show what excites the industry and concerns us directly.
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