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This article was published on August 14, 2011

What Microsoft may announce at BUILD, its new developer conference.

What Microsoft may announce at BUILD, its new developer conference.
Alex Wilhelm
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Alex Wilhelm

Alex Wilhelm is a San Francisco-based writer. You can find Alex on Twitter, and on Facebook. You can reach Alex via email at [email protected] Alex Wilhelm is a San Francisco-based writer. You can find Alex on Twitter, and on Facebook. You can reach Alex via email at [email protected]

BUILD cometh! As Microsoft’s new developer event is now just one month away, it’s time to buckle down and dig into the event and to ask ourselves what might be coming, and why it matters.

The event, now sold out, recently canceled its first day of ‘pre-conference’ to allow for ‘focus’ during the other days of the conference. That caused a stir, and some consternation, as many people had already booked plane tickets and made hotel reservation that were designed to allow for that first, and now canceled, day.

That the schedule change, a month out, caused a real ripple should give you an idea as to how seriously the market is taking this conference. The media, investors, and Microsoft competitors will all be sitting up straight and watching as Microsoft unveils something. Our goal today is to explore what the company might show off, and of course, what it would mean.

Before we hop into different product categories, it is important to note that Microsoft has this to say on the actual event: “In 1995, Windows changed the PC. BUILD will show you that Windows 8 changes everything.” With that, let’s begin.

Windows 8

It’s hard not to start with Windows 8 itself, the coming edition of Windows that, for all intents and purposes, must be a revolutionary change, or Microsoft will risk ceding the tablet market to Apple and Google for the forseeable future. Why is that? Because Windows 7, while an excellent keyboard and mouse OS, is nigh unusable in a touch environment. Trust us, we have tried.

So it’s Windows 8, or the iPad reigns supreme. It was in that spirit that Microsoft showed off the tablet elements of the next version of Windows; the company wanted to prove to the world that it was serious about devices that employed touch. The tablet input for Windows 8 is all Metro, so, at least for the moment, people are optimistic.

But that is what we know now. What should Microsoft give us at BUILD? A few things: a rough release timeline, a build of the OS that we can test, and a philosophical explanation of the choices that it has made thus far. That is not too hard of a list. Microsoft is largely rumored to be prepping a giveaway for attendees, perhaps hardware that will run Windows 8. If so, the company will be truly showing off what it has been up to. At that point, the market will have a full taste of what Windows 8 may be when it does come out, probably in 2012. That is the number one thing that people want to happen, and not simply because it involves free swag.

As to what elements of Windows 8 might be unveiled, and how complete the build might be that is distributed (if that occurs), remain unknown. Microsoft recently did not mind sending phones running a half-complete version of Mango to journalists, and it could be the same with Windows 8. Nevertheless, we expect to get some code.

Microsoft has put itself into a tight spot: Expectations are now so high for BUILD it has to outdo itself just to break even. We suspect that the company knows that, ironically raising our expectations. If we leave the event sans a rather clear picture of the next version of Windows, we will be disappointed indeed.


That expected build of Windows 8? It will likely come installed on a device. It is not unheard of for Microsoft to hand out hardware to conference attendees. At PDC 2009 everyone received a laptop running Windows 7, for example. We therefore have two hardware expectations: That Microsoft will show off future devices and form factors, and that regular attendees (not press) will be given something running Windows 8.

If that something will be a tablet, or just a laptop, we have no idea. We suspect it will be a laptop, but that is simply conjecture.

As to what Microsoft should simply demo, that side of things should be all slate and tablet and ARM based computers. Microsoft needs to accomplish several things: Show the market that it can take on the iPad on its own turf, prove that it can service the enterprise sector’s increasingly mobile demands, and show that it can innovate in regards to form factors. That is a very tall order, but one or two exceptionally slick devices and a promise of encryption may be enough to satiate attendees.

There is already a gold standard in the tablet market, and Microsoft will be measured against it, just as Android has been.

Internet Explorer 10

On the BUILD website, Microsoft says this:

“Hear how the UI was designed to work seamlessly with a diversity of devices and form factors. Go behind the scenes and learn all about the new app model that allows you to create powerful new apps. All while retaining the ability to use your existing apps. Web-connected and web-powered apps built using HTML5 and JavaScript have access to the power of the PC. Touch-optimized browsing, with the full power of hardware-accelerated Internet Explorer 10 transforms your experiences with the web. BUILD is the first place to dive deep into the future of Windows.”

Did you catch it? Internet Explorer 10 is mentioned, and Microsoft promises to ‘dive deep’ just after mentioning it. Past the last developer preview, we have not heard a peep from the Internet Explorer 10 team, so TNW Microsoft feels confident in saying that IE10 will be a part of BUILD, in one way or another.

Our best guess, and this is simply a guess, is that a very early IE10 build will be demonstrated, and in more than simply UI-free testing terms. That build may be included on any Windows 8 code that is shared. We are actively explorer this issue, and if we learn more, will share it with you.

Everything Else

There will be more to BUILD. Take Windows Live for example. Live recently leaked a new icon set, which contained video chat icons. It is therefore expected that Skype integration, or, comically, some other sort of video chat, will be included in Live in the near future. It has also been speculated that Live could announce its fifth ‘wave’ at BUILD. Again, that is unconfirmed, but it is what we people are saying.

And Skype? Microsoft would love nothing more than to tell the world at BUILD, where all eyes will be assembled, that its purchase of Skype has been approved and completed. That will probably not happen, but it is the sort of thing that Microsoft will want to use the BUILD platform to make known.

What else? Frankly anything could happen. Microsoft business units are not unknown for stepping on other groups’ toes, so we could see news from the Office 15 (the next version of Office, not Office 2015) team, or the Xbox team, and so forth, especially if those announcements are in any way connected to Windows 8.

One last thought: Windows 8 is going to be the main event, with everything else merely traipsing along. Microsoft remains a software, and not a hardware, company, and so it will be code, not gadgets that are the center performer. Don’t expect Ballmer to do a Jobs-style sit down with a new device, for example.

TNW Microsoft should be in attendance at the event, and will thus be covering it live. September 13th, here we come.

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