Microsoft Build 2018 – Day 1

After a long delay a second entry in my series of Build 2018 blogposts. I will tell you how to get to be the first in line for the keynote, how Azure is getting more important, how AI is the new big thing and how to get yourself a brand new Surface Book 2. Read on!

Scott Guthrie adding value
Scott Guthrie adding value

Day 1 of Build 2018 began for me very early. Partly motivated by the thought of getting good seats for the keynote and partly by virtue of having my inner-time shifted after long travel, I woke up at around 3:45 AM way before my alarm we set to go off. I prepared my bag in the evening, so I just grabbed it and left the hotel.

Early morning Seattle is almost quiet, except for occasional car here and there. My hotel is just a few blocks away from Washington Convention Center so at about 3:55 AM I was already there. Unfortunately, the side door was locked, so I went to try the main door. And here I saw a figure quickly approaching the Center too. And he wore the conference badge! It didn’t take me too long to recognize this man – it was Phillip J. Labar, who I met two times on previous Build conferences already. He holds a pretty admirable record of being first in line for every single Build conference since the very beginning. Including this one, as he reached the main door about two seconds ahead of me 🙂 . So Me and Phil waited together, behind the locked door, hoping to catch a glimpse of personnel inside who could take pity on us and let us wait inside.

When later several staff members joined us waiting, we carefully sneaked inside when they were let in. We moved to the third floor and set up our “basecamp” next to the door to Skybridge which led to the keynote area. And as we were the first, we could enjoy the luxury of sitting on a dedicated “start-of-the-line” bench.

A handful other devs joined us, but only from 6 AM the line started really growing. At 6:30 AM the door to the Skybridge were open to us so we passed the Expo Hall and Channel 9 studio and waited right in front of the keynote entrance.

The area slowly but surely filled up as more and more devs came. We had a chance to catch a glimpse of several known faces and could even exchange a few words with the likes of Scott Hanselman and Dona Sarkar. Dona was here to get a selfie with Phillip, because of his unique 8-year Build line-starter strike. Later we also met Seth Juarez from Channel 9, who gave me and Phillip some cool swag for waiting since 4 AM and told us we two can grab some of the best center seats inside, even though they are reserved.

The keynote hall was getting prepared till 8:10 AM when people were allowed to get in. The first to enter were groups of MSPs, MVPs, Regional Directors and journalists, who were assigned special seats. After they got in, all doors were opened and all of us others could enter. Me and Phillip rushed forward to run around the whole area and sat on the best seats right in the first center row in front of the stage. Such a great view!

The keynote consisted of two parts. First was the Vision Keynote, led by Microsoft’s CEO Satya Nadella. He focused his talk on the most important topics of today’s technology – privacy and security, AI and intelligent cloud and intelligent Edge. The fact that the whole keynote started by the oft-avoided privacy area made it clear that Microsoft wants to do the best they can protecting user’s data and making technology work for users while minimizing potential harm due to misuse.

The talk was packed with announcements. Azure IoT Edge is now open source and starts seeing integration into many devices like DJI drones and Qualcomm smart camera systems. In addition, one of the new key innovations is Azure AI, which brings many new tools to simplify AI development on cloud including new and updated Cognitive Services. Included in this was Project Brainwave, which is a custom FPGA optimized for real-time AI.

Even Kinect has made a comeback in the form of Project Kinect for Azure, which is built specifically with latest and greatest tech for spatial understanding, skeletal tracking and object recognition and targets business scenarios.

Azure Conversational AI brings new innovations to the Bot Framework. It now supports custom wake words, custom speech, custom personalities. Also the new Q&A Maker Cognitive Service is generally available and allows building smart bots able to help users with their problems.

Last year we got a glimpse of Alexa + Cortana collaboration and during the keynote we were finally able to see this solution in action. Both assistants will be able to call the other one the same way as any other skill and you are then able to interact with the assistant to accomplish tasks the other is unable to. This will soon go live as a preview and I am looking forward to that.

Microsoft announced two new business applications for Mixed reality. Microsoft Remote Assist makes long-distance collaboration during problem solving a breeze. Expert can see the world through your MR headset and provide suggestions and help almost as if she were present. Microsoft Layout on the other hand provides a seamless way to design spaces with MR. Place 3D objects in real world to visualize and interact with them in context.

There was a Windows Phone in the keynote!
There was a Windows Phone in the keynote!

When the first keynote ended everyone was expecting that the second one will swiftly follow, but that wasn’t the case at all – Allison from the Microsoft Azure team came on stage and made the whole crowd do a short stretching exercise! I dare say that nobody expected that, but I can also confirm it was well worth it and energized the body for the second half of the show.

The following keynote was focused on cloud innovations with Scott Guthrie aka the red-shirt in the lead. There are over 70 new innovations in Azure, so if you want to dig deeper into them, definitely check out the keynote from the 1 hour 52 minutes mark. One of the funniest moments of the keynote and even the conference was when Scott Hanselman’s microphone stopped working and he was given a classic handhled microphone which was less than practical when he needed to code. After a bit of struggle, Scott Guthrie rushed on stage to “add some value”, as he remarked, and held the microphone for the other Scott for the remainder of his talk. Also, why do I keep writing microsoft instead of microphone 🤔 ?

When the keynotes concluded, I left the hall quite quickly and headed to my first planned destination – Microsoft Store booth in the Expo hall. The conference attendees got a nice 10 % discount on all products available there so I was planning to purchase a Surface Book 2 there to get a more powerful device to be able to build MR solutions anywhere. I sought out a member of Store staff, but after a bit of search, I was told the only 15 inch 1 TB storage Surface Book 2 was just sold out a few moments ago (I just can’t imagine how someone could make it there so fast!). I was also told that some more should be on stock from tomorrow hopefully, so I can check back then or try other Microsoft Stores in Seattle to see if they have one on stock. Fortunately, I got the same discount everywhere, as a student, so it didn’t really matter if I purchased the device here. I called to Microsoft Store in Bellevue and University Village, but they were also out of 15 inch models. I left them my e-mail address to contact me if any is available. And there was! An hour later I received an e-mail from University Village that they are holding one unit for me for the next 72 hours – awesome!

The lunches at Build 2018 are very interesting. I cannot begin to comprehend how difficult it must be to prepare a warm meal for more than six thousand people. First, each attendee gets a bag which contains some “universal” items like a fruit, a biscuit or cookie, and plastic utensils. Then you have to choose either vegetarian table or one of the meat choices – chicken, beef or pork. Each of these serves a specific warm main lunch item and the staff is quickly re-stocking new plates as people come and go. The system is really efficient and everyone can have what they like the most. And the food is really not bad!

After lunch, I headed in the Expo Hall area. This hall is a showcase of numerous Microsoft partners as well as specific Microsoft technologies. Everyone can find something they are interested in here. Even better – it is your chance to have a chat with real people who are behind these products, ask them questions and learn more about the future or plans for them. Some attendees even go as far as saying that the Expo hall is one of the main reasons they come to Build in person, because the talks are recorded and available on-line whereas the chance talk to so many interesting people is only here.

First lecture I have attended was the dynamic duo of two Scotts – namely Scott Hanselman and Scott Hunter with their .NET Overview and Roadmap Because the Scotts are known for top-notch over-the-top-funny talks, the queue started almost half an hour before and stretched far through the hallway. And the room was fully packed. The talk was really interesting and focused mainly on the innovations in .NET Core 2.1 with a sneak peek at .NET Core 3. The most fascinating news must be the fact that .NET Core will expand to run on more environments including desktop, and WPF and Windows Forms apps running on .NET Framework can switch to .NET Core instead without skipping a beat. This, of course, has a plethora of advantages including significantly better performance (especially with Span) and ability to pack the specific version of .NET Core with the app itself avoiding the need to worry about having the right version of .NET Framework installed on your target PCs. Finally we got a glimpse at Blazor which allows running .NET Core in the browser via WebAssembly.

In the late afternoon, I attended The Microsoft AI platform: a State of the Union. It showed a practical application of Microsoft Cognitive Services, Bot Framework and Azure Machine Learning on the example of the mystery of the murder of J.F.K. Hundreds of released FBI documents were input into Azure Search to build a nice knowledge base infused with AI which was then extended to a chatbot, which even featured the voice of J. Edgar Hoover, which was created using the new Azure Custom Voice service.

The day ended with a welcome reception in the Expo hall and after a few bites and conversations I called a Lyft to get to University Village.

Visiting a Microsoft Store is always a rare experience for me, as there are none in Europe (which is a shame 🤔). I was greeted with a very friendly staff and they had my Surface Book 2 already prepared and in a few minutes it was in my hands. I spent a bit more time looking around and then called yet another Lyft back to hotel.

Upon arrival, I started setting up my new PC, which took me most of the evening on the painfully slow wi-fi and eventually went to bed. Day 2 ahead!

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