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Winds of Change Blowing Across Microsoft Azure Cloud Skies

The 3rd April 2014 Microsoft Build Conference is a landmark of sorts with surprising and pleasant announcements from Microsoft that will go a long way to ease some of the defined boundaries in the cloud and render it more nebulous as well as accessible and easier for developers. The focus was on Microsoft’s Azure services for which Microsoft announced 44 new features. Some of the modifications will make life easier for cross platform development of mobile and web applications.

Over the past year Azure has been metamorphosing with a spate of new features and the Build conference unleashed more targeting developers this time around.

The major change is announcement of the Azure Preview Portal designed to function as a unified platform as a service and infrastructure as a service platform for developers to create and manage apps. Developers can run Linux and Windows virtual machines as standalone or in a network. The task becomes easier with Visual Studio now becoming a part of the framework available for cloud based development. While Microsoft has integrated Visual Studio even more tightly into Azure, the announcement of the web based version open to all developers is welcome news. This development was absolutely necessary considering that Amazon already offered a Visual Studio Extension to developers to manage its Amazon Web Services.

Though slightly watered down, it helps Mac and Linux developers use Microsoft’s code tools to create apps. This goes alongside with Microsoft’s partnership with Xamarin, a company offering tools and frameworks for Microsoft’s .NET and C# environments, available for use on Windows and Mac platforms. Developers have the choice of using Microsoft PowerShell or third party Puppet and Chef Tools to configure Virtual Machines. Also new is incorporation of Java support for Microsoft’s Platform as a Service Azure Web Sites. Besides using .node.js, PHP, Python and .Net developers now have the freedom to use Java as well and push the app into Azure besides hosting users.

The Azure Preview Portal includes Team Projects that allows for better product life-cycle management. It also comes with Monaco, a code editor developers can use from within Azure. Application Insights is another addition to track the application’s status, performance and usage statistics.

A money saving feature is the auto scaling feature that allows users to scale up or scale down server capacity to handle traffic, without exiting their environment. Mobile developers now have it easy with a single sign on for Active Directory, remote debugging and offline data sync plus a software development kit to integrate Active Directory into iOS and Android apps—a welcome development considering their long standing rivalry with these two environments.

With Azure Preview Portal it becomes easy for developers to build apps, manage teams and track progress and also take care of traffic and billing.

While Microsoft has targeted developers on other platforms, it has not entirely ignored its community of .NET developers. Micrsoft announced .NET Foundation to help .NET developers with the .NET Compilier Preview codenamed Roslyn to be made available through the Foundation.

Microsoft already has 57% of the top 500 Fortune companies as Azure clients, 300 million Azure Active Directory users and over 1 million cloud based SQL databases. These figures are expected to improve in the wake of the recent releases.

According to Scott Guthrie, Microsoft Executive Vice President, these new developments will lead to a future where developers have a seamless experience, regardless of the platforms on which they work. The new development combines all components into a single development portal to make it easier for developers. The welcome additions are simplified resource management, integrated billings and applications.

While all these announcements are welcomed by the developer community, one of the biggest surprises at the Build Conference that left people with mouths agape was that Microsoft would make Windows Free for tablets, smartphones and gadgets connecting to the internet. Their version of Windows for Internet of Things aimed at devices like speaker systems and domestic appliances would also be free. However, mainstream desktop and laptop PC windows OS are excluded and will continue to attract licence fees as usual.


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