High expectations pressure Microsoft to deliver at BUILD

Today's keynote will show whether the software maker can rebound from sluggish start to Windows 8

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Not surprisingly, analysts who spend their days analyzing corporate technology argued that Microsoft must document how Windows 8.1 will overcome enterprise objections to the original Windows 8.

"The world is watching how Microsoft will bring back the things that enterprises need," said David Johnson of Forrester, ticking off the pseudo-Start button -- called "Start tip" by Microsoft -- and an expected reduction in the jarring switches between the "Modern" user interface and the old-school desktop.

Michael Cherry, an analyst at Directions on Microsoft, concurred. "How will Windows 8.1 work with the other pieces?" he asked, referring to the other portfolios Microsoft will upgrade this year, including Windows Server 2012 R2, SQL Server 2014, Visual Studio 2013 and System Center 2012 R2. Several of those were made available to Microsoft Developer Network (MSDN) subscribers on Monday.

Johnson said he hopes that Microsoft can make good on earlier promises. "They have to convince developers that [Windows] apps are quick and easy to develop, that all the necessary services are going to be accessible and that there will be strong demand for apps," he said.

Johnson admitted Microsoft has made such promises at previous BUILDs, with mixed results, but he added that this time he's hoping the company will be more convincing. "Microsoft is in a unique position to create consistency across platforms," he said, and with new services, such as Azure Active Authentication, which Microsoft announced earlier this month, he said the company's pitch might be more effective.

Milanesi also had a wish list of messages aimed at developers that she wants to see and hear. "Microsoft should show developers how they can create apps across different devices," she said. "They talk about 'one kernel,' but what does that mean?"

Gillett saw clues to Microsoft's seriousness in its decision to hold BUILD in San Francisco. "It's a symbolic statement holding it in downtown San Francisco," Gillett said of the first Microsoft-hosted developers meeting in the city since 1996. "The kind of developers they want are in the San Francisco area and are significantly influenced by the technology companies there. Microsoft really wants to connect with them."

Both Apple and Google are in the neighborhood -- the former in Cupertino, the latter in Mountain View. Both held their most recent developers conferences at San Francisco's Moscone Center, BUILD's home this week.

If the location helps Microsoft flesh out its Windows ecosystem, which critics have hammered for having an app gap, that too will be tagged as a win for the company and as evidence that it can recover from a sluggish start.

One thing that won't happen at BUILD, said Gillett, is a rollout of new hardware. While most expect Microsoft to unveil a smaller Surface RT tablet, pegged the "Surface Mini" by wags, he figured Microsoft wouldn't trot it out today.

"It would just be a distraction," Gillett said. "It deserves its own event."

Today's BUILD keynote can be viewed from Microsoft's news home page and the BUILD website.

This article, "High Expectations Pressure Microsoft to Deliver at BUILD," was originally published on Computerworld.com.

Gregg Keizer covers Microsoft, security issues, Apple, Web browsers and general technology breaking news for Computerworld. Follow Gregg on Twitter, at @gkeizer, and on Google+, or subscribe to Gregg's RSS feed . His email address is gkeizer@computerworld.com.

See more by Gregg Keizer on Computerworld.com.

Copyright © 2013 IDG Communications, Inc.

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