Development | Opinion

The future of Microsoft's web platform

We sent one of our Senior Developers to Microsoft's UK headquarters to find out what the software giant sees as the future of their web development platform.

29 April 2016 ( words)
Sean Lamacraft Sean Lamacraft

Microsoft has restructured their web delivery, encapsulating several business areas under their Azure team, now seen as their web platform.

Earlier this month, I went down to the Microsoft UK headquarters in Reading to find out what the software giant sees as the future of their involvement in the web and how it’ll affect the work we do at Distinction. I wanted to share a few things I found out… 

What is the Microsoft Web Platform?

Microsoft has restructured their web delivery, encapsulating several business areas under their Azure team, now seen as their web platform. These services include:

  • ASP.NET or .NET Core - the Microsoft development language we use here at Distinction
  • Edge - the default browser for Windows 10, Windows Mobile and Xbox users
  • Apps - the 'apps' platform within Windows 10 and Windows Mobile
  • Azure - the cloud hosting platform

All the areas include significant developments, so let’s tackle them one by one.

ASP.NET

The headline news leading up to Web Platform Day was the release of ASP.NET 5, sometimes referred to as .NET Core. It’s an exciting move to an Open Source development language, re-designed from the ground up to be leaner, more modularised and focused and web. The move to Open Source has led to compilers being developed for more platforms, including OSx and Linux, which is a large shift away from the current Windows only development plan.

All the functionality is now encapsulated in packages, whereas previously .NET loaded a large quantity of libraries, regardless of whether they were used, now there is the “Core” package, which is used to load only the libraries the developer specifies. This alone has reduced the application start-up time and has allowed for content delivery that competes with Node.JS, often seen as one of the most efficient content delivery methods. This will have a dramatic impact on what can be achieved on a server, along with website speeds, we can’t wait to get our hands dirty to see the performance gains we can provide for you.

Another exciting development is the inclusion of JavaScript libraries directly within projects, using NPM Microsoft has integrated the, now standard, JavaScript package manager. Along with Gulp our interface developers can spend less time setting up your projects and more time building the interfaces we all love to use.

Microsoft has also concentrated on the MVC model, which rumour has it will lead to them removing Web Forms support over the next few years. MVC allows us developers to provide a more streamlined HTML interface allowing for more design flair. Within the MVC model controller methods can be developed as REST API methods, this will allow for easier app integration across all platforms.

Visual Studio Code

Along with the release of ASP.NET came a new development environment, Visual Studio Code. The cross platform integrated development environment (IDE) bringing tools we love like IntelliSense to all of our developers. ReSharper fans will love the lightbulb helper, which is included for free and adds most of the functionality from this “must have” development tool. There’s a completely new code editor, Monaco, which has greater integration with services like GitHub. There’s a great in depth look into Monaco here.

Edge

Everyone in the web community had learnt to hate Internet Explorer, even Microsoft themselves admitted that the development overhead for their sites had aided them in the decision to move away from the legacy browser and remove support for the older versions. Edge is their replacement, which has been supplied as the default browser in Windows 10.

Microsoft are keen to explain that Edge isn’t a re-write and re-brand of Internet Explorer, as some developers feared, but a completely new WebKit browser. This allows for mark-up used in other browsers, such as Chrome and Firefox, to be used for Edge without requiring the “fixes” we all hated implementing for IE. Their move away from IE led to the early Edge browsers identifying themselves as Chrome in analytics, which has been resolved.

Apps

The app platforms across all devices have led to various language and environment barriers to cross platform development. With each platform usually comes a new programming language, standards and development environment that developers have to learn. This has put a premium on app development, driving up costs.

Microsoft are now moving away from this, with the concept of hosted applications, the example they used was the Financial Times App. These applications can form part of your website and require extra templates building, however no app-specific development is required. These apps can be run from any browser, but in Windows 10 or Windows Mobile they can also be added to the app store and run in a lightweight version of Edge as if they were a platform specific application. Using various JavaScript libraries they can also be programmed to work offline.

Azure Hosting

Microsoft see Azure Hosting as a key income generator in the future, which has led to heavy investment in the past few years and innovations that are beginning to really pay off.

Previously, each data centre had been set up based upon the best knowledge at the time, which has led to some data centres becoming out of date. All new data centres are now expected to be constantly upgraded, which is great news for us as one of the first of the new data centres will be located right here in the UK.

In fact, research into Azure has progressed so much that Microsoft are looking into all kinds of hosting options, including under-water data centres!

One area of their research that’s already having an impact for us is their work on SQL Server. This had been a headache for some developers with custom cloud software restricting the debugging and optimisation available. However, it’s been replaced by a system which uses the “on-site” model, allowing us to optimise and test everything here in the office before rolling SQL changes out to our production environments.

So, I hope you found that interesting. Please do ask me any questions below and I'll do my best to answer you.

Sean Lamacraft

Author: Sean Lamacraft