Week 14, 2016 - Microsoft Build announcements; Safari Preview

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At their Build conference last week, Microsoft had several interesting announcements that I’d like to discuss. Similarly, Apple changed the way they develop their Safari web browser.

Windows to bring Linux to the Desktop

Let’s start with the announcement that might have the biggest impact. Apparently this really is going to be the year of Linux on the desktop. Microsoft’s biggest upcoming feature for the Windows Anniversary update is (in my opinion) the ability to run bash and various Linux commands.

In their attempt to build support for Android (the cross-platform Android engine they cancelled a couple of months ago) Microsoft built a couple of libraries that handle certain instructions in a way that is compatible with Linux. This means that Windows is capable of running bash, and other commands, without the need for any emulation or virtualization. Apparently they’re working with Canonical (the company behind Ubuntu) to ensure a lot of the standard tools will be available on this bash.

This is obviously great news for power users and especially developers as it means you have a lot of powerful tools at your disposal that previously you couldn’t run, or couldn’t run the same way you would on your Linux servers. An obvious use case for this is web developers as most of the time what they build will run on a Linux server1, but it may also have some advantages for technologies and applications that use this. Like Docker.

So far it’s only been announced, and I haven’t read about anyone actually using it yet2, so we’ll have to wait for a bit before we can see how well it works and whether it can be properly used for other purposes. Either way, I’m excited to see this and happy that Microsoft is enabling another powerful tool for their users.

Mono and Xamarin opening up more

A bit over a month ago, I mentioned that Microsoft had purchased Xamarin. Xamarin was the sponsor for Mono, an open source implementation of .NET, and provided proprietary extensions on top of that. In the short time since then, this has now all changed.

Mono changed to an MIT license and as part of that contributed their code to the .NET Foundation. Previously Mono had a dual license structure where it was available with either a LGPL or commercial license, but this change makes it open for everyone.

The bigger change however, is that the Xamarin extensions are now integrated into this and therefore also available as open source code. The rest of the Xamarin SDK will follow this over the next few months, until the entire project is open source and managed by the .NET Foundation.

Building on this Microsoft has also integrated Xamarin into all Visual Studio versions where it’s available for free3, as is the OS X Xamarin client.

As last time, I still haven’t used Xamarin for anything, so I can’t speak to its usefulness. It is very good to see that Microsoft is using all this work and making it available for free.


The last item from Build that I want to briefly touch on is their introduction of “Holoportation”.

Watching the video above makes me really think how cool this implementation of augmented reality is. Of course, it requires complete rooms to be built for it but it is the kind of thing that otherwise would only be present in movies. Yet, here it actually works. As someone who literally lives on the other side of the world from my family, this looks wonderful.

No doubt it will be years before it’s actually useful for anything close to consumer prices, but it would be a lot better than a Skype call.

Safari preview

Safari has always suffered a bit from how it seems to be so closely tied to OS X. Or to be more precise, how it seems that new features only come once a year and thereby lead people to complain about the lack of progress. This has especially been the case since both Chrome and Firefox are running on 6 week release cycles where you can easily various degrees of cutting edge versions.

Now, I don’t believe that Safari is necessarily behind those two browsers. Apple simply has different priorities for its browser, for example while it might not support every (sometimes unstable) feature that developers would like to use it is instead capable of making my laptop battery last a lot longer than other browsers. Considering my ancient underpowered MacBook Air doesn’t have close to the battery more modern laptops have, that’s a trade I’m happy to make.

Safari is constantly being improved however, and it’s long been possible to download nightly versions of it. Last week however, they introduced the Safari Technology Preview. This is a version of Safari that you can install side-by-side with your regular Safari installation and that supports things like iCloud syncing (which the nightly’s don’t do). Updates are supposed to be released every 2 weeks. The one issue I’ve heard about is that it might conflict with some extensions, such as 1Password, as the application’s signature is different. Hopefully issues like that will be worked out over time though.

I haven’t had time to play around with it yet, but it seems like a good move on Apple’s side. And with the increased user base at an earlier stage in the development process, hopefully this also means more bugs are caught before the final release.

  1. Obviously there are exceptions to this, and plenty of sites and web services run on Windows servers. The vast majority however runs on Linux. ↩︎

  2. I don’t have Windows 10 myself either. ↩︎

  3. Apparently some enterprise features will require the enterprise version of Visual Studio though. I wonder how that will work once these are open sourced. ↩︎

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