The second day of the Microsoft Build developers conference focused on tools and software designed to help businesses tap the mountains of information that they’ve collected.
SAN FRANCISCO — In the emerging world of virtually unlimited computing power, making sense of the data you already have becomes the essential commodity.
“Data,” said Qi Lu, the chief of Microsoft’s Applications and Services group, “is the new oil.”
On Thursday, the second day of its annual Build developer show here, Microsoft released a slate of developer tools and software designed to help businesses better tap that information and broaden the reach of their applications.
The technology-heavy day of demonstrations was, ultimately, aimed at strengthening developer interest in two of the company’s key platforms: its Azure cloud-computing network and Office suite.
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Azure is widely seen as the second-largest “public cloud” of pooled servers for rent, behind Amazon.com. Office, meanwhile, is in the midst of what Lu called a “massive undertaking” to deliver the formerly out-of-the-box software via the Web.
Though many of the data-crunching and developer products introduced this week are available now, whether they come to fruition as Microsoft envisions depends on whether the audience of thousands of software builders takes them up on it.
“This is a long-term story,” said Bob O’Donnell, president of independent research firm Technalysis. “A lot of the things they talked about here won’t change the world tomorrow. But if you’re a developer, Microsoft gave you about five different ways for you to do these things.”
One of those ways is already a hit.
The crowd here broke into applause on the announcement that Xamarin, the popular San Francisco cross-platform developer-software company that Microsoft bought recently, would be included at no extra cost in Microsoft’s Visual Studio developer tools. Xamarin’s products help developers target their software to multiple mobile platforms and test how well it will run on hundreds of devices.
With developers paying less attention to Windows after the rise of the massive mobile ecosystems overseen by Google and Apple, Microsoft has tried to stay front-and-center with the software builders by following them to whatever platform they’re targeting.
The company has also embraced the open source software-development model favored by many startups, and on Thursday Microsoft said Xamarin’s core tools would be released into the open-source community.
The Build presentations also pushed Azure, the company’s network of data centers and Web-delivered software services.
Scott Guthrie, the executive vice president of Microsoft’s Cloud and Enterprise group, kicked off Thursday’s events with an outline of the scale of Azure, complete with an aerial photograph of what will ultimately be a milelong data-center facility now under construction in Northern Virginia.
Azure’s network of data centers includes 30 regions around the world, Guthrie said, more than Amazon.com’s Amazon Web Services and Google combined. That figure on its own can be misleading, however. AWS does much more business with fewer defined regions, analysts say.
Guthrie also outlined what Microsoft thinks is its biggest advantage in the nascent market for Web-delivered software: its pedigree selling to Big Business. It’s a contrast Microsoft is trying to draw with Amazon and Google, which, the company implies, don’t have the same chops.
“Enterprises aren’t an afterthought” for Azure, Guthrie said. “We understand the critical requirements of running software for business.”
Later on, Lu took the stage, the longtime executive’s first appearance at Microsoft’s developer show, to outline the company’s aims with its newly Web-native applications like Office and Skype.
Microsoft is trying to nudge Office beyond productivity tasks like email and document formatting, and in the direction of smarter tools — information-tracking tool Delve and data-visualization application Power BI.
Lu showed off Microsoft Graph, the programming interface that lets developers tap into data stored by Office. Another demonstration touted the latest tools to build Office add-ins, or software that can be used within Office applications to hail a cab or schedule an appointment, for example.
Gerri Martin-Flickinger, Starbucks’ chief technology officer, joined Lu onstage to introduce tools that can help users send the coffee chain’s gift cards from Outlook, or order ahead for a meeting at a nearby store from within an event invitation
Lu expanded on ambitions Microsoft Chief Executive Satya Nadella outlined on Wednesday to build out the ability of chat services and intelligent agents.
With such smarter software, Lu said, you could ask your phone to check in for a flight reservation for you, rather than download the airline’s application and do it yourself.
“The long-term potential is enormous,” Lu said, “and Microsoft has what it takes to play a leadership role.”