Microsoft is shutting down its Mobile Backend as a Service (MBaaS), part of App Center, to the dismay of developers using it.
App Center is a service for building and testing applications for iOS, Android, Windows and macOS. It has continuous integration, where code changes committed to a repository in GitHub, Bitbucket or Azure automatically trigger a build process, as well as automated UI tests on cloud-hosted mobile devices and distribution to iOS and Android stores or to Microsoft's Intune mobile device management platform.
Just a year ago, principal program manager John Wargo confirmed new application services for App Center, saying: "We knew we could do more for developers (and their apps) through App Center." These services cover identity, data synchronisation and file synchronisation. A couple of months later, Wargo also released push notifications. "App Center will map user identities to all the devices associated with the user and send notifications to all of them on your command," he said. These services form MBaaS.
App Center Auth, App Center Data and App Center Push were in preview, but attracted a number of developers thanks to ease of implementation. Unfortunately for those developers, Microsoft has changed its mind.
"As we've received feedback and our learning matured, we realized that the better long-term path is for developers to use the native Azure services, namely Azure Active Directory B2C, Azure Cosmos DB and Azure Notification Hubs," Wargo said earlier this month.
The MBaaS services are therefore being retired. App Center continues as a DevOps service. Microsoft has not given much notice of the change. "After [May 3, 2020], the Auth and Data services will no longer be available in the App Center portal; the services may continue to operate for a short while after this date, but you will not be able to interact with either service using the App Center portal UI," said Wargo.
Comments on the change have not been positive. "Honestly, this sucks. We invested so much of our time in the Push service at the expense of Microsoft's short-sighted product decisions. Now, we have to spend months migrating everything to another service," said one. "This is horrible news. These features were the entire reason I went with app center. I'm just starting out as a business and this actually may even sink me. Shame on you Microsoft," said another. "With AppCenter I can add push notifications to my apps in less than 5 minutes. With Azure Notification Hub I don't even get an sdk for Xamarin.Forms (a Microsoft product, btw) and need to write a ton of code in native platform... Not to mention the clunky experience on setting up the hub compared to AppCenter... this sucks," said a third.
MBaaS always carried a "preview" tag and this demonstrates why developers should be wary of dependency on something that is not fully supported. That said, most services that are in preview, as opposed to being flagged as experimental, do make it into production. The documentation for "Mobile apps in Azure App Service" still states (at the time of writing): "Developers can also leverage Auth to authenticate their users and Data service to persist and sync app data in the cloud," without mentioning the preview status nor that it is set to be withdrawn in a few months.
Curiously, Wargo prefaced his post by stating: "Microsoft has always been focused on enabling developers to be more productive, to achieve their ambitions, and subsequently make the world better for it." How this is achieved by discontinuing a useful service is not clear, except that the decision is said to be based on feedback.
We can venture that either takeup was not sufficient, or that Microsoft is keen to simplify its products in these areas, though the MBaaS services were likely just wrappers for the same Azure services to which developers are now being directed. ®